April 20, 2007

Prof. Hacking tackles truth in science

Ian Hacking, this year’s Critical Inquiry Visiting Professor, spoke to an overflow crowd in Social Sciences 122 on Friday, delivering a lecture entitled “Finding Out." He is widely renowned for his contributions to the philosophy of science, and his talk focused on the different modes of truthfulness that exist under the guises of different forms of scientific thinking.

He began by saying that "neither truth nor reason has an interesting genealogy, but that truthfulness and reasoning do.” Hacking went on to distinguish what he considers the timeless and objective “truth” on the one hand, and a fluctuating “truthfulness” on the other. He claimed that “each way of finding out introduces its own criteria of evidence, proof, and demonstration. Each determines the criteria of truth-telling that applies in its own domain”. Essentially, truthfulness as scientists and laypeople understand it is a result of the prevailing systems of understandings that inform and allow that truthfulness, according to Hacking. The claim has far-reaching implications for those studying the philosophy of sciences as well as scientists.

Hacking is Honorary Professor of Philosophy and the History of Scientific Concepts at the prestigious Collège de France, the institution with which the University of Chicago has recently announced an academic partnership. Both U of C art history professor Joel Snyder and English professor Tom Mitchell, who introduced Hacking, lauded his extensive intellectual achievement and expressed their enthusiasm about his presence on campus.

When asked about his visit to campus, Hacking said he took particular interest in interacting with the “enormously curious undergraduates,” whom he said are highly willing to engage in pure intellectual pursuit, rather than being colored by the “What can I do to further my career right now?" sentiment that sometimes dogs those further along in their careers.

Professor Hacking’s second and final lecture, “The Suicide Weapon”—which he said will be “completely different in content and in style” from his first—will take place Friday, April 27, at 4 p.m. in Social Sciences 122.