Many of these courses were audio recorded and are available for purchase. If you're interesting in gaining access to a past MSCP course please email

From Maths to Madness, the work and thought of Ian Hacking

Lecturer: Jon Rubin

Originally Taught: Winter School 2019

Although he describes himself as an analytic philosopher, he is also the only Anglophone speaker to hold Foucault’s own chair (renamed the chair of the ‘Philosophy and History of Scientific Concepts’, from ‘The History of Systems of Thought’) at the Collège de France. Hacking’s work continually demonstrates the power of Foucault’s archaeological method, whilst never being dogmatic. A thinker obsessed with the historicity of human ‘kinds’, he is ironically sui generis. His work spans a vast arena, but if there is a common thread that binds his works on the history of mathematics to the history of madness, it is his interest in the way people make up ‘kinds of people’ and the ‘looping effects’ whereby these new descriptive-kinds, make possible and produce, new kinds of behaviour and understanding.

This five session course will provide an introduction and overview of the key elements of Hacking’s work. It will be addressing (but not limited to) the following questions and topics:

  • Hacking wishes to be be an experimental realist (scientists produce phenomena and effects which they then try to explain) about the natural sciences but a dynamical nominalist (naming a group of people has effects, intended and unintended) about human kinds. Can he consistently maintain this kind of opposition?
  • The continuity of investigation of both human indeterminateness as measured by statistics and human unreasonableness as described by psychiatry.
  • Finally, perhaps the most surprising question of all: is the past fixed? Hacking does not mean that our memories of the past can change, of course they can. Hacking wishes to insist that the past itself can be changed, as we change our understanding of the present.

The course will focus on five core texts (buttressed by additional reading). Each text will be the topic of a lecture.

  1. Chapter six of Historical Ontology, ‘Making Up People’.
  2. Chapter twelve of Historical Ontology, ‘ “Style” for Historians and Philosophers’.
  3. The Taming of Chance.
  4. Mad Travelers, mainly chapters three and four.
  5. Rewriting the Soul, chapters thirteen to seventeen.


Bibliography / Reading List

Hacking, Ian. 1975. The Emergence of Probability: A Philosophical Study of Early Ideas about Probability, Induction and Statistical Inference. London [etc.]: Cambridge University Press.

———. 1983. Representing and Intervening. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———. 1990. The Taming of Chance. Ideas in Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———. 1995. Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

———. 1998. Mad Travellers Reflections on the Reality of Transient Mental Illnesses. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

———. 2002. Historical Ontology. Harvard: Harvard University Press.

———. 2014. Why Is There Philosophy of Mathematics at All? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hacking, Ian. 1979. ‘Michel Foucault’s Immature Science’. Noûs 13 (1): 39–51.

———. 1982. ‘Biopower and the Avalanche of Printed Numbers’. Humanities in Society 5 (3–4): 279–95.

———. 1983. ‘Nineteenth Century Cracks in the Concept of Determinism’. Journal of the History of Ideas 44 (3): 455–75.

———. 1988a. ‘Philosophers of Experiment’. PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1988: 147–56.

———. 1988b. ‘On the Stability of the Laboratory Sciences’. The Journal of Philosophy 85 (10): 507–14.

———. 1991. ‘Two Souls in One Body’. Critical Inquiry 17 (4): 838–67.

———. 1992. ‘“Style” for Historians and Philosophers’. Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part A 23 (1): 1–20.

———. 1994. ‘Memoro-Politics, Trauma and the Soul’. History of the Human Sciences 7 (2): 29–52.

———. 1996a. ‘Automatisme Ambulatoire: Fugue, Hysteria, and Gender at the Turn of the Century’. Modernism/Modernity 3 (2): 31–43.

———. 1996b. ‘Les Alienes Voyageurs: How Fugue Became a Medical Entity’. History of Psychiatry 7 (27): 425–49.

———. 2002. ‘Inaugural Lecture: Chair of Philosophy and History of Scientific Concepts at the College de France, 16 January 2001’. Economy and Society 31 (February): 1–14.

———. 2003. ‘Indeterminacy in the Past: On the Recent Discussion of Chapter 17 of Rewriting the Soul’. History of the Human Sciences 16 (2): 117–24.