Ian Hacking teaches philosophy at the University of Toronto. From 2000 to 2006 Hacking held the chair of Philosophy and History of Scientific Concepts at the Collège de France. His most recent book is Historical Ontology.

A New Way to See a Leaf

It is autumn. All around, the leaves are blown. Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red. We may disagree a bit, perhaps, about the hectic red. For you, that is a bit over the top. Why invoke a fevered hue when this splendid maple leaf is just plain bright …

Minding the Brain

Antonio Damasio is a distinguished neuroscientist with a flair for writing about science and an enthusiasm for philosophizing. For decades, students of mind and brain concentrated on “cognition”—perceiving, recognizing, naming, classifying, speaking, generalizing, reasoning, solving problems—and on various types of memory. Damasio pioneered the neurology of another aspect of our …

Our Fellow Animals

Life on a factory farm is well-nigh unbearable for the animals or birds, and it is often foul for the women and men who process the meat that results—especially in factories for chicken parts. But do not sentimentalize. Do not imagine barnyard life is a bowl of cherries. Here is …

Mind Over Matter

The most astonishing scene in Alison Winter’s book takes place in the Calcutta Native Hospital in 1846. All the employees, right down to the cook, have been taught to “mesmerize” patients to the point where they are in a state of complete anesthesia. (To mesmerize may be to hypnotize, a …

In Pursuit of Fairness

Amartya Sen is best known to the general reader for his powerful essays on famine. He is an optimist about some of our gravest economic problems, such as mass starvation in a world that at present can easily produce more food than everyone can eat. Reason and voluntary participation are …

When the Atom Broke Down

Inward Bound is a sweeping narrative of the history and present state of atomic physics. It is something of an official history, explaining what, in the opinion of the physics community, is known, and how it came to be known. Pais was a distinguished participant in a number of the …

Science Turned Upside Down

The word “revolution” first brings to mind violent upheavals in the state, but ideas of revolution in science, and of political revolution, are almost coeval. The word once meant only a revolving, a circular return to an origin, as when we speak of revolutions per minute or the revolution of …

On the Frontier

There is no more creative or systematic philosopher at work in America today than Donald Davidson, but most people would find his essays formidable. This is not because they are long, convoluted, or technical, or because they are obscure or self-indulgent. On the contrary, it is because the prose is …

Winner Take Less

It is so hard to make important decisions that we have a great urge to reduce them to rules. Every moral teacher or spiritual adviser gives injunctions about how to live wisely and well. But life is so complicated and full of uncertainty that rules seldom tell us quite what …

Where Does Math Come From?

Philip Kitcher thinks that mathematics is surprisingly like empirical science. Few mathematicians would agree; philosophers too, from Socrates on, have held the opposite opinion. In mathematics, they have said, we are able to solve problems and construct proofs by pure thought, without any need to check out how the land …

Kiss and Don’t Tell

Secrecy is one of the shadier sides of private and public life. Many of us will be obsessed with one or another kind of secret or revelation, be it gossip about friends or ourselves, a fantasy about spies, or a worry about the most personal information now stored in data …

Twilight of Authority

A “philosophical dictionary” is not a dictionary of philosophy that you use to look up obscure thinkers or recondite terms. It is a collection of brief and pithy essays on diverse topics, informed by one vision, and usually arranged in alphabetical order. Nisbet has written just such a book. Voltaire …

Why Are You Scared?

What is risk? Not risk of this disease or that accident, but Pure Risk? It is a sign of the times. The Society for Risk Analysis was founded last year. There is a new magazine for the trade: Risk Analysis, an International Journal. Risk has become a profession. Social risks …

Is Locke the Key?

“Philology: the generally accepted comprehensive name for the study of the word (Greek, logos), or languages; it designates that branch of knowledge which deals with human speech, and with all that speech discloses as to the nature and history of man.” Here there is the strong presumption that speech itself—not …

Wittgenstein the Psychologist

Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote his Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology about thirty-five years ago. Only now have they been published, rather late in a long sequence of posthumous books. The two volumes are successive attempts to sort out the same ideas. He was never fully satisfied by them, but they …

The Archaeology of Foucault

Power/Knowledge is a collection of nine interviews, an essay, and a pair of lectures in which Michel Foucault tries to work out new ways to talk about power. This is one more stage in a remarkable adventure of ideas that began in the late Fifties. “Key words” in Foucault’s work …

Chomsky and His Critics

From time to time, ever since Plato, grammar has been more than the bane of schoolchildren or a topic for scholars. It owes its present prominence outside linguistics to some theses stated twenty-five years ago by Noam Chomsky. There is, he said, a universal grammar common to all human languages.