Ian Hacking


Ian MacDougall Hacking CC FRSC FBA (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.

Ian Hacking
Ian Hacking.jpg
Hacking in 2009
Born (1936-02-18) February 18, 1936 (age 86)
Alma materUniversity of British Columbia
Trinity College, Cambridge
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolAnalytic philosophy
Doctoral advisorCasimir Lewy
Doctoral studentsDavid Papineau
Main interests
Philosophy of science
Philosophy of statistics
Notable ideas
Entity realism
Historical ontology (transcendental nominalism)


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. 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 mater, 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.

Philosophical workEdit

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 includes 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 transcendental nominalism[4][5] (also dynamic nominalism[6] or dialectical realism),[6] 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.[7]

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 lecturesEdit

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.[8] Hacking was chosen for his work on how statistics and the theory of probability have shaped society.

In 2003, he gave 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). 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.[9]

In May 2022, Hacking received the First-Annual Columbia University Philosophy Graduate Student Gold * (pronounced "Gold Star"), having been voted the winner in a "tournament-style no-holds-barred match-up of the mightiest twentieth-century and contemporary philosophers".[10] It is to this tournament that Hacking owes his moniker, the "Chain King", the phrase 'a chain king' being an anagram of the name 'Ian Hacking'.[11]

Selected worksEdit


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

Chapters in booksEdit

  • Hacking, Ian (1992), "The self-vindication of the laboratory sciences", in Pickering, Andrew (ed.), Science as practice and culture, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 29–64, ISBN 978-0-226-66801-7.


  • Hacking, Ian (1967). "Slightly More Realistic Personal Probability". Philosophy of Science. 34 (4): 311–325. doi:10.1086/288169. S2CID 14344339.
  • 1979: "What is Logic?", Journal of Philosophy 76(6), reprinted in A Philosophical Companion to First Order Logic (1993), edited by R.I.G. Hughes
  • Hacking, Ian (1988). "Telepathy: Origins of Randomization in Experimental Design". Isis. 79 (3): 427–451. doi:10.1086/354775. S2CID 52201011.
  • Hacking, I. (2005). "Truthfulness". Common Knowledge. 11: 160–172. doi:10.1215/0961754X-11-1-160.
  • Hacking, Ian (2006). "Genetics, biosocial groups & the future of identity". Daedalus. 135 (4): 81–95. doi:10.1162/daed.2006.135.4.81. S2CID 57563796.
  • 2007: "Root and Branch", The Nation
  • 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 "Ian Hacking, Philosopher". www.ianhacking.com. Archived from the original on 2013-01-25. 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. ^ See Transcendence (philosophy) and Nominalism.
  5. ^ A view that Hacking also ascribes to Thomas Kuhn (see D. Ginev, Robert S. Cohen (eds.), Issues and Images in the Philosophy of Science: Scientific and Philosophical Essays in Honour of Azarya Polikarov, Springer, 2012, pp. 313–315).
  6. ^ a b Ş. Tekin (2014), "The Missing Self in Hacking's Looping Effects".
  7. ^ "Root and Branch". The Nation. ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved 2016-06-10.
  8. ^ Michael Valpy (August 26, 2009). "From autism to determinism, science to the soul". The Globe and Mail. pp. 1, 7. Retrieved 2012-04-14.
  9. ^ "Ian Hacking – Balzan Prize Epistemology/Philosophy of Mind". www.balzan.org. Retrieved 2016-06-10.
  10. ^ "Announcements – Ian Hacking, wins the Gold *, but does he win*?". philosophy.columbia.edu. Retrieved 2022-05-09.
  11. ^ "Announcements – Ian Hacking, a Chain King". philosophy.columbia.edu. Retrieved 2022-05-09.

Further readingEdit

  • Kusch, Martin (2010). "Hacking's historical epistemology: a critique of styles of reasoning". Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A. Elsevier BV. 41 (2): 158–173. Bibcode:2010SHPSA..41..158K. doi:10.1016/j.shpsa.2010.03.007. ISSN 0039-3681.
  • Resnik, David B. (1994). "Hacking's Experimental Realism". Canadian Journal of Philosophy. Cambridge University Press (CUP). 24 (3): 395–411. doi:10.1080/00455091.1994.10717376. ISSN 0045-5091. S2CID 142532335.
  • Sciortino, Luca (4 June 2016). "On Ian Hacking's Notion of Style of Reasoning". Erkenntnis. Springer Science and Business Media LLC. 82 (2): 243–264. doi:10.1007/s10670-016-9815-9. ISSN 0165-0106. S2CID 148130603.
  • Sciortino, Luca (2 April 2016). "Styles of Reasoning, Human Forms of Life, and Relativism". International Studies in the Philosophy of Science. Informa UK Limited. 30 (2): 165–184. doi:10.1080/02698595.2016.1265868. ISSN 0269-8595. S2CID 151642764.
  • Tsou, Jonathan Y. (2007). "Hacking on the Looping Effects of Psychiatric Classifications: What Is an Interactive and Indifferent Kind?". International Studies in the Philosophy of Science. Informa UK Limited. 21 (3): 329–344. doi:10.1080/02698590701589601. ISSN 0269-8595. S2CID 121742010.

External linksEdit

  • Official Website
  • Hacking, Ian in The Canadian Encyclopedia
  • Ian Hacking archival papers held at the University of Toronto Archives and Records Management Services