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Jan von Plato

23.6.1951, Helsinki

M.Sc. 1975 (mathematics), University of Helsinki
PhD 1980 (theoretical philosophy), University of Helsinki

Professor of Philosophy (Swedish Chair) 2000–, University of Helsinki

Publications, research projects, and other scientific activity

Research themes:
Logic, epistemology, history of science

Photo: Jan von Plato
Written by Jan von Plato
Translated by Stella von Plato

Losses and disappointments

In 1986 I thought, as a young docent (adjunct professor), that it would be good for students to take part in a pure curiosity-promoting seminar instead of passive lectures. There I presented to them various things, as did the participants. Soon I noted that a few of them were worth gold, and we continued with what is known as the type theory the Stockholm logician Per Martin-Löf had invented and that I’d presented in detail in the seminar.

In four years Aarne Ranta had finished his thesis on the application of type theory to the study of the structure of natural language. The improved version of his thesis was published at Oxford University Press in 1994, the same year that my first Cambridge book about the history and philosophy of modern probability was published. Somehow we both found ourselves suddenly without work; In some way, maybe the stupendous 7500 mk/month (=1250€) docent grant, we got through the crisis.

The end, though, came with the end of the century- and millennium: The adjunct-driven research group that had risen to the top of the world fell apart through the lack of understanding on the part the financiers and the rigidity of the university’s administration. Aarne moved to Gothenburg and became one of the most prominent scientists in Sweden. That was what I consider the biggest loss in research in the humanities in several decades in my country. My own conclusion was that everyone got what they deserved: Helsinki nothing, Sweden a hundred and fifty pounds of pure gold.

The Sütterlin alphabet from the book of readings "Lewbendige Sprache" of the german School at left. They help you to read Gentzen's thesis manuscript at right that I found in 2005!
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