Philosophy of Language and Culture

The Graduate Seminar in the Philosophy of Language and Culture, in its present orientation, is a continuation since 2001 of the seminar in philosophy of language that started in the early 1990’s in connection with two research projects: "Our Notions of Language", funded by the Swedish Research Council for the Humanities (HSFR), and "Language and Human Action" supported by The National Bank of Sweden’s Centenary Fund (Riksbankens jubileumsfond). These two projects were joint projects carried out in collaboration with the Department of Linguistics at Uppsala University, and have both resulted in several international publications by Pär Segerdahl, Sören Stenlund, Sharon Rider and Sven Öhman. In the late 1990’s, this research was continued and widened into a joint Nordic research project called "Language and Practice", supported by the Joint Committee of the Nordic Research Councils (NOS-H). The contributions to the volume The Practice of Language (Hertzberg, L. and Gustafsson, L. (eds.), Kluwer, 2002) were results of our work in this project. All of the aforementioned research projects grew out of dissatisfaction with much established research in the philosophy of language and linguistic theory and the effort to find new paths in these fields.

In the endeavour towards renewal, one distinctive feature of the work done so far in this group is the use of Wittgenstein’s ideas and insights in dealing with issues of current interest within various areas of contemporary philosophy, particularly within the philosophy of language, but also in many other areas of study. There are also ongoing research of a more historical character being done within the group, as well as themes and problems in phenomenology, hermeneutics, poststructuralism, the history of philosophy, social theory, philosophical psychology and philosophical anthropology (Johan Boberg, Niklas Forsberg, Elinor Hållén, Lovisa Håkansson, Erik Jansson Boström, Tove Österman, Sharon Rider, Björn Sjöstrand).

In 2006, members of the group, in collaboration with the division of Aesthetics and the Stockholm Film Institute arranged an international conference financed by the Swedish Research Council culminating with the anthology Making a Difference: Rethinking Humanism and the Humanities, edited by Niklas Forsberg & Susanne Jansson (Stockholm: Thales, 2011).

As a “prologue” to the conference Making a Difference (2006) there was a small conference which resulted in the volume: Acknowledging Stanley Cavell, including commentaries by Stanley Cavell, edited by Niklas Forsberg & Susanne Jansson (Uppsala: Uppsala Philosophical Studies 56, 2009).

An important part of the work in the research group connected to the seminar in theoretical philosophy is graduate student research. Ten dissertations have been produced to date. The authors of 2 of these are now full professors (Martin Gustavsson, Sharon Rider), and two others, Pär Segerdahl and Juan Wilhelmi are associate professors (Docenter) in philosophy. Five more dissertations are scheduled to be defended during 2013-2014.

There are on-going research and publication projects within the philosophy of language and literature (Forsberg, Löfgren, Håkansson), the philosophy of mathematics (Solin, Stenlund, Öberg), the philosophy of science (Boberg, Boström), the philosophy of technology (Sjöstrand), the philosophy of language (Johansson) and the philosophy of mind and culture (Hållén, Rider, Segerdal, Osterman). Research projects, travel grants, publications and conferences during the last ten years have been funded by the Swedish Research Council, the Fulbright Commission, the National Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Fund, the Wallenberg Foundation, the E.O. Burman Foundation, the Anders Karitz Foundation, the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education,  etc.

The weekly seminars constitute a forum in which work from the members of the group is examined and discussed: the themes of the seminars are often chosen so as to attract researchers from other disciplines (political science, science and technology studies, comparative literature, law, etc). Interdisciplinary seminars are held regularly. International contacts and collaboration are important for the members of the group, and workshops and symposia are arranged each year with presentations by a variety of invited guests from a wide array of philosophical interests and research orientations, from philosophical aesthetics to mathematic psychology, including Richard Schusterman (2001), James Conant (2002), David Finkelstein (2002), Ehtibar Dzhafarov (2004), Jeff Malphas (2004), Steve Fuller (2010), Anniken Greve (2011), Robert Pippin (2011),Talbot Talylor (2012), among others. The group has a vibrant and fruitful exchange with philosophers at Åbo Academy, Södertörn University College and the University of Bergen, and since 2001 the group has close contact with the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago involving graduate as well as post-doc research. Members of the group are affiliated with the Uppsala Center for Science and Technology Studies (Rider, Boberg and Boström) as well as the interdisciplinary research node Knowledge Societies (Rider, Hållén, Forsberg).


Nordic Network for Wittgenstein Research (NNWR)

Between 2006 and 2008 the research group was part of a joint Nordic Network funded by NordForsk. The title of the project was “Nordic Network for Wittgenstein Research” (NNWR) and involved research groups from Uppsala, Åbo, Helsinki, Odense, Olso and Bergen. In February 2007, Uppsala hosted an inter-nordic NNWR-workshop.

Nordic Wittgenstein Society (NWS)

The Nordic Wittgenstein Society was founded in March 2008. The purpose of the Society is to promote Nordic research centred on, and related to, the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein; to be a platform and forum for Nordic researchers in this field; to enhance the visibility of Nordic Wittgenstein research and to support and promote international exchange.

One of the Society’s most important activities is an annual conference in one of the Nordic countries. The conferences are thematic in orientation and strive to reach across disciplinary borders and philosophical traditions and schools. The 1st annual international NWS Conference (“Language, Ethics and Animal Life”) was held in Uppsala March 26-27, 2010. This conference was the basis for the volume Language, Ethics and Animal Life: Wittgenstein and Beyond, edited by Niklas Forsberg, Mikel Burley and Nora Hämäläinen (New York: Bloomsbury [formerly Continuum Publishing], 2012). 

Regular Events

The Phalén Picnic

The first Nordic Symposium in Logic took place at the Department of Philosophy, Åbo Academy in 1968. It was at this meeting that the idea of an annual get-together between philosophers at Åbo Academy and Uppsala University was first raised. These yearly gatherings, which began in 1970, were dubbed “the Phalén Picnic” (after the Uppsala philosopher Adolph Phalén, 1884-1931). The first series of meetings consisted of two days of lectures, seminars and discussions, culminating in the Nordic Symposium in the Philosophy of Language in 1974, in which 200 philosophers from Northern Europe participated. The symposium began with a trip together from Uppsala on the ferry over the Baltic to Åbo, where it continued and concluded. The highpoint of the symposium was a panel discussion on the mission of philosophy with L. Hertzberg, S. Kanger, K.E. Tranöy and G.H. von Wright. For a number of years during the 1980’s, the Chair in Philosophy in Åbo was vacant, and the annual meetings were temporarily discontinued. They were resumed in 1993, and have continued without interruption since then. The level of student and faculty participation is traditionally quite high, and the meetings have resulted in numerous collaborations in research as well as faculty exchange and post-graduate training and supervision.

PhD Students

Johan Boberg (theoretical philosophy)

The dissertation concerns the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity from a Kantian perspective. The project aims, on the one hand, to critique certain contemporary notions concerning subjectivity and objectivity, and, on the other, to trace and better understand the history of the development of these notions. Kant’s critical philosophy, in which subjectivity and objectivity are understood in relation to the faculty of judgment, is used as a contrast to contemporary conceptions, as well as a source of inspiration in the attempt to overcome certain problems arising out of these conceptions. The project integrates systematic epistemological questions with elements of conceptual history and the history of science.

Areas of interest: Subjectivity, Kant and neo-Kantianism, judgment, Wittgenstein, Foucault, conceptual history, 19th-century philosophy, historical epistemology, philosophy of science.

Memberships: Nordic Wittgenstein Society, The Nordic Society for Phenomenology, Nordic Network for Philosophical Anthropology.

Erik Boström (theoretical philosophy)

Main interests: methodological and epistemological questions with respect to sociology, especially involving power structures and oppression (more concretely, sociological studies of discrimination,victimization and sexual harassment). Problems tied to the study of social phenomena include: What kind of knowledge or understanding do the social sciences generate? How are we to differentiate between knowledge on the one hand, and ideology, metaphysics and worldviews on the other? To what extent is it possible to distinguish between science, politics and policy? The dissertation thematizes the question “what is understanding” as the questions “what does it mean to say that we understand our social environment?”, or “what do we mean when we say that we understand something?”. More specifically, the thesis analyzes the concept of understanding in terms of Max Weber’s ideal types in relation to certain themes in ordinary language philosophy (Austin, Cavell, Wittgenstein).

Other interests: The ethics of Simone de Beauvoir and Iris Murdoch; Sociology, in particular feminist and intersectionalist theories; Plato; Kant and neo-Kantianism; Husserl’s phenomenology; Philosophy of science.

Stina Bäckström (philosophy, University of Chicago)

Will defend her dissertation in the Spring of 2013. The thesis is an attempt to remedy what is argued to be a lack in contemporary analytic philosophy of mind and action, namely, an adequate understanding of how we express our thoughts and feelings in what we do. Expression, the thesis argues, is a form of self-conscious activity not reducible to intentional action.

Lovisa Håkansson (theoretical philosophy, also affiliated with BEEGS, Södertörn University College)

Håkansson’s dissertation concerns the relation between literature and philosophy within the thought of the french philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The dissertation examines how literature allows for Merleau-Ponty to think the connection between the sensible world and the intellectual world. Håkansson focuses especially on the reading of Valéry, Proust and Stendhal, as it is expressed by Merleau-Ponty in his unpublished course notes for Le problème de la parole, and the recently published course notes for L’usage littéraire du langage.

Håkansson was a visiting scholar at the Ecole Normale Supérieur in Paris 2012, during which time she transcribed the notes for the course Le problème de la parole. She works together with Franck Robert and Emmanuel de Saint Aubert on a publication of this material.

Björn Sjöstrand (theoretical philosophy, also affiliated with Södertörn UniversityCollege)

Professional engineer. Main area of interest is the relationship between technology and society. Publications include "Derrida och teknikens fenomenologi" (“Derrida and the phenomenology oftechnology”) in Fenomenologi, teknik och medialitet, Södertörn Philosophical Studies (2011) and "Etik och politik hos Emmanuel Levinas och Jacques Derrida" (“Ethics and politics in Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida”, 2008). His dissertation project has the working title "Teknik och etik hos Jacques Derrida" (“Technology and ethics in the work of Jacques Derrida”). Member of The Society for Philosophy and Technology and The Nordic Society for Phenomenology".

Ingeborg Löfgren (Ph.D. student in Comparative Literature, Uppsala)

Currently writing a dissertation with the working title: “Understanding the Object, Understanding the Other, Understanding Ourselves. Literary Interpretation and Skepticism”. The thesis examines how three theoretically distinction orientations in the interpretation of literary texts, New Criticism, Intentionalism and Reader-Response Theory, have developed in response to the threat of skepticism. My main areas of interest are modern literary theory, literary interpretation, skepticism, philosophy and literature, intentionalism, fiktivity, Lars Gyllensten, Wittgenstin and Cavell. Conference papers that I have held include: “Kan parafrasen ha samma mening som dikten? Cleanth Brooks och parafrasens hädelse” (“Can Paraphrase have the Same Meaning as the Poem? Cleanth Brooks and the Heresy of Paraphrase”): NorLit: Codex and Code. Aesthetics, Language and Politics in an Age of Digital Media, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm 6-9 August 2009; “Imagined Sense and Sense in Imagination”: The 2nd NWS Conference: Culture and Context, Åbo Akademy 19 Maj 2011; ”I spänningsfältet mellan praktisk säkerhet och teoretisk oro – Stanley Cavell och litteraturtolkningens skepticism” (“Between Practical Certainty and Theoretical Disquiet: Stanley Cavell and Sceptism in Literary Interpretation”. Kritik, praktik, vetenskap. Mot en ny teoretisk självförståelse? (Critique, Practice, Scholarship. Toward a New Theoretical Self-Understanding?), National Conference in Comparative Literature, Uppsala University 22-23 March 2012). I am a member of the Nordic Wittgenstein Society.

Senior Research Associates

Sören Stenlund, professor emeritus

In recent years, Stenlund has been concerned with problems in the philosophy of mathematics, especially regarding questions raised by Wittgenstein remarks. The article, “The ‘Middle’ Wittgenstein and Modern Mathematics” (in Epistemology versus Ontology: Essays on the Philosophy and Foundations of Mathematics in Honour of Per Martin-Löf, Dybjer, P. et al. (eds): in press 2012, Springer Verlag), shows how Wittgenstein was inspired by changes in modern mathematics and physics at the previous turn of the century. In the essay, ”Wittgenstein and Symbolic Mathematics”, an attempt is made to demonstrate the unity of Wittgenstein’s philosophy of mathematics as a whole, by showing that Wittgenstein understood mathematics as “symbolic mathematics”, a conception of the nature of mathematics that emerged during the 17th century in connection with the advent of algebraic symbolism.The articles named above were presented at the 2nd and 3rd meetings, respectively, of the “Middle Wittgenstein Symposium”, held in Brotas (2010) and Ilja Grande (2012), Brazil. Currently, Stenlund’s research has moved toward conceptual history with regard to basic mathematical concepts. There is a great deal of disagreement today among mathematicians and historians of mathematics regarding when mathematical induction came into use. Among other things, there is debate concerning whether or not mathematic induction existed at all in classical Greek mathematics (for example, in Euclid). This problem is connected to the question of how the concept of number changed in the transition from ancient to modern mathematics. 

Sharon Rider

Professor in Theoretical Philosophy, Research Leader in Philosophy and Sociology of Science, Uppsala Center for Science and Technology Studies, Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Uppsala University. Rider has an educational background in the United States (Penn State) and in Sweden, and spent a year as a Fulbright scholar in Belgium (Université catholique de Louvain). Her areas of interest include the history of thought, in particular, ancient Greek philosophy (Plato and Aristotle), the Enlightenment (Kant and Rousseau), German philosophy (Marx, Nietzsche, Weber), Foucault and the Foucauldian tradition and Wittgenstein. She has taught and written on the philosophy of science, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and phenomenology. Most recently, she has focussed on social and historical epistemology and the philosophy of education, inspired largely by the approach of conceptual history. She is currently working on the philosophical background to the idea of academic freedom as a response to specific cultural and scientific contexts, and the implications of the notions involved for contemporary problems. 

Niklas Forsberg

Researcher and Lecturer at the Department of Philosophy at Uppsala University, Sweden. He is currently completing a monograph entitled Language Lost and Found, which treats the thought that some philosophical problems arise due to a lost sense of our own language, and how that problem is dealt with in recent discussions of the relationship between philosophy and literature. In this monograph, Iris Murdoch is his main conversation partner. This work is the main outcome of a research project, "The Novel and the Nature of Philosophical Argumentation: A Study of Iris Murdoch’s, Martha Nussbaum’s and Cora Diamond’s Philosophies of Literature" funded by The Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation. Forsberg has previously written on Wittgenstein, Cavell, Murdoch, Austin and Derrida. He has been a visiting scholar at the University of Chicago and Åbo Academy. He is a member of the board of the Nordic Wittgenstein Society and on the editorial board of the Nordic Wittgenstein Review.

Thorsten Johansson

Thorsten Johansson wrote his dissertation in 1999 on the semantics of G. Frege. He has done work in the philosophy of language, the philosophy of Wittgenstein and on the role of language in education. Johansson has received funding from Axel och Margaret Ax:son Johnson Stiftelse and Helge A:xson Johson stiftelse, and has participated in the research project "Language and Practice" and the interdisciplinary research projects "The interplay between language and thought in understanding problems from a student perspective" and "Language use and knowledge formation. Processes of the interplay between content, meanings and expressions in learning", headed by Professor Elsie Anderberg. Johansson is also a member of the Nordic Wittgenstein Society.

Tove Österman

Tove Österman defended her dissertation in theoretical philosophy (Rationality and Cultural Understanding) in Uppsala in 2007. She has taught at Uppsala University and Åbo Akademy, and is a member of the Nordic Wittgenstein Society. Her publications include: “MacIntyre and Malcolm on the continuity between the Animal and the Human” Volker A. Munz, Klaus Puhl, Joseph Wang (eds.) Language and World. Preproceedings of the 32nd International Wittgenstein Symposium (Kirchberg am Wechsel/Lower Austria); “Hur kan vi veta vad djuren tror?" (“How can we know what animals believe?”) Norsk Filosofisk tidsskrift 3-4, pp. 218-29; ”Understanding the Irrational” , in Wittgensteinian Approaches to Ethics and the Philosophy of Culture, eds. H. Nykänen, Y.Gustafsson (in press 2012, Cambridge Scholars Publishing) and ”Kan man tänka ologiskt? En studie i logik och kulturella variationer” (“Can One Think Illogically?”), Språk och Praxis (Language and Praxis, in press 2012, Åbo Academy); ”Frege om objektivitet” (“Frege on Objectivity”), Tankar tillägnade Sören Stenlund (Thoughts. Dedicated to Sören Stenlund) ed. Niklas Forsberg, Sharon Rider, Pär Segerdahl (Uppsala Philosophical Studies 54, 2008). She has also published essays aimed at a broader audience, including ”Mångkultur en farofylld utopi?” (“Multiculturalism- A Dangerous Utopia?”), Under Strecket, Svenska Dagbladet, 22/9/2007 and ”Vad är filosofisk antropologi?” (“What is Philosophical Anthropology?”), Ikaros: tidskrift om människan och vetenskapen, (2011:4).

Elinor Hållén

Hållén defended her dissertation in theoretical philosophy (A Different Kind of Ignorance. Self-Deception as Flight from Self-Knowledge) in Uppsala in 2011. She has since then continued working on themes related to philosophical psychology, and has held conference papers in a variety of fora, including: “Ignorance as Methodology: What could it be?”, What is Ignorance? Royal Academy of Art, Stockholm, 29 March, 2012; “How Does One Pull Something out by the Root in Psychotherapeutic Practice? Therapy versus Medicine”, Philosophy of Psychotherapy Conference, University of East Anglia, England, 8-11 July, 2011; Colloquium paper, “Possessive Konstitution des Selbst”, Das Institut für Philosophie, Potsdam Universität, July, 2009; The Contemporary Philosophy Workshop, February, 2009, Department of Philosophy, University of Chicago; “Wittgenstein, Freud and Unconscious Intentions”, Interpreting Wittgenstein, Bergen, 6-7 June, 2008;“Att vidga dina vyer. Vikten av den Andra för självförståelse” (To Broaden Your Horizons: The Importance of the Other for Self-Understanding”, Phalén Picnic, Uppsala, May, 2006.

Affiliated Senior Research Associates

Anders Öberg

Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer (Docent) in mathematics, PhD in theoretical philosophy (2012) and visiting researcher at the philosophy department, Uppsala University. Main research interests: philosophy of language, science and mathematics; the philosophies of Putnam, Carnap and Wittgenstein. Current focus: the notions of explication and rational reconstruction. Recently received a grant with Kajsa Bråting for "prose and calculus in mathematics" from the Faculty of Education.

Kim Solin

Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at Gotland University. He defended his dissertation in computer science, on programming theory and abstract algebra, at Åbo Academy in 2007. He is currently completing a dissertation in the philosophy of mathematics. Together with Kim-Erik Berts, he has written a monograph in Swedish entitled Matematiken och Wittgenstein (Mathematics and Wittgenstein, Bokförlaget Thales, 2010), and he has published numerous articles in a variety of international fora, including Studia Logica, Science of Computer Programming, Formal Aspects of Computing, Information and Computation and the Journal of Logic and Algebraic Programming. Solin has been a guest researcher in Augsburg, Göttingen, Helsingfors and Sydney. Before taking up his current position, he was a Research Fellow at the University of Queensland, Australia.

Pär Segerdahl

Associate Professor (Docent), researcher and blog editor at the Centre for Research Ethics and Bioethics, Uppsala University.

Segerdahl received his PhD in theoretical philosophy in 1993 at Uppsala University. I became associate professor (docent) at Åbo Akademi in 1998; at Uppsala University in 2001. His research can be described as a philosophical dialogue with other disciplines. In a series of externally funded research projects I collaborated not only with philosophers, but also with linguists, primatologists, animal welfare scientists, bioethicists and gender researchers. He is a member of Nordic Network for Philosophical Anthropology and The Nordic Wittgenstein Society.

For several years Segerdahl worked with ape language researchers, and published the book Kanzi’s Primal Language (Palgrave, 2005). He led a research project financed by Formas on animal behavior 2004-2007, which involved collaboration with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. He spent the years 2007-2009 as guest researcher at the Centre for Gender Research at Uppsala University, where he was one of the founding members of the Humananimal group, and edited the book Undisciplined Animals (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011). Segerdahl will return in 2013 to the Centre for Gender Research to do research in the project, Becoming “Human” , financed by the Swedish Research Council.