Ian Hacking

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Ian Hacking
Ian Hacking.jpg
Hacking at the 32nd International
Wittgenstein Symposium in 2009
Born (1936-02-18) February 18, 1936 (age 80)
Vancouver, British Columbia
Alma mater University of British Columbia
Trinity College, Cambridge
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic philosophy
Main interests
Philosophy of science
Philosophy of statistics

Ian MacDougall Hacking, born February 18, 1936, is a Canadian philosopher specializing in the philosophy of science. Throughout his career, he has won numerous awards, such as the Killam Prize for the Humanities and the Balzan Prize, and been a member of many prestigious groups, including the Order of Canada, the Royal Society of Canada and the British Academy.


Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, he earned undergraduate degrees from the University of British Columbia (1956) and the University of Cambridge (1958), where he was a student at Trinity College, Cambridge. Hacking also earned his PhD at Cambridge (1962), under the direction of Casimir Lewy, a former student of Ludwig Wittgenstein.[1]

He started his teaching career as an instructor at Princeton University in 1960 but, after just one year, moved to the University of Virginia as an assistant professor. After working as a research fellow at Cambridge from 1962 to 1964, he taught at his alma moderate, UBC, first as an assistant professor and later as an associate professor from 1964 to 1969. He became a lecturer at Cambridge in 1969 before shifting to Stanford University in 1974. After teaching for several years at Stanford, he spent a year at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Bielefeld, Germany, from 1982 to 1983. Hacking was promoted to Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto in 1983 and University Professor, the highest honour the University of Toronto bestows on faculty, in 1991.[1] From 2000 to 2006, he held the Chair of Philosophy and History of Scientific Concepts at the Collège de France. Hacking is the first Anglophone to be elected to a permanent chair in the Collège's history.[2] After retiring from the Collège de France, Hacking was a Professor of Philosophy at UC Santa Cruz, from 2008 to 2010. He concluded his teaching career in 2011 as a visiting professor at the University of Cape Town and currently spends his days tending to his inner-city garden in Toronto with his wife, Judith Baker.[1]


Influenced by debates involving Thomas Kuhn, Imre Lakatos, Paul Feyerabend and others, Hacking is known for bringing a historical approach to the philosophy of science. The fourth edition (2010) of Feyerabend's 1975 book Against Method, and the 50th anniversary edition (2012) of Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions include an Introduction by Hacking. He is sometimes described as a member of the "Stanford School" in philosophy of science, a group that also included John Dupré, Nancy Cartwright and Peter Galison. Hacking himself still identifies as a Cambridge analytic philosopher. Hacking has been a main proponent of a realism about science called "entity realism." This form of realism encourages a realistic stance towards answers to the scientific unknowns hypothesized by mature sciences, but skepticism towards scientific theories. Hacking has also been influential in directing attention to the experimental and even engineering practices of science, and their relative autonomy from theory. Because of this, Hacking moved philosophical thinking a step further than the initial historical, but heavily theory-focused, turn of Kuhn and others.[3]

After 1990, Hacking shifted his focus somewhat from the natural sciences to the human sciences, partly under the influence of the work of Michel Foucault. Foucault was an influence as early as 1975 when Hacking wrote Why Does Language Matter to Philosophy? and The Emergence of Probability. In the latter book, Hacking proposed that the modern schism between subjective or personalistic probability, and the long-run frequency interpretation, emerged in the early modern era as an epistemological "break" involving two incompatible models of uncertainty and chance. As history, the idea of a sharp break has been criticized, but competing 'frequentist' and 'subjective' interpretations of probability still remain today. Foucault's approach to knowledge systems and power is also reflected in Hacking's work on the historical mutability of psychiatric disorders and institutional roles for statistical reasoning in the 19th century. He labels his approach to the human sciences "dynamic nominalism" (or, alternately, "dialectical realism"), a historicised form of nominalism that traces the mutual interactions over time between the phenomena of the human world and our conceptions and classifications of them.[4]

In Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory, by developing a historical ontology of Multiple Personality Disorder, Hacking provides a discussion of how people are constituted by the descriptions of acts available to them (see Acting under a description).

In Mad Travelers (1998) Hacking provided a historical account of the effects of a medical condition known as fugue in the late 1890s. Fugue, also known as "mad travel," is a diagnosable type of insanity in which European men would walk in a trance for hundreds of miles without knowledge of their identities.

Awards and lectures[edit]

In 2002, Hacking was awarded the first Killam Prize for the Humanities, Canada's most distinguished award for outstanding career achievements. He was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2004. Hacking was appointed visiting professor at University of California, Santa Cruz for the Winters of 2008 and 2009. On August 25, 2009, Hacking was named winner of the Holberg International Memorial Prize, a Norwegian award for scholarly work in the arts and humanities, social sciences, law and theology.[5] Hacking was chosen for his work on how statistics and the theory of probability have shaped society.

In 2003, he gave the The Sigmund H. Danziger, Jr. Memorial Lecture in the Humanities, and in 2010 he gave the René Descartes Lectures at the Tilburg Center for Logic and Philosophy of Science (TiLPS).007. Hacking also gave the Howison lectures at the University of California, Berkeley, on the topic of mathematics and its sources in human behavior ('Proof, Truth, Hands and Mind') in 2010. In 2012, Hacking was awarded the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art, and in 2014 he was awarded the Balzan Prize.[6]

Selected works[edit]


Hacking's works have been translated into several languages. His works include:

Chapters in books[edit]

  • Hacking, Ian (1992), "The self-vindication of the laboratory sciences", in Pickering, Andrew, Science as practice and culture, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 29–64, ISBN 9780226668017. 


  • Hacking, Ian (December 1967). "Slightly More Realistic Personal Probability". Philosophy of Science. 34 (4): 311–325. doi:10.1086/288169. JSTOR 186120. 
  • Hacking, Ian (September 1988). "Telepathy: Origins of Randomization in Experimental Design". Isis. 79 (3: A Special Issue on Artifact and Experiment): 427–451. doi:10.1086/354775. JSTOR 234674. MR 1013489. 
  • Hacking, Ian (May 2012). "Putnam's Theory of Natural Kinds and Their Names is Not the Same as Kripke's". Hurly-Burly 7: 129-149.


  1. ^ a b c "Ian Hacking, Philosopher". www.ianhacking.com. Retrieved 2016-06-09. 
  2. ^ Jon Miller, "Review of Ian Hacking, Historical Ontology", Theoria 72, 2 (2006), p. 148.
  3. ^ Grandy, Karen. "Ian Hacking". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2016-06-10. 
  4. ^ "Root and Branch". The Nation. ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved 2016-06-10. 
  5. ^ Michael Valpy (August 26, 2009). "From autism to determinism, science to the soul". Toronto Globe and Mail. pp. 1, 7. Retrieved 2012-04-14. 
  6. ^ "Ian Hacking - Balzan Prize Epistemology/Philosophy of Mind". www.balzan.org. Retrieved 2016-06-10. 

External links[edit]