Raimo Tuomela (1940-2020)

Raimo Heikki Tuomela, Professor Emeritus in Practical Philosophy, University of Helsinki, has died.

(Raimo Tuomela. Photo by Cata Portin.)

Professor Tuomela was known for his work in social philosophy and philosophy of action, especially collective or group action, group intention, group knowledge, and the like. You can learn more about his research here and here. He retired from the University of Helsinki in 2008, where he had worked since 1971. Over the years he held visiting appointments at other institutions, such as the Academy of Finland and the University of Munich. He earned two Ph.D.s in philosophy: one from the University of Helsinki and another from Stanford University.

Below is an obituary written by Ilkka Niiniluoto and translated by Arto Laitinen. It will also appear at the website of the International Social Ontology Society (ISOS).

Raimo Heikki Tuomela, Professor Emeritus in Practical Philosophy, University of Helsinki, passed away in Helsinki on November 22nd 2020, at the age of 80. He was born in Helsinki October 9th 1940, his father was from Karelia, his mother belonged to the Swedish speaking minority in Finland.

After his matricular examination from the Helsinki Lyceum 1959, Tuomela studied Psychology at the University of Helsinki. In 1966, having completed the degrees of Master and Licenciate in Psychology, he joined together with Risto Hilpinen and Juhani Pietarinen Jaakko Hintikka’s research group at the department of practical philosophy, where the foundations were laid for the internationally lauded Finnish School of Induction, studying inductive logic. In his dissertation in philosophy of science, The Application Process of a Theory (1968), Tuomela was among the first to apply Tarskian model theory to the interpretation of scientific theories. Tuomela defended another PhD, Auxiliary Concepts within First-Order Scientific Theories in 1969 at Stanford, where he had earlier visited as an ASLA-Fulbright scholar. His teachers included Jaakko Hintikka, Patrick Suppes and Joseph Sneed. In his work, he applied Hintikka’s logical theory of distributive normal forms in the examination of the definability of theoretical concepts and the methodological gains of their use. Tuomela published these results, together with his studies concerning the structure of scientific explanation, in his Theoretical Concepts (1973) and (with Ilkka Niiniluoto) in Theoretical Concepts and Hypothetico-Inductive Inference (1973). Influenced by Wilfrid Sellars and Hilary Putnam, Tuomela developed an original version of scientific realism in Science, Action, and Reality (1985). This is the view called «causal internal realism», according to which truth is an epistemic concept explicable in terms of the concept of explanation. On that view, ontological questions are to be solved by theories that provide the best scientific explanations, as «science is the measure of all things, of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not» as Sellars’s Scientia Mensura -principle holds.

In 1968 The Faculty of Social Sciences founded a special professorship in the methodology of social science. Young Tuomela applied for it, as did Yrjö Ahmavaara, who was a well-known researcher in psychometrics and cybernetics. Tuomela was appointed in 1971, which was considered a significant move in the science policies in Finland. In 1977, the professorship was turned into the second professorship in practical philosophy at the University of Helsinki. Tuomela held this post for 37 years and retired in 2008. His students included Uskali Mäki and Matti Sintonen, who also later became professors. Tuomela was an Academy Professor in 1995-2000, leading a research group on social action. Matti Sintonen, Petri Ylikoski and Kaarlo Miller edited the volume Realism in Action (2003) in honour of his 60th birthday. Important co-authors included his second wife Maj Tuomela (former Bonnevier), who defended her dissertation in social psychology in 2006, on trust as a collective attitude.

As a professor, Tuomela edited the collections Yhteiskuntatieteiden eksakti metodologia (1975) and (with Ilkka Patoluoto) Yhteiskuntatieteiden filosofiset perusteet I-II (1976). In his Human Action and Its Explanation (1976), he applied scientific realism to psychology, defending a causal theory of action as an alternative to G. H. von Wright’s (non-causal) model of understanding intentionality. On the view Tuomela defended, mental states are real, causally efficacious dispositions, and human behaviour is to be explained with reference to “purposive causation”.

In his next large book, A Theory of Social Action (1984) he generalized explanations of individual behaviour to group action. This became his central topic of research, which he developed sharply in several systematic treatises: The Importance of Us (1995), Cooperation: A Philosophical Study (2000), The Philosophy of Social Practices: A Collective Acceptance View (2002), The Philosophy of Sociality: The Shared Point of View (2007) and Social Ontology: Collective Intentionality and Group Agents (2013). His trademarks as a researcher were analytically clear and precise definitions of the key concepts such as group belief, we-intention and social practice. He published with such top publishers as D. Reidel, Stanford University Press, Kluwer, Cambridge University Press, and Oxford University Press. These books established him as an eminent scholar in his field. His central standing is attested to by his choice in 2012 as the president – and later honorary president – of International Social Ontology Society, and as an editor in chief of the new book series Studies in the Philosophy of Sociality in 2013. In 2017 Springer also published Social Ontology and Collective Intentionality: Critical Essays on the Philosophy of Raimo Tuomela with His Responses.

As a defender of a scientific worldview, Tuomela was one of the founders of Skepsis ry, promoting critical thinking. Mostly he enjoyed his life as a researcher and did not take part in public discussions. Tuomela was probably better known internationally than in Finland. He was an invited speaker in many leading universities and international conferences. He received the prestigious Humboldt Research Award of Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in 1993. He maintained a steady contact to analytical philosophers in Germany (e.g. Wolfgang Balzer) as a permanent visiting professor at the University of Munich since 2005, where he spent two to three months annually. He also made regular visits to London and Berkeley. In 2019, Tuomela was granted a lifetime achievement award by the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters. In an interview by niin&näin, a popular philosophical magazine, Tuomela described himself as a shy lone wolf. As a person he was a paragon of conscientiousness and diligence, whose goal-orientedness was softened by his boyish humour among close friends. His hobbies included long distance running and classical music.


Ilkka Niiniluoto
November 25th, 2020
(Written originally for Ajatus 77/2020, the journal of the Philosophical Society of Finland. Ilkka Niiniluoto is a Professor Emeritus in Theoretical Philosophy, who also served as a Rector and Chancellor of the University of Helsinki, and has earned the title of an Academician of Science.)
Translated by Arto Laitinen

Beyond the Ivory Tower. Workshop for academics on writing short pieces for wide audiences on big questions. Taking place October 18th to 19th. Application deadline July 30th. Funding provided.
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments