Hacking’s “Objectivity” Essay, Research Paper
It is impossible for me to say whether or not I agree completely with Ian Hacking’s work, not having read Kuhn’s work, Foucault’s work or even Hacking’s work in it’s entirety, however by examining Hacking’s claims individually, it may be possible to draw conclusions through the analyzation of his arguments. Ian Hacking’s most prevalent claim seems to be that “we ‘make up people’ in a stronger sense than we ‘make up’ the world.” By proving this, hacking is attempting to show why Kuhn was unsuccessful in historicizing out understanding of natural science. Hacking claims that perhaps it was impossible for Kuhn to succeed. Hacking maintains that in natural sciences, we create new phenomena, but it doesn’t change the way that the world works. The objects of the natural sciences are “created in time”, but are not “constituted historically”. In other words, we create phenomena through the use of experimental apparatus, but the creation of that phenomena, doesn’t change what makes it work, although it could change the understanding of how it works. Hacking seems to be saying that natural sciences are somewhat static, if a new understanding of a phenomenon is created, it doesn’t change the phenomenon, nor does it change the workings of the experimental apparatus. This sounds obvious, since although, thinking about or creating a theory about the way something works may cause the social world to change, there is no way for it to change the physical world. For example, when Bohr created his model of the atom, he decided that the electron was going to travel around the nucleus in a circular orbit, now we feel that although this model may hold for Hydrogen mathematically and experimentally, it does not hold true for atoms with more than one electron. Instead, we must turn to the model of electron clouds and probability densities. Looking at these conclusions, neither theory ever changed the actual way in which the electron orbits the nucleus, it merely changed the way in which we understood it. Hacking felt very differently about the social sciences. Ian Hacking felt that as we create new classifications and categories in the social sciences, we generate new kinds of people and new kinds of actions. Hacking maintains that, in the social sciences, objects are constituted by historical process. The objects he is referring to are people and groups of people. So by creating new groups or classifications, we are making these people into new kinds of people. Hacking is saying that the social sciences are dynamic. He is claiming that the social sciences are changing, as the natural sciences do, but are also creating a change within the field that they are studying, unlike the the natural sciences. This could be considered similar to the Uncertainty Principle, for it implies that we can never know the exact position and velocity of a particle, because by measuring such things we effect them, as studying social sciences effects the society. Hacking sometimes defends Kuhn’s points or perhaps looks at them in a more defendable sort of way. For example, Kuhn’s temptations to say that not only are revolutions changes in world view, but they are also changes in the world. Kuhn arrives at this idealism, by saying that people see the world differently after a revolution and he gives the example of Volta’s electric battery. This suggests that Kuhn is an idealist, because it implies that as people’s views of the world change, then so does the world itself. Hacking doesn’t think that Kuhn is an idealist in this respect, because he says that Kuhn is not among the group of people who challenge the “absolute existence” of scientific phenomena. Hacking is really stretching his method of defending Kuhn and perhaps even stretching Kuhn’s own beliefs a bit, because it seems to me that Kuhn would fall very close to the category of being a idealist. Hacking insists that one of the chief activities of an experimenter is to create phenomena that didn’t exist before. He says, “most of physical science is about phenomena that did not exist until people brought it into being” and he goes on to give the examples of the photoelectric effect, the Zeeman effect, the Compton effect, and the Josephson effect. Hacking believes that the effects are phenomena which do not exist in a pure state in “unpolluted nature”. He also says that the “physical phenomena are resilient to theoretical change” and “the phenomena which we have created will still exist and the inventions will still work” even while our understandings of them change. I think that there is more interpretation to be done about the effects. It seems to me that it is impossible to “create” an effect. How can we create something and not be able to destroy it? How can we do any more than simply discover the way that nature works by reproducing it in a controlled environment? Hacking argues that the creation and study of phenomena is what physics has come to be about, however I say that physics is about purifying and controlling the effects that already exist in nature. Let’s take the photoelectric effect, for example. How can Hacking be sure that a photon from the sun has never hit a piece of iron ore and released and electron? The earth is constantly bombarded with photons, and I’m sure that many of them are of the proper energy to free electrons from the vast amounts of metal on this planet. Therefore, it seems reasonable to me that this phenomenon happens all the time and has been happening for a long time. If Hacking wants to define creation as a discovery through the use of experimental apparatus, then perhaps we create these phenomena but I don’t feel that this is a suitable definition for creation. Thus, I cannot agree completely with Hacking’s argument.
Ian Hacking holds a different view on the social sciences. He believes that the problem with scholastic nominalism is that “it leaves our interactions with, and descriptions of, the world a complete mystery.” Thus, Hacking introduces “dynamic nominalism” to describe the two way interaction occurring when “categories of people come into existence at the same time as kinds of people come into being to fit those categories.” To illustrate this, Hacking gives the examples of how 4000 different motives for murder exist in the nineteenth century, how many new classifications and subdivisions for madness are created, and how, in the decennial census, the categories of people change every ten years. Hacking insists that social change generates new categories of people and people chose to fall into these categories. He gives the example of cases of multiple personalities. He says that no more than one or two cases were reported per year until 1875 when public attention was given to Felida X and Pierre Janet, a distinguished psychiatrist. The number or reported cases jumped. I agree with Hacking in saying that, by creating new categories, we are in fact creating new kinds of people and I think that this works in the reverse as well. As the social world changes and as people change, it is necessary to create new categories to describe them. However, Hacking claims that “only after the doctors had done their work was there this syndrome for a disturbed person to adopt.” I have to point out that earlier he said that there were one or two cases every year and over a long period of time, that number cannot be considered trivial. When hacking concludes, he seems to give in a little on his opinions and ideas. He says, “we remake the world but we make up people.” This doesn’t sound exactly like his argument at the beginning of his work. Despite Hacking’s radical views, he leaves everything that he discusses open to interpretation. Perhaps, I am not well versed in the field of philosophy, or writing about it for that matter, but it seems to me that defending a radical point should contain evidence and a conclusion which leaves very little doubt in ones mind. Hacking leaves his opinions open-ended and this takes away from the solidity and stability of his argument. By stating this, I am not saying that I could have done any better, merely that he could have.