Matti Sintonen
Humanist of the day

Matti Sintonen

Matti Sintonen’s choice of career was obvious to him. In 1984 he chose theoretical philosophy. The defence of his doctoral thesis also remained a vivid memory for the following generation: “While driving past the Main Building years later, my daughter Kaarina, who was only 4 when I finished my PhD, remembered that was where daddy defended his thesis. She already raised the topic in the year of my defence in her day care group at St. John's Church. The teacher had asked everyone to introduce themselves and say something about what their mother and father did. That was easy in the case of her father. Kaarina announced in a high-pitched voice that ‘daddy is a doctor of silly-osophy.’ When the teacher asked what her mother did, she scratched her head for a moment. Then it dawned on her: ‘well work of course!’”

Matti Sintonen

Matti Tapani Sintonen
Born September 20, 1951, Kuusankoski

Baccalaureate, Huntington North High School, Indiana, USA 1969 and Kouvola Lyceum 1971
Master of Arts 1976, Licentiate 1977, PhD 1984 (theoretical philosophy), University of Helsinki
Master of Social Science 1979 (practical philosophy), University of Helsinki
Docent 1985– (practical philosophy), universities of Helsinki and Turku

Director 2014–,Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies
Professor of theoretical philosophy (acting) 2004–14, University of Helsinki
Professor of philosophy (particularly the philosophy of science) 1991–2010, University of Tampere
Deputy director of the Department of Philosophy 2008–10, University of Helsinki
Professor of philosophy, particularly logic and the theory of knowledge (acting)2003–04, University of Tampere
Professor of practical philosophy (particularly the methodology of social sciences) 1984–86, 1990–92, 1996–2000, University of Helsinki
Advanced research fellow 2000–01, Senior research fellow 1984–89, research fellow 1982–84, Academy of Finland
Head of the Department of Practical Philosophy 1985, 1999–2000, University of Helsinki
Professor of theoretical philosophy (acting) 1989–90, University of Turku
Research associate in practical philosophy (particularly the methodology of social sciences) 1976–91, University of Helsinki
Visiting Fellow, University of Helsinki Clare Hall Fellowship 1997–98, Cambridge
Visiting Fellow 1993–94, Darwin College, Cambridge
Visiting Fellow 1983–84, 1997–98, Department of Philosophy and the Department of Philosophy and History, University of Cambridge
Visiting Research Associate, 1986–87, Boston Center for the Philosophy and History of Science, Boston UniversityFlorey Student 1977–79, Queen´s College Oxford

Research themes: the philosophy of science, particularly the problematic of scientific explanation and invention, the philosophy of biology, the philosophy of social sciences.

Publications, research projects and other academic activity

Editor, editor-in-chief, member of the editorial board in the following journals:

Ajatus, Science & Technology Studies, Behavioral and Brain Science, Synthese, Acta Philosophica Tamperensia, Polish Journal of Philosophy Theoria, European Journal for Philosophy of Science

Honours and awards:

ASLA Fulbright Senior Grant, Boston Center for the Philosophy and History of Science, Boston University, 1986–87
Chancellor’s special award for best Master’s thesis, granted in celebration of 35 years of the Faculty of Social Sciences, 1980
Best Master’s Thesis Award, Faculty of Arts 1975, Faculty of Social Sciences 1979
Member of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters

Photo: Ida Pimenoff
Written by Matti Sintonen (Tiia Niemelä ed.)
Translated by Matthew Billington

The most important aim of science is to increase understanding – a second objective is to promote international competitiveness, and more generally so-called social relevance. Understanding is linked, in turn, to explanation: we have a problem or a conundrum, a phenomenon that fails to fit our conceptual framework or even contradicts our expectations. Nonetheless, what is it to understand and explain something scientifically?

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I found my way to philosophy at a tender age, and at upper-secondary school my choice was already clear. In the summer of 1971, that is, before I went to university, I began teaching philosophy at a Tuusala summer upper-secondary school for scientific methods (to many philosophy was a scientific method, as it taught one how to think and argue). Thus, I have studied philosophy for around 50 years and have taught it for almost 45 years. On the other hand, it is not clear whether philosophy can be taught – there should be a passion for it.

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Membership of the Academy of Finland’s Research Council for Culture and Society in 2010–15 has led me into numerous preparatory and steering groups within the Academy. These have included membership of FIRI, the Finnish Research Infrastructure Committee between 2013 and 2015, membership of the Centres of Excellence in Research working group, membership of the steering groups for the MIND, FinSynBio and Bioeconomy Academy research programmes and membership of the BioFuture 2015 preparatory group.

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A great deal of my activities to influence society has occurred through foundations. I have been a member of the Finnish Cultural Foundation’s Board of Directors since 2000 and was a member of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees from 2004–09 and the chairman of the Board of Directors and vice-chairman if the Board of Trustees between 2006 and 2009. I remain a member of the Foundation’s supervisory board; similarly, I work on the management boards of the OP Pohjala Research Foundation and the Reader's Digest (Finland) Fund. In addition, I have been a member of the management board of the Pirkanmaa Regional Fund for several years.

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In terms of academic life, after my term as departmental director is over my dream could be to put my mind to a theory of science for the humanities – a cognitive and social profile for humanities research.

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