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Jaakko Hintikka

Kaarlo Jaakko Juhani Hintikka
Born January 12, 1929, Helsingin pitäjä. Died August 12, 2015, Helsinki.

Master of Arts, Licentiate of Philosophy, 1952, and Doctor of Philosophy (Mathematics), 1956, University of Helsinki

Professor of Philosophy, Boston University, 1990–2014
Visiting Honorary Professor 2010–11, University of Helsinki
Docent, University of Helsinki, 1981–92
Visiting Professor of Philosophy, Florida State University, 1978–90
Research Professor, Academy of Finland, 1970–81
Visiting Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University, 1965–82
Professor of Practical Philosophy, University of Helsinki, 1959–70
Docent, Theoretical Philosophy, University of Helsinki , 1955–59

Research interests: Mathematical and philosophical logic. Also epistemology, philosophy of science, aesthetics,  philosophy of language, history of philosophy and modern philosophy.

Awards and honours
Volume in Library of Living Philosophers series, 2006
Member, Finnish Academy of Science and Letters, 1961-

Honorary Member, Finnish Academy of Science and Letters, 2007
Member, Norwegian Academy of Science and American Academy of Arts and Sciences 

Honorary Doctorates from Universities of Krakova, Liège, Oulu, Turku and Uppsala
Achievement Award, Finnish Cultural Foundation, 1989
Commander Grand Cross of the Order of the Lion of Finland, 2011

Photo: Sami Syrjämäki
Written by Heta Muurinen
Translated by John Calton

A Philosophical Polymath

Jaakko Hintikka is one of the founders of modern logic. He has been regarded as the father of epistemic logic, doxastic logic and game-theoretical semantics. Hintikka has made breakthroughs in most branches of philosophy and offered interesting interpretations on many canonical figures of western philosophy, such as Aristotle, René Descartes, Gottfried Leibniz, Immanuel Kant, Gottlob Frege and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Hintikka has often been considered to have continued the tradition of analytic philosophy, much like Georg Henrik von Wright, his mentor, Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Hintikka, however, does not share this view.

“My approach has never been just analytic,” Hintikka said. “My interest has always been divided between different philosophical traditions. After all, von Wright and Wittgenstein were not exactly the most traditional of analytic philosophers.”

Hintikka has been instrumental in bringing about international recognition of Finnish philosophical tradition with his connections to the Anglo-American university world.

In 1954 Hintikka was selected a Junior Fellow by Harvard University, which meant a three-year research scholarship in any discipline. At the time eight young scholars were chosen each year from a pool of candidates, to whom, according to Hintikka, perfect academic freedom was afforded.

“There were no requirements placed on us,” he said. “You were allowed to study or work on your dissertation. All expenses paid. It was some experience, and the foundation of my career.”

After his three years in Massachusetts, Hintikka returned to Finland, where he was given a professorship in Practical Philosophy at the University of Helsinki in 1959. In 1970 he became a Research Professor at the Academy of Finland.

“During my time in Helsinki I headed a series of academic groups whose members included several notable scholars in the making. To name a few, there were Ilkka Niiniluoto, Simo Knuuttila, Esa Saarinen, Juhani Pietarinen, Leila Haaparanta, Raimo Tuomela and Lauri Carlson. All of them became professors in Finland.”

Hintikka spent much of his time travelling around the world, until in 1963 Patrick Suppes, an American professor of philosophy, offered him a permanent post as visiting professor of philosophy at the University of Stanford. He was to lecture a few months every year.

“I then made America my home for the decades to come.”

And how does the great man of philosophy see the current state of his discipline in Finland?

In Hintikka’s estimation, philosophy has no clear direction in the world today, and this is mirrored in Finland.

“There’s fumbling this way and that, with no obvious direction in sight.”

He feels the situation presents an excellent opportunity for Finnish research.

“And I do not just mean an internationally noteworthy place for Finnish philosophy, but a status of global leadership.”

To achieve this status would require a significant increase in support and resources. Hintikka criticises the current system at the University as being too rigid and stuck in its ways.

“We are in danger of letting excellent opportunities pass us by. We should take greater advantage of the ideas we already have. There are unbelievable possibilities in the fields I represent as we speak.”

Hintikka reminds us that philosophical study is comparatively cheap, but he also stresses that it can be more important how the money is spent than how much of it there is.

“Philosophy can appear as a hermetic science, but it has surprising potential for application. Abstract logical-mathematical research can have fascinating connections to the way we teach mathematics and innovative modes of thought, but no attempts have been made to put those connections to use. It is possible that philosophy can help us evaluate how best to use computers in teaching mathematics.”

At a Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies lecture on fiction 17.3.2011. Photo: Ari Aalto.​​
At a Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies lecture on fiction 17.3.2011. Photo: Ari Aalto.​​


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