search by

Peter Hacker

Peter Hacker

Dr Peter Hacker is an Emeritus research fellow at St John’s College, Oxford University. He is one of the UK’s most distinguished scholars of Wittgenstein and is also known for his conceptual critique of cognitive neuroscience.


Peter Hacker was born in London in 1939. He studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the Queen’s college, Oxford, and after completing his BA in 1963 went on to spend two years as a senior scholar at St Anthony’s college, Oxford. His graduate work was supervised by the influential legal philosopher H.L.A Hart, and Hacker completed his D.Phil thesis, entitled “rules and Duties” in 1966 whilst holding a junior research fellowship at Balliol college, Oxford.

Since being awarded his Dphil in 1966 Hacker has been a fellow of St John’s College, Oxford. He has also held a number of visiting positions at various other institututions. He was visiting professor at Swarthmore College, USA, (1973 and 1986). Makerere College, Uganda (1968), and the University of Michigan, USA (1974). Hacker was also the Milton C. Scott visiting professor at Queen’s university, Kingston, Canada (1985), and a visiting fellow in humanities at the University of Bologna, Italy (2009). Hacker held the position of research reader in the humanities at the British Academy from 1985-1987, and in 1991-1994 he was the Leverhulme trust senior research fellow. Though Hacker retired in 2006 he has continued to be an active member of the philosophical community at Oxford, and was appointed his Emeritus Research fellowship at St John’s College, Oxford, following his retirement.

Philosophical research & interests

Hacker’s main area of academic research has been the linguistic-therapeutic approach to philosophy that was first developed by Wittgenstein, who proposed that the methodological approach to philosophical problems should involve investigation into structural relationship between our words and concepts. Hacker’s endorsement of the Wittgensteinian tradition entails his commitment to a sharp distinction between scientific and philosophical inquiry, as science intends to provide us with factual statements about the nature of reality, whereas the aim of philosophical investigation is the dissolve philosophical problems through an analysis of our use of language. “Philosophy is not a contribution to human knowledge, but to human understanding” (the orrery of intentionality 2001).

Hacker’s philosophical position consequently entails his staunch opposition to neuroscientific attempts to solve philosophical problems. Philosophers such as Daniel Dennett, who employ neuroscientifc research in order to try and answer philosophical questions, are directly in tension with Hacker’s approach, as he maintains that all questions of philosophy of mind arise through conceptual confusion about our use of language, and can therefore not be solved through scientific investigation. “Philosophical foundations of neuroscience” (2003), which was co-authored with neuroscientist M.Bennet, expresses Hacker’s vehement opposition to the use of neuroscientific research in philosophy, and also articulates Hacker’s general mistrust of the validity of a number of traditional philosophical questions in the philosophy of mind.

Academic work

Hacker’s most recent publications include:

“History of cognitive neuroscience” 2008

“Human nature: the Categorical framework” 2007

“Philosophical foundations of Neuroscience” 2003

“Wittgenstein: connections and controversies” 2001

Peter Hacker's videos: Pythagoras' Dream, On Having a Mind, Having a Body, and Being a Person, The End of Ideas, The New Romantics, Rise of the Machines, The Edge of Reason

Most popular videos

Pythagoras' Dream
Gabriel Gbadamosi, Peter Hacker, Hilary Lawson, Lee Smolin
Why register with the iai?
  • All you can watch
    Unlimited access to hundreds of hours of debates and talks from the world's leading minds, all for free.
  • Have your say
    Join the iai community and engage in conversation and debate around the issues that matter.
  • Hear it first
    Be the first to hear about our video releases, articles and tickets to our festival HowTheLightGetsIn.