Research at the CoE focused on the psychological assumptions that lie behind ethical and political theories in the history of philosophy from Antiquity to Enlightenment. The work made use of the results of research at the History of Mind CoE, but the emphasis was shifted from the philosophy of the mind to the philosophical psychology underlying ethical and political theories.
The CoE worked in an area where research into the history of philosophy had recently made important advances and significantly influenced the development of systematic philosophy. Research in philosophical psychology has expanded to cover the psychological background of classical theories on ethics, social practices and politics.
However, previous research had failed to provide a satisfactory explanation of how theories and common beliefs about knowledge, consciousness, thinking, perception and emotions have impacted the development of ethical and political thinking.
The CoE was well placed to study the long lines of philosophical development from Plato and Aristotle, through medieval Latin and Arabic philosophy, and through the Renaissance and the Reformation, to Hume and Kant.
The research team at the CoE shared the common goal of compiling a handbook on the history of the psychological background of ethics and social philosophy.
Work at the CoE focused on six research themes: 1) perceptions of the ethical and political value of people’s natural inclinations, emotions and habits; 2) the psychology of knowledge, will and choice in ethics and politics; 3) the psychology of gender; 4) the tradition of classical conceptions of human sociability and their fragmentation since the Middle Ages; 5) natural moral law, human rights and the emergence of political individualism; and 6) the psychology of happiness.
This work may have changed our understanding about the evolution of moral and social philosophy.
The CoE was headed by Academy Professor Simo Knuuttila, who had served as Professor of Theological Ethics and Philosophy of Religion since 1982; as Academy Professor since 1994; and as Director of the History of Mind CoE since 2002. Professor Knuuttila specialises in research on the history of philosophy in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. His main works include Modalities in Medieval Philosophy (1993) and Emotions in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy (2004).
The CoE had a research staff of 32, who worked in four teams based on the periodisation of the history of philosophy. At the University of Helsinki, the CoE units were the Department of Systematic Theology; the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies; the Department of Social and Moral Philosophy; the Department of History; and the Renvall Institute. At the University of Jyväskylä, the Department of History and Ethnology and the Departments of Social Sciences and Philosophy were involved.