Ian Hacking Quotes

Why should there be the method of science? There is not just one way to build a house, or even to grow tomatoes. We should not expect something as motley as the growth of knowledge to be strapped to one methodology.

A single observation that is inconsistent with some generalization points to the falsehood of the generalization, and thereby ‘points to itself’.

The best reaction to a paradox is to invent a genuinely new and deep idea.

There are two ways in which a science develops; in response to problems which is itself creates, and in response to problems that are forced on it from the outside.

Probability fractions arise from our knowledge and from our ignorance.

The bad player is the one who tries to calculate and play with the odds, as if his game, his life, were one of a large number of games. To do so is at best to succumb to another necessity, the necessity of large numbers. The good player does not fool himself, and accepts that there is exactly one chance, which produces by chance the necessity and even the purpose that he experiences.

The final arbitrator in philosophy is not how we think but what we do.

The important thing is to be able to understand anyone who has something useful to say. – There is a general moral here. Be very careful and very clear about what you say. But do not be dogmatic about your own language. Be prepared to express any careful thought in the language your audience will understand. And be prepared to learn from someone who talks a language with which you are not familiar.

I have this extraordinary curiosity about all subjects of the natural and human world and the interaction between the physical sciences and the social sciences.

Philosophers of science constantly discuss theories and representation of reality, but say almost nothing about experiment, technology, or the use of knowledge to alter the world. This is odd, because ‘experimental method’ used to be just another name for scientific method…. I hope [to] initiate a Back-to-Bacon movement, in which we attend more seriously to experimental science. Experimentation has a life of its own.

Opinion is the companion of probability within the medieval epistemology.

Experimental work provides the strongest evidence for scientific realism. This is not because we test hypotheses about entities. It is because entities that in principle cannot be ‘observed’ are manipulated to produce a new phenomena
[sic] and to investigate other aspects of nature.

Until the seventeenth century there was no concept of evidence with which to pose the problem of induction!

Molecular biology has routinely taken problematic things under its wing without altering core ideas.

Many modern philosophers claim that probability is relation between an hypothesis and the evidence for it.

By legend and perhaps by nature philosophers are more accustomed to the armchair than the workbench.

Every once in a while, something happens to you that makes you realise that the human race is not quite as bad as it so often seems to be.

Plutonium has a quite extraordinary relationship with people. They made it, and it kills them.

Statistics began as the systematic study of quantitative facts about the state.

Cutting up fowl to predict the future is, if done honestly and with as little interpretation as possible, a kind of randomization. But chicken guts are hard to read and invite flights of fancy or corruption.

If you were just intent on killing people you could do better with a bomb made of agricultural fertiliser.

In each case you settle on an act. Doing nothing at all counts as an act.

Much early alchemy seems to have been adventure. You heated and mixed and burnt and pounded and to see what would happen. An adventure might suggest an hypothesis that can subsequently be tested, but adventure is prior to theory.

Acceptance means commitment, among other things.

When land and its tillage are the basis of taxation, one need not care exactly how many people there are.