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Sven Ilmari Krohn (1903-1999)


Philosopher and parapsychologist, the most promiment advocate of phenomenology and philosophical anthropology in Finland in the late 20th century. Krohn acted as a professor at the University of Turku. Besides philosophical works, he also published three collections of poetry.

"Lopultakaan ei mikään ongelma eikä tutkimus ole ihmiselle keskeisempi kuin ihminen itse." (from Ihminen, luonto ja logos, 1981)

Sven Krohn was born in Helsinki, the second son of Leopold Krohn, an engineer, and Betty Pesonen. Krohn's father read widely from quantum physics to psychoanalysis and occultism. Among his friends was the Finnish Rocicrucian and theosophist Pekka Ervasti (1875-1934); he also influenced Krohn's thought in his late teens. When two of the childred died of diabetes at an early age, Leopold started to experiment with automatic writing, believing that he received messages from his deceased son.

Like a number of other well-to-do families, the Krohns had a villa in the Karelian Isthmus in the south-east of Finland, where they spent the summer. After a mystical experience, Krohn became convinced of being part of a larger cosmic consciousness. Later Krohn often returned to his first revelatory sense of oneness with the universe, which had prompted him to devote his life to philosophy.

Krohn graduated from the Normal Lyceum and entered the University of Helsinki, where he studied philosophy under Arvi Grotenfelt and Rafael Karsten. He also attended Rolf Lagerborg's and Erik Ahlman's lectures. Krohn received his M.A. in 1929 and then worked as a teacher of German language, philosophy, psychology, and history at a secondary school. In 1930 Krohn married Ruth Sigrid Sofia Grönroos; they had five children.

In the 1930s Krohn became a member of two parapsychological associations, Sällskapet för psykisk forskning and Suomen parapsykologinen tutkimusseura. With Åke Tollet he wrote a book on parapsychology, Jälleenlöydetty sielu (1936). Its text was based on their popular radio broadcasts from 1934-35. In 1953 Krohn participated the First International Utrecht Conference on Parapsychology at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. Efforts to investigate scientifically paranormal phenomena gave Krohn additional evidence that mechanistic-materialistic worldview was false.

In the 1930s Krohn remained aloof both with national socialism and communism. During the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union, Krohn was exempted from military service but in the Continuation War (1941-44) he served in the artillery for some time and was discharged in 1942.

Krohn's academic career started relatively late. His doctoral dissertation, Der logische Empirismus (1949), a strong criticism of the concepts of logical empiricism, appeared when he was 46. Ahlman, who had introduced phenomenology to academic discussion in Finland, supervised Krohn's doctoral thesis. In 1951 Krohn became a lecturer at the University of Helsinki. Although Krohn was never appointed professor there, he substituted for G.H. von Wright in 1954, 1958, and 1960.

When Krohn applied for the professorship of theoretical philosophy, von Wright regarded Oiva Ketonen more qualified for the job. Moreover, before S. Albert Kivinen's studies, parapsychological interests were largely treated with suspicion in academic circles. After the death of Erik Ahlman in 1952, Krohn applied, unsuccessfully, for the professorship of theoretical philosophy. Krohn's most prominent opponent was Eino Kaila, a logical empiricist and highly influential opinion leader, who in general dismissed metaphysical statements as meaningless. Kaila maintained that philosophy as a method is logical analysis. According to an anecdote, he threw Krohn's dissertation out of the window after reading only a few pages of it. Krohn sent also Der logische Empirismus to Bertrand Russell who answered with a polite letter: "I have read with very great interest your book Der logische Empirismus. I admire your thorough knowledge of the literature and your care in dissecting arguments. I find myself also in broad agreement with your conclusions. As I have a bias in favour of empiricism, this measure of agreement does us both a credit. I congratulate you warmly on your work."

From 1960 Krohn held the chair of philosophy at the University of Turku, succeeding J.E. Salomaa. During this period phenomenologico-hermeneutical research dominated at the Faculty of Arts but Krohn was also interested in Marx's more ethically oriented early writings. Differing from the majority of his colleagues, Krohn published several of his major philosophical works in the German language. Krohn retired in 1970. His follower was Risto Hilpinen.

Krohn's last major work was Ihminen, luonto ja logos (1981), in which he anticipated rising interest in metaphysics and philosophical anthropology. Krohn also started to discuss more freely about parapsychology and reincarnation. His first collection of poems, Astronautti, Krohn published in 1987. It was followed by Planeetan uni (1992) and Vaellus maassa ja tähdissä (1996). Some of the poems he had written for his essays or speeches. A central theme through the books, and especially in Planeetan uni, is that man, as a microcosm, is a picture of the macrocosm.

In the 1990s, Krohn delivered several speeches dealing with spiritual growth and philosophy of l ife. His late writings were collected in Etsin ihmistä (1996). In the essay 'Vieraantunut nykyihminen' (1970) Krohn warned of the dehumanizing effects of modern value-free rationality and the view of man as a machine.

Krohn emphasized that we are timeless beings whose existence do not begin at birth and end in death. The universe is governed by logos, but the soul of man expresses itself as reason and love. As Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the Austrian founder of anthroposophy, Krohn believed in spiritual beings who exist in higher planes. Sven Krohn died at home in Tampere on June 26, 1999. The first major evaluation of Krohn's work was made by Mikko Salmela in his dissertation about cultural philosophy in Finland, Suomalaisen kulttuurifilosofian vuosisata (1998). In 2004 four Krohn's books were included in an exhibition at the Helsinki University Library presenting Finnish philosophers in the world and world's philosophers in Finland.

For further reading: Suomalaisen kulttuurifilosofian vuosisata by Mikko Salmela (1998); 'In memoriam: Sven Krohn (1903-99)' by Ilkka Niiniluoto, in Ajatus, 56 (1999); Päin nousevan Suomen rantaa: tutkijaprofiileja Turun yliopistosta by Timo Tarmio (2000); Ajatuksen kulku. Tankens vägar. Trains of thought, ed. by Inkeri Pitkäranta (2004)

Selected works:

  • Jälleen löydetty sielu: seitsemän keskustelua parapsykologiasta, 1936 (with Åke Tollet), 1936
  • Der logische Empirismus: eine kritische Untersuchung, 1949-50 (2 vols.)
  • 'Todellisuusprobleema Upanišaadissa ja buddhalaisessa filosofiassa', in Ajatus, XVII, 1952
  • Arvojen yleispätevyyden ongelma: arvofilosofinen tutkielma, 1953
  • Definitionsfrage und Wirklichkeitsfrage: zum Studium der Natur der analytischen Philosophie, 1953
  • 'Methodical Sensualism and Parapsychology', in Proceedings of the First International Conference of Parapsychological Studies (Utrecht 1953), 1955
  • Die normative Wertethik in ihren Beziehung zur Erkenntnis und zur Idee der Menschheit, 1958
  • 'Zum Subjektivismus und Objektivismus in der Ethik'. (Jus humanum. Studia in honorem Otto Brusin), 1966
  • Totuus, arvo ja ihminen: filosofisia esseitä, 1967
  • Möglichkeit und Wirklichkeit etnischer Verantwortung und Entscheidung (Akten des XIV Internationaled Kongress für Philosophie VI), 1971
  • 'Über die Bedingungen des Ethischen in freien Selbsttätigkeit des Subject', in Studien zur Werttheorie II, herausg. von Arto Siitonen und Timo Airaksinen, 1976
  • 'Sinnlosigkeitskrisis oder wiedergefundener Mensch', in Studien zur Werttheorie III, herausg. von Risto Maula, 1977
  • Credo: mihin minä uskon, 1979 (with others)
  • Ihminen, luonto ja logos, 1981
  • 'Universaalikysymys filosofisena ongelmana', in Ajatus, 40, 1983
  • Jälleensyntymisen oppi elämää ja kuolemaa, itää ja länttä yhdistävänä, 1986
  • Astronautti, 1987
  • Studien zur Werttheorie = Studies in the theory of value = Etudes sur la theorie des valeurs. 6, Über die Universalität des Geistes, 1987
  • Ydinihminen: ihmisen mitta ja tulevaisuus, 1989 (ed. by Toivo Salonen)
  • Planeetan uni, 1992
  • Valkoinen aukko: tieto, usko ja filosofia, 1993
  • Vaellus maassa ja tähdissä, 1996
  • Etsin ihmistä: filosofisia esseitä, 1996

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