Ian Hacking

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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, 1975

Ian Hacking CC, FRSC, FBA (born February 18, 1936) is a Canadian philosopher and professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, specializing in philosophy of science.

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).


  • 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.
    • Ian Hacking (1975), Why Does Language Matter to Philosophy?, p. 7.
  • Kuhn cannot take seriously that “there is some one full, objective, true account of nature.” Does this mean that he does not take truth seriously? Not at all. [...]
    Kuhn did reject a simple “correspondence theory” which says true statements correspond to facts about the world.[...]
    In the wave of skepticism that swept American scholarship at the end of the twentieth century, many influential intellectuals took Kuhn as an ally in their denials of truth as a virtue. I mean the thinkers of the sort that cannot write down or utter the word true except by literally or figuratively putting quotation marks around it—to indicate how they shudder at the very thought of so harmful a notion. Many reflective scientists, who admire much of what Kuhn says about the sciences, believe he encouraged deniers.
    It is true that Structure gave enormous impetus to sociological studies of science. Some of that work, with its emphasis on the idea that facts are “socially constructed” and apparent participation in the denial of “truth,” is exactly what conservative scientists protest against. Kuhn made plain that he himself detested that development of his work...
    • Ian Hacking (2012), Introductory Essay, in 50th anniversary edition of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolution
  • Notice that there is no sociology in the book. Scientific communities and their practices are, however, at its core, entering with paradigms, as we saw, at page 10 and continuing to the final page of the book. There had been sociology of scientific knowledge before Kuhn, but after Structure it burgeoned, leading to what is now called science studies. This is a self-generating field (with, of course, its own journals and societies) that includes some work in the history and the philosophy of sciences and technology, but whose emphasis is on sociological approaches of various kinds, some observational, some theoretical. Much, and perhaps most, of the really original thinking about the sciences after Kuhn has had a sociological bent.
    Kuhn was hostile to these developments. In the opinion of many younger workers, that is regrettable. Let us put it down to dissatisfaction with growing pains of the field, rather than venturing into tedious metaphors about fathers and sons. One of Kuhn’s marvelous legacies is science studies as we know it today.
    • Ian Hacking (2012), Introductory Essay, in 50th anniversary edition of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolution
  • Well, he wasn't a relativist. There's a long and complicated story of the rise of a desire for scientific relativism. Part of it may well be simply sort of rage against reason, the fear of the sciences and a kind of total dislike of the arrogance of a great many scientists who say we're finding out the truth about everything—and here [with Kuhn] there was a way to undermine that arrogance.
    • Ian Hacking, in Gary Stix, "A Q&A with Ian Hacking on Thomas Kuhn's Legacy as "The Paradigm Shift" Turns 50" (April 27, 2012)

The Emergence Of Probability, 1975[edit]

Ian Hacking (1975), The Emergence Of Probability.

  • 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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