A Review of Historical Ontology

Jeu-Jenq Yuann
Department of Philosophy, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan, ROC.

It is always difficult to review something which is broad in concept and rich in contents. Historical Ontology is certainly one of these. Therefore, what I am going to do in this review is both selective and deductive. I first select what according to me the most essential parts of the book, then deduce some ideas which appear to be in sequence to the parts I select. They of course do not form a systematic structure, but a very limited reflection on a book which is characterized by a collection of papers manifesting nonetheless an essential part of Hacking's philosophy.

Hacking's idea of giving the title to this book can be characterized simultaneously 'fortuitous' and 'inexorable'. These two characters may not get along with each other apparently, yet together they show a long-standing position. Throughout a span of more than a quarter of century (ranging from 1973 to 1999), this collection of papers fully demonstrates his determination to manifest the 'fact' that the nature of things has more to do with its coming into being, than what they are. It is also due to this determination that Hacking relentlessly insists in his works that thorny problems of traditional philosophy wither away as soon as we realize that 'objects', 'evidence', 'sentences (new ways of being a candidate for truth or falsehood)', 'laws (or at any rate modalities)', 'possibilities' (p. 189) come into being in accompany with, not an ontological framework of any kind, but a 'style' of reasoning. Is this truly that simple? Yes, according to him, but the manifestation of this 'simple fact' is carried out by a tremendously broad extent of knowledge, constituted mainly by rather obvious facts, on which some assertions are made radically (such as before the year of X, Y did not exist for not being incorporated into the 'style of reasoning' then). Without paying attention to the 'factual basis' of this enormously broad knowledge, any formulation of the idea of 'historical ontology' would be a mistake outright.

Taiwanese Journal for Studies of Science, Technology and Medicine, Number 7