Ian Hacking

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Ian Hacking
There are two ways in which a science develops; in response to problems which is itself creates, and in response to problems that are forced on it from the outside.

Ian Hacking CC FRSC FBA (born February 18, 1936, in Vancouver) is a Canadian philosopher specializing in philosophy of science. He became a lecturer at Cambridge in 1969, and shifted to Stanford in 1974 to teach in behavioural science. After teaching for several years there and briefly in Germany (1982–1983), he became a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto in 1983 and a full university professor there in 1991.

He was a member of the "Stanford School" in philosophy of science that included John Dupre, Nancy Cartwright, and Peter Galison. In his later work since 1990, his focus has shifted from the physical sciences to psychology, partly influenced by Michel Foucault as evidenced as early as The Emergence of Probability (1975).

In 2002, he was awarded the first Killam Prize for the Humanities, Canada's most distinguished award for outstanding career achievements. In 2004, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada.


  • To conclude: there are two well-known minor ways in which language has mattered to philosophy. On the one hand there is a belief that if only we produce good definitions, often marking out different senses of words that are confused in common speech, we will avoid the conceptual traps that ensnared our forefathers. On the other hand is a belief that if only we attend sufficiently closely to our mother tongue and make explicit the distinctions there implicit, we shall avoid the conceptual traps. One or the other of these curiously contrary beliefs may nowadays be most often thought of as an answer to the question Why does language matter to philosophy? Neither seems to me enough.
    • Why Does Language Matter to Philosophy?, 1975, p. 7.

The Emergence Of Probability[edit]

  • There are two ways in which a science develops; in response to problems which is itself creates, and in response to problems that are forced on it from the outside.
    • Chapter 1, An Absent Family Of Ideas, p. 4.
  • Pascal is called the founder of modern probability theory. He earns this title not only for the familiar correspondence with Fermat on games of chance, but also for his conception of decision theory, and because he was an instrument in the demolition of probabilism, a doctrine which would have precluded rational probability theory.
    • Chapter 3, Opinion, p. 23.
  • Opinion is the companion of probability within the medieval epistemology.
    • Chapter 3, Opinion, p. 28.
  • Many modern philosophers claim that probability is relation between an hypothesis and the evidence for it.
    • Chapter 4, Evidence, p. 31.
  • Until the seventeenth century there was no concept of evidence with which to pose the problem of induction!
    • Chapter 4, Evidence, p. 31.
  • A single observation that is inconsistent with some generalization points to the falsehood of the generalization, and thereby 'points to itself'.
    • Chapter 4, Evidence, p. 34.
  • Much early alchemy seems to have been adventure. You heated and mixed and burnt and pounded and to see what would happen. An adventure might suggest an hypothesis that can subsequently be tested, but adventure is prior to theory.
    • Chapter 4, Evidence, p. 36.
  • Statistics began as the systematic study of quantitative facts about the state.
    • Chapter 12, Political Arithmetic, p. 102.
  • When land and its tillage are the basis of taxation, one need not care exactly how many people there are.
    • Chapter 12, Political Arithmetic, p. 103.
  • Probability fractions arise from our knowledge and from our ignorance.
    • Chapter 14, Equipossibility, p. 132.
  • From any vocabulary of ideas we can build other ideas by formal combinations of signs. But not any set of ideas will be instructive. One must have the right ideas.
    • Chapter 15, Inductive Logic, p. 139.
  • We favor hypotheses for their simplicity and explanatory power, much as the architect of the world might have done in choosing which possibility to create.
    • Chapter 15, Inductive Logic, p. 142.

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