Philosopher Ian Hacking has
identified something that he refers to as the “looping effect” in his papers.
Hacking describes this effect and how it can be used to distinguish between interactive
and indifferent kinds. The looping effect that Hacking describes has also been
criticized by many philosophers who find fault in his reasoning. In this paper
I will explain Hacking’s account of the looping effects as well as examine
counter arguments that were made against Hacking. In doing this I hope to show
that while Hacking is correct about some of the outcomes of the looping effect,
this effect is not appropriate in classifying interactive versus indifferent
kinds.

            I will start off by explaining Ian
Hackings account of the looping effect. Hacking outlines the looping effect as
a type of feedback where people who are classified under a human science
classification experience a shift in behavior because of the meaning of that
classification. Hacking outlines two different kinds, interactive and
indifferent. According to Hacking the looping effect only applies to
interactive kinds, he says:

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“‘Interactive’ is a new concept that
applies not to people but to classifications, to kinds, to the kinds that can
influence what is classified. And because kinds can interact with what is
classified, the classification itself may be modified or replaced.” (Hacking
1999, 103)

By
this Hacking means that interactive kinds are kinds that can interact with a
classification that is given to them. Hacking uses the example of children and
quarks to outline interactive kinds. He talks about how children are
self-aware, so when they are classified as something (e.g., hyperactive) they
are able to understand the meaning of this classification and their behavior
may change as a result. They might not always change just because they heard
the classification that they fall under, but rather change in response to the
way that the environment around them changes once they are classified (e.g.,
how they are treated differently in school from the other students). Quarks, on
the other hand, are not something that can respond to a classification, and
therefore are not interactive kinds. On the opposite end of interactive kinds
are indifferent kinds. Hacking uses the example of a quark to explain in
different kinds by saying:

“The classification ‘quark’ is
indifferent in the sense that calling a quark a quark makes no difference to
the quark.” (Hacking 1999, 105)

According
to Hacking, these indifferent kinds (e.g., quark, apple, horse) do not interact
with what they are classified as, and because of this, indifferent kinds don’t
have looping effects. Hacking also describes how natural kinds are also
indifferent kinds because they do not interact with their classification. He
gives the example of a horse being a natural kind and explains:

“In denying that horse is an interactive kind, I am not denying that people and
horses interact. I am saying that horses are no different for being classified
as horses.” (Hacking 1999, 107)

Here
Hacking highlights that just because and indifferent kind is not an interactive
kind, it doesn’t mean that they can’t interact with things, it just means that
they can’t interact with their own classification. Hacking distinguishes the
difference between social science and natural science by using the interactive
and indifferent kinds, stating that the classifications of social science are
mostly interactive kinds and the classifications of natural science are
indifferent kinds. However, he does allow that sometimes a classification can
be both interactive and indifferent, such as in the case of autism. He
describes that autism is an interactive kind because even though a person is autistic,
they are still aware of their classification. Hacking explained this when he
said:

“Autistic children by definition have
severe problems of communication. So how can the classification interact with
the children? Part of the answer is that they are in their own ways aware,
conscious, reflective, and, in the experience of those who work with autistic
children, very good at manipulating other people. Despite their problems of
lack of affect and rapport.” (Hacking 1999, 115)

By
pointing out that autistic children are still able to function socially in a
decent way Hacking strives to show that they have enough cognitive capacity to
generally understand what their classification entails. Hacking also admits
that autism could be classified as an indifferent kind because of the
biological aspect of autism. He goes on to say that:

“We need not argue that nearly all
children diagnosed with autism today have exactly one and the same biological
disorder. We need only hold possible that there are a few (possibly one) basic
fundamental biological disorders that produce the symptoms currently classified
as autistic.” (Hacking 1999, 116)

By
stating this, Hacking admits that autism has a biological aspect, which would
classify it as an indifferent kind. However, he also implies that there could
be more than one biological cause that makes a person show symptoms that are
currently considered as being the symptoms to autism.

            There have been many philosophers
that find flaws in Hacking’s account of the looping effect and the use of
interactive and indifferent kinds to distinguish between natural and social
sciences. One such philosopher is Rachel Cooper. While she acknowledges that
when human kinds are classified that feedback can occur, she stands that
natural kinds can also be affected and changed by feedback, so therefore the
looping effect cannot differentiate natural kinds from human kinds. An example
of this that she gives is:

“The characteristics of domestic
livestock change over time because particular animals are classified as being
‘Best in Show’ and are used in selective breeding. The occurrence of feedback
does not distinguish human kinds from natural kinds.” (Cooper 2004, 11)

This
would show that classifications can have an effect on natural kinds, even in
the thing may be unaware of it. The classification of a natural kind can change
people’s attitudes or behaviors towards that object. Because of this, it is
possible for natural kinds to be subject to the looping effect because even
though they don’t understand their own classification, others do and can change
the object in response. Another flaw that Cooper pointed has to do with
Hacking’s account that the changing symptoms of Schizophrenia point to a
looping effect. She countered this by saying,

“In order to show that the changes in the
symptoms of Multiple Personality Disorder indicate that it is a subjective kind
and so not a natural kind Hacking would need to show that the changes in
symptoms were not genuine, and he makes no suggestion that this is the case.
This, I conclude that Hacking has failed to show that types of mental disorders
cannot be natural kinds.” (Cooper 2004, 13)

Although
there were changes in the symptoms of Schizophrenia, Cooper points out that
there is no way of knowing whether those changes were caused by the looping
effect or were legitimate changes. Cooper’s argument against Hacking is that
the looping effect along with interactive and indifferent kinds are not a reliable
way to differentiate natural kinds from human kinds. Along this line Cooper
also claims that mental disorders can be natural kinds. The Hunting’s Chorea
disease is the example that she uses to illustrate how mental disorders can
also be of natural kinds. She says:

“Huntington’s Chorea is caused by a
single dominant gene on chromosome four. Symptoms generally appear in middle
age and include jerky involuntary movements, behavioral changes and progressive
dementia. Plausibly, Huntington’s Chorea is a natural kind of mental disorder;
in all cases an identical underlying property, the defective gene, produces
characteristic symptoms.” (Cooper 2004, 13)

By
giving an example of a mental disorder that could be considered a natural kind,
it shows that natural kind can also be subject to looping effects and that some
mental disorders could be considered to be of natural and interactive kinds.

            Another person to criticize Ian
Hacking and his looping effect is Jonathan Tsou. Tsou first finds fault in the
definitions that Hacking gives of interactive and indifferent kinds. Tsou says:

“Given Hacking’s manner of defining
interactive kinds and indifferent kinds as ‘classifications that affect their
objects of study’ and ‘classifications that do not affect their objects of
study’, respectively, he is not entitled to maintain that a classification such
as autism can be both interactive and
indifferent. Either this classification will have looping effects (interactive)
or it will not (indifferent). The fact that autism has a predictable biological
basis does not entitle Hacking to say – without equivocation – that autism is
an indifferent kind, since Hacking defines indifference in terms of ‘lack of
looping effects’.” (Tsou 2007, 334)

Tsou
points out how Hacking defines indifferent and interactive kinds very
definitively, yet he contradicts himself with these definitions. Hacking
portrays the two kinds to be an either or situation, classifications either
affect the object (interactive) or they do not (indifferent). However, at the
same time that he says this he admits that some things can be both, as pointed
out by Tsou when he says:

“Hacking cannot claim – without
contradictions – that looping is the sole criterion for distinguishing
interactive from indifferent kinds, while simultaneously
allowing for kinds that are both interactive and indifferent (i.e.,
interactive and indifferent kinds cannot be ‘classifications that both possess
and do not possess looping effects’).” (Tsou 2007, 334)

Tsou
points out how that to make up for the mental disorders that don’t seem to
completely fit within either of the kinds alone, Hacking allows them to be
classified as both kinds, which contradicts himself. Tsou also disagrees with
Hacking’s belief that the key feature of natural kinds is that they do not have
looping effects. Instead, Tsou believes that the key point of natural kinds is
their character which seems to follow a certain law. Tsou also proposes a new
definition of interactive that would not rely on the looping effects that
Hacking describes. Tsou suggests that:

“‘Interactive’ – in this context – refers
to the awareness that some objects of
classification (i.e., kinds of people) possess regarding how they are
classified. It is worth noting here that one would expect all human objects of classification to possess this characteristic,
although one would also expect there to be variability on this characteristic
depending on how aware different
kinds of people (e.g., the mentally retarded child versus the depressed adult)
are of how they are classified. All things being equal, one would expect kinds
of people who possess a greater awareness of their social environment to have a
greater susceptibility of being influenced by how they are classified.” (Tsou
2007, 337-338)

Through
Tsou’s description of an interactive kind that has to do with awareness instead
of looping effects, it would help solve the issue of natural kinds being able
to have looping effects but not being able to be classified as interactive.

            After reading both Hacking’s account
of looping effects and the accounts of some arguments against his looping
effect, I offer my own evaluation. I do agree with Hacking that there is a
looping effect that can change objects after they are classified, but that is
the end of where I agree with him. I find my views falling more in line with
the criticisms and alterations brought forth by both Tsou and Cooper. I believe
that the looping effect is not solely something that is experienced by interactive
kinds. I agree with Tsou that interactive kinds would be more accurately
defined as the awareness that some objects have of how they were classified. As
it is, there are many natural kinds that are indifferent to how they are
classified, yet they still experience a looping effect. Like Cooper stated with
the domestic livestock example, some objects can experience the looping effect
and be consequently changed after they are classified even if they have no
interaction with their classification. Even if objects themselves do not
change, the attitude that people have toward them and the way that they are
treated may change in response to their classification. An example of this
could be cigarettes. Cigarettes were once thought to be fine for your health,
but once it was discovered that they were very harmful to your health and
contained carcinogens, their classification changed into something that was bad
for you. In response to this classification, people’s attitudes towards
cigarettes eventually changed and they behaved differently towards them. The
cigarettes themselves have no understanding or interaction with their classification,
but they are still affected by the looping effect because the classification
caused a change in the object due to the shifting attitudes toward the object. This
can show that objects can experience looping effects even if they have no
awareness of their classification. Because of this I do not believe that
looping effects show that human science classifications are fundamentally different
from natural science classifications. If the looping effect is the change of an
object in response to it having a certain classification, I do not believe that
the object has to have a human science classification (be of interactive kind)
to experience the looping effect. As stated above, I believe that there are indifferent
kinds that can still experience a looping effect, and therefore the looping
effect is not a good distinguisher between human science classifications and
natural science classifications. I believe that the key defining characteristic
between interactive and indifferent kinds is whether the object is aware of its’
classification, not whether it experiences looping effects. In this sense it
would not be looping effects, but awareness that differentiates human science
classifications from natural science classifications. 

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