Introduction: Boris Hessen and the Dialectics of Natural Science


Introduction: Boris Hessen and the Dialectics of Natural Science

Sean Winkler


Boris Hessen (1893 – 1936)1 is best known for his talk at the 2nd International Congress of the History of Science and Technology in London in 1931, entitled “The Socio-Economic Roots of Newton‟s Principia”. The talk is considered among the most famous in the historiography of science and yet, the study of Hessen‟s work as a whole has been plagued by a number of contradictions that have prevented it from coming to fruition. For instance, while the 1931 talk was, singlehandedly, his most influential work, it was also the least characteristic among his writings overall.2 And while this paper was highly influential in North America and in Western Europe indirectly, with few notable exceptions, direct study of Hessen‟s thought largely remained at a standstill in these contexts.3 Conversely, Hessen hardly received any attention in the former Soviet Union or Eastern Bloc.4

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