Hardy was born in London and educated at Lancing College, where his contemporaries included Christopher Hampton and Tim Rice (who made notable appearances as, respectively, Caesar in Shaw’s play Androcles and the Lion and Elvis Presley in a school rag concert). He went on to study classics, then philosophy and psychology, at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and philosophy at Wolfson College, Oxford, where he wrote a doctoral thesis on ‘Subjective Experience’, and met Wolfson’s then President, Isaiah Berlin.
Hardy’s first major editorial work was a collection of writings by Arnold Mallinson, an eccentric Oxford clergyman with whom he lodged for 7 years; he published this work under his own imprint (Robert Dugdale). He also, while still a student, composed a number of musical pieces, which he published many years later as Tunes: Collected Musical Juvenilia (2003).
In addition to publishing under the pseudonym Robert Dugdale (since 1974), Hardy worked for 13 years (1977–90) as an editor at Oxford University Press, first editing and commissioning in the General Books Department, then commissioning as Senior Editor, Political and Social Studies. At OUP in 1980, inspired by Isaiah Berlin’s insistence on the crucial role of individual thinkers in the history of ideas, he founded the Past Masters series (now absorbed into the Very Short Introductions series, which it fathered). His wish to publish a work of popular philosophy, Making Names, by Andrew Malcolm, was not endorsed by OUP; this sparked Malcolm’s landmark legal action against OUP for breach of contract. Hardy’s account of this episode is told in his review of Malcolm’s book about the case. Hardy has been a Fellow of Wolfson College since 1990.
Hardy’s most significant contribution to scholarship has been his editing of the writings of Isaiah Berlin.
When Hardy met Berlin in 1972, Berlin was at the height of his fame as an intellectual figure; but he was viewed as not having written very much, and many doubted if he would leave a lasting contribution to scholarship beyond a small number of scattered essays. Hardy’s research revealed that Berlin had published well over 150 pieces by the late 1970s.
His subsequent editing of Berlin’s essays made Berlin’s most important work widely available. In 1990 Hardy abandoned his career in publishing to work full-time on Berlin’s unpublished essays, lectures, and correspondence. He has thus far (co-)edited 17 volumes of Berlin’s writings (plus new editions of 10 of these volumes), as well as a 4-volume edition of Berlin’s letters, and two books and a pamphlet about Berlin.
In 1979 Hardy married the historian of medicine Anne Wilkinson, from whom he separated in 2004; they were divorced in 2012. They have two children, Ellen (b. 1983) and Michael (b. 1985). Hardy married Mary Merry in 2013, and now lives with her and her two daughters Rebecca and Beth in Wirral, where Mary is the manager of a care home for dementia patients.