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Eino Sakari Kaila (1890-1958)


Finnish philosopher, critic, and educator, whose work was characterized by an attempt to search unifying and dynamic principles behind psychology, philosophy, and quantum mechanics. Among Kaila's best-known publications is his last major work as a psychologist, Persoonallisuus (1934, Personality). The highly personal study influenced deeply literary and intellectual circles before and after World War II. Kaila emphasized the biological nature of psychological phenomena. He associated mental activities with sexuality and saw that drives direct human behavior. In this he came close to Freud's theories. However, Kaila rejected Freudian concepts of childrens' sexuality and asked rhetorically in 1941, has Freud ever seen a healthy child. Kaila also introduced logical positivism and Gestalt psychology to Finland.

"Inhimillinen ajattelu on luonnostaan pyydeajattelua; suuresti katsoen ihminen ajattelee asiallisesti vain sikäli, kuin hänen on pakko niin tehdä. Luonnostaan ihminen on kuin lapsi, joka uskoo kaikkivaltaansa ja verrattomaan arvoonsa, kunnes todellisuuden kolaukset opettavat sille toista ja pakottavat sen tulemaan tietoiseksi rajoituksistaan ja omasta todellisesta luonteesta yleensä." (from Persoonallisuus)

Eino Kaila was born in Alajärvi, the first child of Erkki Kaila and Aina Maria Drake. Kaila's family had several clergymen, but none of the children continued the tradition. Erkki Kaila was a Protestant minister and university teacher, who later became an archbishop. He also was a member of the parliamet (1917-1927). Rebelling against his background, Kaila rejected in general metaphysical and religious speculations, although his own "philosophical awakening" had some pantheistic elements. Kaila has traced this crucial moment in his life to his youth. Inspired by A. Paulsen's book Einleitung in die Philosophie, he had on a beautiful summer day a vision, that "everything which there is is in some deep sense a unified whole..." Kaila never abandoned his holistic view of the world which united the material and psychic, but on the other hand, from the beginning he resisted the temptation to interpret his experience through Buddhist categories of thought. Similar "metaphysical experience" prompted Kaila's philosophical opponent in the 1950s, Sven Krohn, to adopt phenomenology, but Kaila rejected metaphysics.

Kaila graduated from the University of Helsinki in 1910 – he was nineteen. His Ph.D. Kaila received nine years later after making a career as a critic. An exceptionally stimulating conversationalist, Kaila made friends in cultural circles with Juhani Aho, Eero Järnefelf, Pekka Halonen, Joel Lehtonen, Eino Leino, Jean Sibelius, and Frans Emil Sillanpää. Balancing between science and culture, Kaila contributed in the 1910s several theatre and literature reviews to Aika and Uusi Suometar. He also made journeys to France (1911) and Germany (1914). While in Paris he attended lectures held by Henri Bergson (1859-1941) at the Collège de France. His first philosophical papers were on Bergson and William James. Eventually he abandoned Bergson's vitalism when he became interested in the thought of the Austrian physicist and philosopher Ernest Mach (1838-1910) and Bertrand Russell (1872-1970). Mach was hostile to all unempirical speculations in science, but Kaila did not accept Mach's phenomenalistically colored physics. Bergson's dualism was basically in conflict with his monistic view of reality.

In 1916 Kaila married the painter Anna Lovisa Snellman (1884-1962), J.V. Snellman's granddaughter. For a while he worked as a dramaturge for the National Theatre, but after his successful start in literature Kaila decided to devote himself to science instead of arts. His doctoral dissertation dealt with experimental psychology. Between the years 1919 and 1930 he was a lecturer at the University of Helsinki. In the 1920s, Wolfgang Köhler's research on the learning capacities of chimpanzees and Gestalt psychology influenced his thinking. Gestalt psychology offered a holistic explanation to the laws governing mental phenomena, but Kaila also criticized the approach for its lack of interest in symbol function ('Hahmoprobleemasta ynnä muutamista muista teoreettisen psykologian ongelmista', 1945).

Kaila was appointed in 1921 professor of philosophy at the University of Turku, where he established next year the first psychological laboratory. From 1930 to 1948 he acted as professor of theoretical philosophy at the University of Helsinki. His appointment was preceded by a debate in which his modern methods were attacked. However, Kaila dominate in Helsinki the philosophical scene for three decades. "Many of the philosophers who deserve to be taken seriously are specialists in logic, in the theory of knowledge etc," Kaila once said, "many of them are not even theoretically interested in the so-called 'questions of world-view'. Perhaps all philosophy should follow this kind of trend. But for my part I am incapable of doing so. I cannot suppress the general philosophical passion which seized me in my youth and has since guided my theoretical life." One of Kaila's main concepts was "deep mental" life, by which he meant the need of human beings to experience and realize aesthetic, ethical, and religious values.

In the 1930s, Kaila was closely associated with the Vienna Circle, a group of logical positivists led by Moritz Schlick, and introduced its ideas to Finnish philosophical debate in Der Logistische Neupositivismus (1930) and Inhimillinen tieto (1939, Human knowledge), an overview of the epistemological theory of logical empiricism. Kaila knew personally several members of the Circle, took part in its sessions, and wrote reviews for the magazine Erkenntnis, edited by Rudolf Carnap and Hans Reichenbach. In 1932 Kaila made empirical psychological studies at a laboratory founded by Charlotte Bühler. Kaila's Der logistische Neupositivismus, a critical commentary of Rudolf Carnap's work Der logische Aufbau der Welt (1928), was reviewed in 1931 by Carnap. The Circle was broken up by the rise of Nazism and its members emigrated to the United States and to England. Carnap and Feigl started to publish their works in Philosophy of Science. Kaila himself did not publish anything in English. During the 1940s he also renounced logical empiricism – he did not accept the attempt to restrict philosophy to semantic and epistemic research. In 1948 he visited the United States, met Carl G. Hempel and Kurt Gödel, but was not happy with the modern American way of life.

"It should also be noted that the idea of "unity of science", which became another label for the movement starting in Vienna, is rather different from Kaila's idea of unified scientific view of the world. Kaila's idea was not so much one of a conceptual and methodological unity of the sciences as of their unification through scientific theories primarily those of physics of very general scope and applicability. He was looking forward, one could say, to a modern version of the mathesis universalis or scientia generalis envisaged of yonder by such great scientist-philosophers as Descartes and Leibniz." (Georg Henrik von Wright in Eino Kaila and Logical Empiricism, 1992)

During World War II Kaila lectured in Berlin, Leipzig, and Hamburg. Like most of the academic elite in Finland, Kaila was "German-minded" and he never visited Great Britain. From the mid-1920s, Kaila had published his monograps on causality, philosophy on mathematics, probability and induction, and other subjects in German. However, alarmed by the fate of his friends in Berlin and Vienna, Kaila wrote in 1943 an article, in which he expressed his support to Germany in war against the Russians, but protested the treatment of the famous physicist Niels Bohr, who was forced to emigrate from Denmark to Sweden for the persecution of Jews. Kaila divided Jews into two groups – guilty and innocent – and stated that an innocent person shouldn't be punished because of his nationality. Reportedly the article infuriated Adolf Hitler, as well as Knut Hamsun's complaints about the conduct of German troops in Norway.

Intellectually and culturally Kaila felt deep affinity with the old central Europe, and his contacts with Anglo-Saxon philosophy were superficial. The dichotomy between the East and West was central for Kaila's thinking. In the 1920s he wrote that the essence of the West is in its activity, practicality, individualism, and organization, whereas the East is characterized by passivity, ideologicality, collectivism, and chaos. To emphasize that Finland has always been culturally part of the Western Europe, Kaila claimed that Kalevala poems originated actually from the southwest part of the country, and later before disappearance there found their way to the east. In 'Juhlaesitelmä Suomen Akatemian vihkiäisjuhlassa' (1948) he stated that democratic ideals face insurmountable difficulties if there is not enough homogeneity. In this he referred to the United States. As an example he gave an ordinary working place where whites and blacks eat in separate groups during the lunch hour. Whites do not consider blacks equal, in spite of the constitutional declaration of rights.

After the war Kaila fell silent as a literary critic. For a time he was afraid that the country would be occupied by the Soviet Union. He published only a few reviews, one of them was about V.A. Koskenniemi's book Elokuisia ajatuksia (1954) – Koskenniemi had been one of the central promoters of German culture in Finland. In 1948 Kaila became a member of the Finnish Academy. In an article from 1948, 'Filosofian merkitys tieteellisen spesialisoitumisen vastapainona', he emphasized the importance of philosophy. He saw it as an counterbalancing force in the era of continuing specialization of sciences and discoveries in physics, which have shaken the concepts of time, space, and causality. During this last period of his academic life, Kaila focused on the philosophy of quantum mechanics and formulated his concept of a new kind of causality, 'Terminalkausalität' (terminal causality), "discreet field conditions resembling laws of nature, conditions not existing in classical physics." Kaila managed to write only part of his great work, Terminalkausalität als die Grundlage eines unitarischen Naturbegriffs (1956). The studies on biodynamics and neurodynamics remained unfinished. The work did not attract much attention in academic circles outside Finland. Kaila died in Helsinki on August 1, 1958.

As a teacher Kaila gained in the 1930s a legendary fame. The lecture room was filled with university students and also outsiders when Kaila kept his courses. His books, especially Persoonallisuus, Inhimillinen tieto, and Syvähenkinen elämä  (1942), about questions related to philosophies of life, left a deep impact on cultural, social, and philosophical thinking in Finland. Oiva Ketonen, Kaila's follower at the University of Helsinki, wrote once of his former teacher: "One dominating trait in Kaila's personality was a strong philosophical passion, a relentless desire to know, as he would emphasize, with a reference to Goethe's Faust, 'was die Welt im innersten zusammenhält', 'what the innermost essence of the world is'". Kaila's most prominent pupil was Georg Henrik von Wright, who was appopinted the successor of the famous philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein at the University of Cambridge.

For further information: 'Besprechung von E. Kailas "Der logistische Neupositivismus"' by Rudolf Carnap, in Erkenntnis 2 (1931); 'Eino Kaila's First Doubts About Logical Empiricism' by Juha Manninen, in Studia excellentia, ed. by I. Niiniluoto & J. von Plato & E. Saarinen (1977); 'Introduction' by G.H. von Wright in Reality and Experience (1979), 'Gestalt Theory in the Psychology of Eino Kaila' by Markku Jääskeläinen, in Gestalt Theory 3 (1981); 'Eino Kailan terminaalikausaliteetin käsite' by Raimo Tuomela & Marja Leena Toukonen, in Ajatus 40 (1983); Eino Kailan psykologia: rakenne ja kehitys by Manu Jääskeläinen (1983); 'Eino Kailan syvähenkinen filosofia' by Ilkka Niiniluoto in Syvähenkinen elämä (1986); Eino Kaila and Logical Empiricism, ed. by Ilkka Niiniluoto, Matti Sintonen, G.H. von Wright (Acta Philosophica Fennica, 1992); 'Eino Kaila' by Juhani Ihanus in Vietit ja henki, psykoanalyysin varhaisvaiheet Suomessa (1994); Suomalaisen kulttuurifilosofian vuosisata by Mikko Salmela (1998); 'Eino Kaila ja Wienin piiri' by Ilkka Niiniluoto, in Wienin piiri, ed. by Ilkka Niiniluoto & Heikki J. Koskinen (2002); Analytic Philosophy in Finland, ed. by Leila Haaparanta and Ilkka Niiniluoto (2003); Henri Bergson i Finland by Stefan Nygård (2011) - Note: Kaila's Persoonallisuus (translated into Swedish under the title Personlighetens psykologi) was among the works, that the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman highly valued.

Selected works:

  • Über die Motivation und die Entscheidung, 1916
  • Ernest Renan, 1917
  • Johan Bojer: Suuri nälkä, 1917 (translator)
  • Jakob Knudsen: Opettaja Urup, 1917 (translator)
  • Frode Sadolin: Hermojen terveys, 1917 (translator)
  • Über ideatorische Koordinationen,1918
  • Arthur Schopenhauer: Kuolema ja kuolematon, 1919 (translator)
  • John Galsworthy: Herraskartano, 1920 (translator)
  • Robert Tigerstedt: Tieteellistä kritiikkiä, 1920 (translator)
  • Sielunelämä biologisena ilmiönä, 1920
  • Ernest Renan: Lapsuuden ja nuoruuden muistoja, 1921 (translator)
  • E. Becher: Maailman rakenne, sen lait, sen kehitys, 1922 (translator)
  • Sielunelämän rakenne, 1923
  • Der Satz vom Ausgleich des Zufalls und das Kausalprinzip, 1924
  • Poul Levin: Onnellinen mies, 1924 (translator)
  • Die Prinzipien der Wahrscheinlichkeitslogik, 1926
  • Probleme der Deduktion, 1928
    Beiträge zu einer synthetischen Philosophie 1928
  • Nykyinen maailmankäsitys, 1929
  • Pentti Renvall: Zur Theorie des stereokinetischen Phänomens, 1929 (translator)
  • Der Logistische Neupositivismus: Eine kritische Studie, 1930
  • Die Reaktionen des Säuglingsauf das menschliche Gesicht, 1932
  • Persoonallisuus, 1934 - Personlighetens psykiologi (övers. av Jan Gästrin, 1935)
  • Über das System der Wirklichkeitsbegriffe. Ein Beitrag zum logische Empirismus, 1936
  • David Hume: Tutkimus inhimillisestä ymmärryksestä, 1938 (translator)
  • Inhimillinen tieto: Mitä se on ja mitä se ei ole, 1939 - Den mänskliga kunskapen. Van den är och vad den icke är (övers. av G.H. von Wright, 1939)
  • Kolmesataa vuotta suomalaista yliopistoelämää, 1940
  • Über den physikalischen Realitätsbegriff, 1941
  • Syvähenkinen elämä: Keskusteluja viimeisistä kysymyksistä, 1943
  • Tankens oro: tre samtal om de yttersta tingen, 1944
  • Zur Metatheorie der Quantenmechanik, 1950
  • Terminalkausalität als die Grundlage eines unitarischen Naturbegriffs, 1956
  • Einstein-Minkowskin invarianssiteoria, 1958
  • Die perzeptuellen und konzeptuellen Komponenten der Alltagserfahrung, 1962
  • Reality and Experience. Four Philosophical Essays, 1979 (Vienna Circle Collection 12, ed. by C.S. Cohen, foreword by G.H. von Wright)
  • Syvähenkinen elämä, 1986 (3. rev. printing)
  • Valitut teokset 1-2, 1990 (ed. by Ilkka Niiniluoto)

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