Rewarding Philosophy -

Rewarding Philosophy


I’m not sure what is cooler: The fact that the Norwegian Parliament awards an annual prize worth $750k for international scholarship in the humanities and social sciences, that this year’s winner is UofT philosopher Ian Hacking, or that the Globe saw fit to put Valpy’s story about the prize on A1.

When I was in grad school, Hacking bestrode the philosophy department like a colossus. In a department chockablock with big hitters, Hacking was the one bonafide superstar. His classes were always way oversubscribed and sometimes it seemed like half the students in the department had him as a supervisor. When I got there he was best known for his work in the philosophy of science, especially through his books Representing and Intervening and The Taming of Chance. But at some point Hacking had the  idea of wedding Foucault’s difficult and rather opaque insights about power and knowledge to hardcore research in statistics and the social sciences, launching in the process a whole new field of inquiry on social kinds, the looping effect, and the classification of people. His book The Social Construction of What? is a thoroughly accessible entry point into that work.

Hacking has received lots of prizes and awards and so on over the years, but one aspect of his work that usually goes unreported is what a lovely stylist he is. Ian Hacking is a gorgeous writer, something I only fully appreciated when I was writing my thesis and went back and read some old journal articles he’d written on Leibniz. Most Leibniz scholars don’t exactly go out of their way to make it fun; Hacking made it so.

Bonus reading: An article he wrote for the LRB a decade ago about Aum Shinryko.

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Rewarding Philosophy

  1. Probably the Globe's A1 play was the least cool thing, but it was still pretty heartening. More evidence that the paper's changing… back to some of the habits that stood it in good stead for a century.

    Unlike Potter I'm a heathen, so I'd never heard of Hacking til I got hired to MC a SSHRC awards ceremony a year ago, at which Hacking won the big heavy-hitter prize that went, in its first year, to Charles Taylor. I've since read some of his work. He's a lovely guy. Incidentally, that SSHRC award came with a not inconsiderable amount of prize money. Hacking gave all of it to various grad students so they could pursue research projects.

    • "Hacking gave all of it to various grad students so they could pursue research projects."

      Now that's class. Unfortunately the Norwegian award is actually in kind, i.e. in herring. A kind of herring, anyway.

      The piece by Hacking that Potter links to, about the Japanese cult, is insanely well written, absolutely a treat. Really, really makes me want to read his books.

      • Isn't he a marvelous writer? It's so annoying. You should read Social Construction of What — it pretty much settles all those insane debates in the nineties over social construction.

        • "One has observed life badly if one has not also seen the hand that considerately — kills." –Nietzsche

          Thanks for the tip!

  2. Interesting couple of photos of him in the hard copy G&M. He has that genius look to him.

  3. Definitely good to see the Globe highlighting the work of a great scholar (who most Canadians have never heard of). More media coverage of some of the lesser known scientists and scholars amongst us (before they win the big prizes) would be even more welcome.

  4. I cringed a little while reading the LRB piece, even considering how fluidly I was pulled along. I lived in Japan for a couple of years, had Japanese friends and girlfriends. Perhaps it's just me, but I'm convinced that there is a Japanese "psyche".