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Academician Ilkka Niiniluoto – a philosopher of science with a strong voice in research

10 Mar 2017

Professor Emeritus Ilkka Niiniluoto (b. 1946) has had a prestigious career in the Finnish scientific and academic community. As a philosopher, he is the author of a number of works on the nature of science and scientific reasoning. During his extensive career he has also had a forceful and versatile role in society and public debate, actively engaging in university reforms and discussions, for instance. A perfect example of this is his anthology Dynaaminen sivistysyliopisto: sata puhetta ja kirjoitusta vuosilta 1987–2010, which introduces the reader to three decades of Niiniluoto’s speeches and writings on science policy and universities in Finland. Niiniluoto’s unswerving analytical approach, even when it comes to difficult issues, has made him a very esteemed figure in science and research.

As a philosopher of science, Niiniluoto has focused on issues such as the progress of scientific knowledge: If two theories explain the same phenomenon differently, how can we judge which theory is more accurate? This concept of truth approximation, put forward by Niiniluoto in his 1987 book Truthlikeness, is of great importance to the philosophy of science. Niiniluoto has also highlighted the significance of scientific realism in his 1999 book Critical Scientific Realism, another notable and highly cited publication. His publication record includes 200 original journal articles and numerous authored or edited books.

Niiniluoto is keen to point out the key role of researchers when society seeks solutions to topical international challenges such as global multiculturalism, digitalisation and global warming. “There’s a constant demand for critical thinking in order to improve the knowledge base of civilisation as well as the skills and competences that rely on that knowledge. We must not succumb to the post-factual era that seems to be gradually disintegrating well-established democratic processes – science can and should rebuild and maintain our respect for truth and justice.”

The rise and success of Finland as a nation, Niiniluoto argues, owes a great deal to scientific progress and the research-based education provided by Finnish universities. “From as early as the 19th century, Finland has purposefully harnessed education and research to build a civilised nation with its own language, history and culture. The independent country of Finland has transformed and grown into a democratic constitutional country, a secure welfare state and a dynamic information society. And international collaboration has played a pivotal role throughout all these stages,” Niiniluoto stresses. According to Niiniluoto, Finland’s future looks bright if the country embraces these strengths. At the same time, however, care must be taken to ensure a working dialogue between policy-makers, economic actors and researchers across all fields that critically assess the complex state of the world and evaluate the options available.

“Researchers must also be able to convince policy-makers of the value and benefits of science; so scientific education is something really worth investing in. The scientists and scholars who are active in Finland have established excellent international networks and connections. Nevertheless, amid conditions marked by increasingly fierce competition, maintaining high scientific quality and achieving major breakthroughs require sufficient resources.”

Niiniluoto has held several academic positions at the University of Helsinki, such as Associate Professor of Mathematics (1973–1977), Professor of Theoretical Philosophy (1977–2014), Vice-Rector (1998–2003), Rector (2003–2008) and Chancellor (2008–2013). He was President of the Philosophical Society of Finland from 1975 to 2015 and Chairman of the Federation of Finnish Learned Societies from 2000 to 2014. He is a member of numerous Finnish and international scientific societies and has held many important positions of trust both in Finland and abroad during his long career.

More information

  • Professor Emeritus Ilkka Niiniluoto, University of Helsinki, +358 40 503 0885 ilkka.niiniluoto(at)helsinki.fi
Last modified 10 Mar 2017
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