A. A. PECHENKIN
OPERATIONALISM AS THE PHILOSOPHY OF SOVIET PHYSICS:
THE PHILOSOPHICAL BACKGROUNDS OF L. I. MANDELSTAM
AND HIS SCHOOL
ABSTRACT. This article is dedicated to the philosophy of science which was developed
by the outstanding Soviet physicist and leader of a powerful scientiﬁc community, L. I.
Mandelstam. It is shown that this philosophy can be summed up under the heading “op-
erationalism”. A comparison with the paradigmatic operationalism of Percy Bridgman is
undertaken and the German positivist roots of Mandelstam’s philosophy are indicated. The
ﬁnal section reconstructs the principle of expedient idealization, the principle which was
put forward by Mandelstam’s disciples in the spirit of his operationalism to solve problems
of the theory of non-linear oscillations.
In 1949 the ﬁfth volume of the Complete Works of the outstanding So-
viet physicist Leonid Isaakovich Mandelstam was prepared for publication
posthumously. Mandelstam, an Academician and winner of the Lenin and
Stalin Prizes, died in 1944. The end of the 1940s and the beginning of
the 1950s were years of intensiﬁed struggle for the purity of the Marxist
foundations of Soviet ideology. As part of this struggle, the prepared galley
proofs of the volume were singled out for attention. In 1949 a special
meeting of the Scientiﬁc Council of the Lebedev Physics Institute of the
Academy of Sciences rejected the prepared text since it “contained ideo-
logical mistakes”. A decision was made to replace the editor. Instead of
Mandelstam’s disciple, Sergei Mikhailovich Rytov, another Mandelstam
disciple, Academician Mikhail Alexandrovich Leontovich, was appointed.
He had authority in the Soviet science hierarchy and was to supply the text
with comments intended to correct the “ideological mistakes”. In keep-
ing with this decision the ﬁfth volume of Mandelstam’s Complete Works
was published in 1950. The foreword to this volume was written by the
ofﬁcial leader of Soviet physics, Academician and President of the Soviet
Academy of Sciences Sergei Ivanovich Vavilov.
The next event took place in January 1952. The well-known math-
ematician and Academician Anatolii Danilovich Alexandrov delivered a
Synthese 124: 407–432, 2000.
© 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.