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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

”Only one master”

Even during his time at school Hintikka was interested in both philosophy and mathematics.

“I read the Finnish philosopher Eino Kaila’s work and got enthusiastic about his approach. I also read Georg von Wright’s book Den logiska empirismen ( Engl. Logical Empiricism) at school.

However, Hintikka chose mathematics as his main subject.

“My father in particular had hoped I would study mathematics with it in mind that I would pursue a career in actuarial work. But I was interested initially in matters from a theoretical standpoint.”

When Hintikka began his studies at the University, he soon noticed he was drawn exclusively to the philosopher von Wright’s lectures.

“They were a turning point in my life and career. I have only one master in philosophy and he is Georg Henrik von Wright.”

Von Wright’s lectures differed from others in that even the basic courses were conducted as seminars, which encouraged discussion. Oddly enough, the language barrier facilitated advanced instruction: the use of Swedish effectively reduced the size of the group.

“”Von Wright was a born teacher because he didn’t just tell us what was what, but thought through everything he said as he said it. This was obvious in the lively and engaging lectures he delivered.”

Meeting my other role model, Professor Eino Kaila, for the first time was very different but equally memorable. Hintikka visited Kaila in his study for an oral examination and emerged having completed his basic studies in philosophy.

“I knocked cautiously on the door. Kaila was sitting at his desk with a white silk scarf around his neck, and paid no attention to me. When he began to pose questions, the philosophical discussion suddenly got underway and surprisingly it was good enough for Kaila.”

After his first year, Hintikka went on a student exchange to Williams College in the United States. In the meantime von Wright had been invited to take up a chair in Cambridge University, England.

“When I got back to Finland from the United States, von Wright invited me to Cambridge, where I stayed as a house guest for a few weeks. Ludvig Wittgenstein paid a visit during that time, so I had an opportunity to witness him engage in a philosophical discussion. It was a real experience.”

Back in Finland Hintikka found new inspiring teachers and courses.

“For example Gustav Elfving was the first in Finland to give lectures on game theory. I also got involved in the politics of the Maths faculty, which gave me a better understanding of both the students and the teachers.”

Hintikka struck up a friendship with von Wright, and the outcome of discussions with him was a sketchy idea for a problem of first-order logic. Hintikka developed this into first his undergraduate dissertation, then licentiate work and immediately to the doctoral thesis.

“I proceeded to develop the idea slowly alongside my studies. I knew little and the topic was new to me, but I made gradual progress. When I got the other studies done, I had a completed manuscript which was good for the Master’s dissertation, and which I further developed for the licentiate and the doctoral thesis. My postgraduate studies were somewhat superficial because the doctoral thesis had really already written itself before I’d got started.”

Photo: Sami Syrjämäki.​
Photo: Sami Syrjämäki.​


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