Ian Hacking

2014 Balzan Prize for Epistemology and Philosophy of Mind

For his fundamental and pioneering contributions to philosophy and the history of social and natural sciences; for the thematic breadth of his research; for his original epistemological perspective centred on a version of scientific realism and defined in contrast with the dominant paradigm in the philosophy of science of the twentieth century.

Emeritus Professor of the University of Toronto and Honorary Professor of the Collège de France, Ian Hacking (1936-2023) is one of the most authoritative contemporary philosophers of natural and social sciences, at work on a reconstruction and genealogical interpretation of important theories and scientific concepts. The guiding principle of Hacking’s research is built on identifying the cultural, social, institutional, cognitive and practical circumstances in which we can recognize the beginnings or historical emergence of how we see things, of styles of reasoning and of theories on ourselves and on the world that shape our contemporary orientation in the field of scientific knowledge. In this regard, at least two fields of Hacking’s genealogical research are exemplary: the theory of probability and the science of memory. In the first field, his two fundamental contributions coincide with his books which have become classics, The Emergence of Probability (1975) and The Taming of Chance (1990), which both focus on the origins of the idea of probability in its twofold, objective and subjective aspect in the seventeenth century, and its development in the nineteenth century in the social and institutional context of the control practices and government of populations.
In the field of the science of memory, Hacking’s fundamental book is Rewriting the Soul. Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory (1995). The case of multiple personality is brought into focus as a prime example for the analysis of the historical contexts in which the role of sciences of memory assumes an extraordinary significance for the science of self and for the classification of kinds of individuals. It is in Representing and Intervening (1983) that Hacking outlines his view of “scientific realism” in epistemology with thoroughness and clarity, thanks to his remarkable knowledge of scientific theory and practices. The greatest philosophy of science in the twentieth century pursued the dream of method, both in the inductivist, verificationist vision of Carnap, and in the deductivist, falsificationist vision of Popper. Hacking demonstrates that the prevailing image of science is misleading, and that the philosophical analysis of scientific theories must be tested through scientific practices. At the same time, we are asked to take representations of the world – and our ways of intervening in the world through experiments – seriously.
Ian Hacking’s view of our ways of constructing, representing, classifying and interpreting ourselves and the world is enlightening, and will long accompany philosophical research on the history and changes in scientific knowledge.

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