Peter Hacker

For other people named Peter Hacker, see Peter Hacker (disambiguation).
Peter Hacker
Born 15 July 1939
Alma mater The Queen's College, Oxford
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic philosophy
Main interests
Philosophy of language, Philosophy of mind, Neurophilosophy, Wittgenstein
Notable ideas
The mereological fallacy in neuroscience and the philosophy of mind

Peter Michael Stephan Hacker (born 15 July 1939) is a British philosopher. His principal expertise is in the philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. He is known for his detailed exegesis of the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and his outspoken conceptual critique of cognitive neuroscience.[1]

Professional biography

Peter Hacker studied philosophy, politics and economics at The Queen's College, Oxford from 1960–63. In 1963–65 he was senior Scholar at St Antony's College, Oxford, where he began graduate work under the supervision of Professor H. L. A. Hart. His D.Phil thesis "Rules and Duties" was completed in 1966 during a Junior Research Fellowship at Balliol College, Oxford.

Since 1966 Peter Hacker has been a fellow of St John's College, Oxford, and a member of the Oxford University philosophy faculty. His visiting positions at other universities include Makerere College, Uganda (1968); Swarthmore College, USA (1973 and 1986); University of Michigan, USA (1974); Milton C. Scott visiting professor at Queen's University, Kingston, Canada (1985); Visiting Fellow in Humanities at University of Bologna, Italy (2009). From 1985 to 1987 he was a British Academy Research Reader in the Humanities. In 1991–94 he was a Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellow. Peter Hacker retired from Oxford in 2006, but he has been appointed an Emeritus Research Fellow of St John's College, Oxford and is presently Professor of Philosophy at the University of Kent.

Philosophical views

Peter Hacker is one of the most powerful contemporary exponents of the linguistic-therapeutic approach to philosophy pioneered by Ludwig Wittgenstein. In this approach, the words and concepts used by the language community are taken as given, and the role of philosophy is to resolve or dissolve philosophical problems by giving an overview of the uses of these words and the structural relationships between these concepts. Philosophical inquiry is therefore very different from scientific inquiry, and Hacker maintains accordingly that there is a sharp dividing line between the two: "Philosophy is not a contribution to human knowledge, but to human understanding" (quoted from "An Orrery of Intentionality"). This has led him into direct disagreement with "neuro-philosophers": neuroscientists or philosophers such as Antonio Damasio and Daniel Dennett who think that neuroscience can shed light on philosophical questions such as the nature of consciousness or the mind-body problem. Hacker maintains that these, like all philosophical problems, are not real problems at all, but mirages arising from conceptual confusion. It follows that scientific inquiry (learning more facts about humans or the world) does not help to resolve them. His 2003 book "Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience", co-authored with neuroscientist Max Bennett, contains an exposition of these views, and critiques of the ideas of many contemporary neuroscientists and philosophers, including Francis Crick, Antonio Damasio, Daniel Dennett, John Searle, and others.

Hacker in general finds many received components of current philosophy of mind to be incoherent. He rejects mind-brain identity theories, as well as functionalism, eliminativism and other forms of reductionism. He advocates methodological pluralism, denying that standard explanations of human conduct are causal, and insisting on the irreducibility of explanation in terms of reasons and goals. He denies that psychological attributes can be intelligibly ascribed to the brain, insisting that they are ascribable only to the human being as a whole. He has endeavoured to show that the puzzles and 'mysteries' of consciousness dissolve under careful analysis of the various forms of intransitive and transitive consciousness, and that so-called qualia are no more than a philosopher's fiction. Together with M.R. Bennett, Hacker has stated that the eliminative materialist inevitably "saws off the branch on which he is seated." In the name of reason, truth, and science, he destroys all reason, truth, and science.[2]

Hacker frequently collaborated with fellow Oxford philosopher G. P. Baker.


  1. Insight and Illusion: Wittgenstein on Philosophy and the Metaphysics of Experience (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1972)
  2. Insight and Illusion – themes in the philosophy of Wittgenstein (extensively revised edition) (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1986) (ISBN 0-19-824783-4)
  3. Wittgenstein : Understanding and Meaning, Volume 1 of an analytical commentary on the Philosophical Investigations (Blackwell, Oxford, and Chicago University Press, Chicago, 1980)(ISBN 0-631-12111-0)(ISBN 1-4051-0176-8)(ISBN 1-4051-1987-X), co-authored with G.P. Baker.
  4. Frege : Logical Excavations, (Blackwell, Oxford, O.U.P., N.Y., 1984) (ISBN 0-19-503261-6) co-authored with G.P. Baker.
  5. Language, Sense and Nonsense, a critical investigation into modern theories of language (Blackwell, 1984) (ISBN 0-631-13519-7) co-authored with G.P. Baker.
  6. Scepticism, Rules and Language (Blackwell, 1984) (ISBN 0-631-13614-2) co-authored with G.P. Baker.
  7. Wittgenstein : Rules, Grammar, and Necessity – Volume 2 of an analytical commentary on the Philosophical Investigations (Blackwell, Oxford, UK and Cambridge, Mass. USA, 1985) (ISBN 0-631-13024-1)(ISBN 0-631-16188-0) co-authored with G.P. Baker.
  8. Appearance and Reality – a philosophical investigation into perception and perceptual qualities (Blackwell, 1987) (ISBN 0-631-15704-2)
  9. Wittgenstein : Meaning and Mind, Volume 3 of an Analytical Commentary on the Philosophical Investigations (Blackwell, Oxford and Cambridge, Mass., 1990) (ISBN 0-631-18739-1)
  10. Wittgenstein: Mind and Will, Volume 4 of an Analytical Commentary on the Philosophical Investigations (Blackwell, 1996) (ISBN 0-631-18739-1)
  11. Wittgenstein's Place in Twentieth Century Analytic Philosophy (Blackwell,Oxford, UK and Cambridge, Mass., USA, 1996) (ISBN 0-631-20098-3)
  12. Wittgenstein on Human Nature (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1997) (ISBN 0-7538-0193-0)
  13. Wittgenstein: Connections and Controversies (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2001) (ISBN 0-19-924569-X)
  14. Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience (Blackwell, Oxford, and Malden, Mass., 2003) (ISBN 1-4051-0855-X), co-authored with Max Bennett
  15. Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind, and Language (Columbia University Press, New York, 2007) (ISBN 978-0-231-14044-7), co-authored with Max Bennett, D. Dennett, and J. Searle
  16. Human Nature: The Categorial Framework (Blackwell, 2007) (ISBN 1405147288)
  17. History of Cognitive Neuroscience (Wiley, Blackwell, 2008) (ISBN 978-1-4051-8182-2), co-authored with Max Bennett
  18. The Intellectual Powers: A study of Human Nature (Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, 2013) ISBN 978-1-4443-3247-6 pb. ed.[3]
  19. Wittgenstein: Comparisons & Context (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2013) ISBN 978-0-19-967482-4"[4]

Papers available on the web

  1. Analytic Philosophy: Beyond the linguistic turn and back again, in M. Beaney ed. The Analytic Turn: Analysis in Early Analytic Philosophy and Phenomenology (Routledge, London, 2006)
  2. Passing by the Naturalistic Turn: on Quine's cul-de-sac, Philosophy 2006
  3. Scott Soames's Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century, critical notice, Philosophical Quarterly 2006
  4. Of knowledge and of knowing that someone is in pain, in A. Pichler and S. Säätelä eds., Wittgenstein: The Philosopher and his Works ((The Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen, Bergen, 2005)), pp. 203–235.
  5. Substance: Things and Stuffs, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 2004, pp. 41–63.
  6. Of the ontology of belief, in Mark Siebel and Mark Textor ed. Semantik und Ontologie (Ontos Verlag, Frankfurt, 2004), pp. 185–222.
  7. The conceptual framework for the investigation of the emotions, International Review of Psychiatry, Vol.16, No. 3 (August 2004), pp. 199–208
  8. Is there anything it is like to be a bat?, Philosophy 77, 2002, pp. 157–74.
  9. Wittgenstein and the Autonomy of Humanistic Understanding, in R. Allen and M. Turvey eds., Wittgenstein: Theory and the Arts (Routledge. London, 2001), pp. 39–74.
  10. An Orrery of Intentionality, in Language and Communication, 21(2001), pp. 119–141.
  11. When the Whistling had to Stop, in D.O.M. Charles and T.W. Child eds. Wittgensteinian Themes: Essays in Honour of David Pears (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2001).
  12. Was he Trying to Whistle it? in A. Crary and R. Read eds. The New Wittgenstein (Routledge, London, 2000), pp. 353–88.
  13. Wittgenstein, Carnap and the New American Wittgensteinians, Philosophical Quarterly 53 (2003), pp. 1 –23.


  1. Cf. Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience (Blackwell, 2003); Neuroscience and Philosophy (Columbia University Press, 2007)
  2. Feser, Edward, The Last Superstition, St. Augustine Press 2008, p. 234
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