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.