What is Hacking’s argument for entity realism?

Boaz Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


According to Ian Hacking’s Entity Realism, unobservable entities that scientists carefully manipulate to study other phenomena are real. Although Hacking presents his case in an intuitive, attractive, and persuasive way, his argument remains elusive. I present five possible readings of Hacking’s argument: a no-miracle argument, an indispensability argument, a transcendental argument, a Vichian argument, and a non-argument. I elucidate Hacking’s argument according to each reading, and review their strengths, their weaknesses, and their compatibility with each other.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)991-1006
Number of pages16
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.


I thank Anjan Chakravartty, Jacob Stegenga, Yemima Ben-Menahem, and Daniel Steel for helpful comments and discussions. This paper was presented at the Israel Society for History and Philosophy of Science Annual Meeting, Jerusalem, 2013, and at the PSA Biennial Meeting, Chicago, 2014. I thank the audience members for helpful comments. I am grateful to the students at my seminar in philosophy of science at the Bar Ilan University Graduate Program in Science, Technology, and Society for realizing that getting at the bottom of Hacking’s argument is tricky. I thank the Dan David Foundation, the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel Aviv University, and the Sidney M. Edelstein Center for History and Philosophy of Science, Technology and Medicine, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, for postdoctoral fellowships.

FundersFunder number
Cohn Institute
Dan David Prize
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel Aviv University


    • Entity realism
    • Indispensability arguments
    • Inference to the best explanation
    • Scepticism
    • Scientific realism
    • Transcendental arguments


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