Ian Hacking, leading philosopher of science and many others, dies at 87

Ian Hacking, a Canadian philosopher widely hailed as a giant of modern thought for his groundbreaking contributions to the philosophies of science, probability and mathematics, as well as his widely circulated ideas on issues such as race and mental health, is died May 10 at a retirement home in Toronto. He was 87 years old.

His daughter Jane Hacking said the cause was heart failure.

In an academic career spanning more than two decades as a professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto, following appointments at Cambridge and Stanford, Professor Hacking’s intellectual reach seemed to know no bounds. Due to his ability to span multiple academic fields, he has often been described as a bridge builder.

“Ian Hacking was a one-person interdisciplinary department,” Cheryl Misak, a philosophy professor at the University of Toronto, said in a phone interview. “Anthropologists, sociologists, historians and psychologists, as well as those working on probability theory and physics, led him to have important insights for their disciplines.”

A lively and provocative, though often very technical, writer, Professor Hacking has written several landmark books on the philosophy and history of probability, including “The Taming of Chance” (1990), which has been named one of 100 best non-fiction books of the 20th century by the Modern Library.

His many honors included the Holberg Prizeprize for academic scholarship in the humanities, social sciences, law and theology, which he won in 2009. In 2000, he became the first English speaker to obtain a permanent position at the Collège de France, where he held the chair of philosophy and the history of scientific concepts until his retirement in 2006.

Professor Hacking’s book “The Taming of Chance” has been named one of the 100 best non-fiction books of the 20th century by the Modern Library.

His work in the philosophy of science is revolutionary: it deviates from the preoccupation with questions that have long preoccupied philosophers. Arguing that science was as much about intervention as it was about representation, be helped bring experimentation to the fore.

Regarding one of these questions – whether invisible phenomena such as quarks and electrons were real or simply the theoretical constructions of physicists – he argued for reality in the case of phenomena that appeared in experiments, citing as an example an experiment at Stanford which involved the sputtering of electrons and positrons. in a niobium ball to detect electrical charges. “As far as I’m concerned,” he wrote, “if you can spray them, they’re real.”

His book “The Emergence of Probability” (1975), which is said to have inspired hundreds of books by other scholars, examined how concepts of statistical probability have evolved over time, shaping how we not only understand dark fields like quantum physics, but also everyday life.

“I was trying to figure out what happened a few hundred years ago that allowed our world to be ruled by probability,” he said. in a 2012 interview with the magazine Culture publique. “We now live in a universe of chance, and everything we do – health, sport, sex, molecules, climate – takes place in a discourse of probability.”

As the author of 13 books and hundreds of articles, including many in The New York Review of Books and its London counterpart, he established himself as a formidable public intellectual.

Whatever the subject, whatever the audience, an idea that runs through all of his work is that “science is a human enterprisewrote Ragnar Fjelland and Roger Strand of the University of Bergen in Norway when Professor Hacking won the Holberg Prize. “It is always created in a historical situation, and to understand why current science is what it is, it is not enough to know that it is “true”, or confirmed. We need to know the historical context of its emergence.

Professor Hacking’s book “The Emergence of Probability”, which is said to have inspired hundreds of books by other researchers, examined how concepts of statistical probability have evolved over time.

Influenced by the French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault, Professor Hacking has often argued that as the humanities evolved, they created categories of people, and people then defined themselves as belonging to these categories. Thus human reality becomes socially constructed.

“I have long been interested in the classifications of people, how they affect the people classified and how the effects on the people in turn change rankingshe wrote in “Making Up People,” a 2006 article in The London Review of Books.

“I call it the ‘loop effect’,” he added. “Sometimes our sciences create types of people that in some sense didn’t exist before.”

In “Why Race Still Matters”, a 2005 article in the journal Daedalus, he explored how anthropologists have developed racial categories by extrapolating from superficial physical characteristics, with lasting effects – including racial oppression. “Classification and judging are rarely separable,” he wrote. “Racial classification is an assessment.”

Likewise, he once wrote, in the field of mental health, the word “normal” “uses a power as old as Aristotle to bridge the fact/value distinction, whispering in your ear that what is normal is also right”.

In his influential writings on autism, Professor Hacking has traced the evolution of diagnosis and its profound effects on those diagnosed, which has broadened the definition to include more people.

Encouraging children with autism to think of themselves this way “may separate the child from ‘normal’ in a way that is not appropriate,” he told Public Culture. “By all means, encourage the quirks. Do not criticize the oddities in any way.

His emphasis on historical context also illuminated what he called transitory mental illnesses, which seem so confined “to their time” that they can disappear when times change.

For example, he wrote in his book “Crazy Travelers” (1998), “hysterical fatigue” was a short-lived epidemic of compulsive wandering that emerged in Europe in the 1880s, largely among middle-class men who had become transfixed by stories of exotic places and the lure of travel.

Professor Hacking’s ‘Rewriting the Soul’ examined the rise and fall of concern over the supposed epidemic known as multiple personality disorder

His book “Rewrite the Soul” (1995) examined the short-lived concern about the so-called epidemic known as multiple personality disorder, which arose around 1970 from “a few paradigmatic cases of strange behavior”.

“It was rather sensational,” he wrote, summarizing the phenomenon in the London Review article. “More and more disgruntled people started showing these symptoms.” First, he added, “a person had two or three personalities. In a decade, the average number was 17.”

“It got fed back into the diagnoses and became part of the standard set of symptoms,” he argued, creating a loop effect that increased the number of people apparently affected – to the point that Professor Hacking recalled visiting a “split bar” them, which he compares to a gay bar, in 1991.

Within a few years, however, multiple personality disorder was renamed dissociative identity disorder, a change that was “more than an act of diagnostic cleansing,” he wrote. “Symptoms evolve, patients are no longer expected to come with a list of entirely distinct personalities, and they don’t.”

Ian MacDougall Hacking was born on February 18, 1936 in Vancouver, British Columbia, the only child of Harold Hacking, who handled cargo on freighters and was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his service in the Army Canadian during the Second World War. War II, and Margaret (MacDougall) Hacking, milliner.

His intellectual tendencies were undeniable from an early age. “When he was 3 or 4, he would sit and read the dictionary,” Jane Hacking said. “His parents were completely baffled.”

He studied mathematics and physics at the University of British Columbia and, after graduating in 1956, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he obtained a doctorate in 1962.

In addition to his daughter Jane, Professor Hacking is survived by another daughter, Rachel Gee; one son, Daniel Hacking; a stepson, Oliver Baker; and seven grandchildren. His wife, Judith Baker, died in 2014. His two previous marriages, to Laura Anne Leach and philosopher of science Nancy Cartwright, ended in divorce.

Even in retirement, Professor Hacking retained his sense of wonder.

In a interview 2009 with Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, made in the garden of his Toronto home, he pointed to a wasp buzzing near a rose, which he said reminded him of the physical principle of non-locality, l direct influence of an object on another distant object, which was the subject of a lecture he had recently heard from physicist Nicolas Gisin.

He wondered aloud, the interviewer noted, if the entire universe was ruled by nonlocality—if “everything in the universe is aware of everything else”.

“That’s what you should be writing about,” he said. “Not me. I’m a dilettante. My motto is ‘curiosity’.

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