Projects per year
I knew already at school that I wanted to study philosophy. To get in the University of Helsinki I more or less learned by heart the entry examination book. At the University I developed an interest, first, in the philosophy of science and then philosophy of mind. (I studied cognitive science as a minor subject.) Towards the end of my studies I got interested in Wittgenstein, originally because he seemed to have something helpful to say about the philosophy of mind. During those days I also participated in several reading groups that were formed by students. That way I came to read Kant, Heidegger, Freud and Aristotle.
Having completed my MA in early 1996 I took a job in secondary education where I taught mainly philosophy and psychology. (My oldest daughter was born around the same time.) Simultaneously, I started attempts to obtain funding for my PhD. Eventually I succeeded and commenced working in early 1997 on a PhD on Wittgenstein and the foundations of cognitive science. I soon realised, however, that already Wittgenstein was plenty for one PhD. I decided to focus on his conception of philosophy, and sought to explain what I thought was problematic in the interpretation of Wittgenstein as a transcendental philosopher, popular in Helsinki at the time. Though I didn’t originally intend to do the degree of a Licentiate in Philosophy, I ended up submitting this stuff as a dissertation for the Licentiate degree in 1999. That done, I travelled with my family to Oxford where I’d been accepted to study as a Visiting Student for one year. I arrived in the gown town with my then 6 month old son sleeping in my arms on the bus.
At St. John’s College I discovered that I had got lucky. Due to their disagreements Gordon Baker and Peter Hacker had stopped collaborating on Wittgenstein. But this situation was ideal for a student who was able to talk to both of them. With Baker I could discuss my ideas on Wittgenstein which almost everybody prior to this had thought couldn’t be right. Hacker, in turn, gave me detailed criticisms that really helped me to improve my arguments. Soon I started making arrangements for prolonging my stay and eventually ended up completing my DPhil in Oxford in 2003. This was an eventful period that included Baker’s untimely death.
After my DPhil I returned to Helsinki where my bank account was mostly empty. I got a half-time job as a research assistant at the Department of Philosophy where I also did some teaching. Later on I managed to obtain a little funding for postdoctoral research on ethics and Wittgenstein. The funding wasn’t enough, however, and I again had to apply for pretty much everything that could be applied for. This led to my appointment in visiting positions at the Wittgenstein Archives in Bergen, Norway and at the University of Chicago as a Fulbright Junior Scholar. Having got back from the States and after another summer of poverty I received a Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Academy of Finland for a project in meta-ethics. This position I held until taking up my current post at the UEA. Those two years (till September 2007) I spent engaged in research in Oxford and Athens. My youngest daughter was born in Athens.
Key Research Interests
Philosophical methodology, the philosophy of logic and language, moral philosophy, and the history of analytic philosophy, especially Wittgenstein.
A key research interest for me is questions relating to the nature of philosophy. That is, how to understand the status or role of philosophical statements and what the most fruitful way to approach philosophical questions would be? I’ve pursued these issues, for example, in the context of my work on Wittgenstein whom I take to identify in philosophy a certain kind of problematic ascetic tendency connected with how philosophers understand the role of philosophical statements. I interpret Wittgenstein’s later conception of the status of philosophical statements as a response to this problem, and it arguably leads to an increase in the flexibility of philosophical thought, without a loss in its rigour. I’ve discussed related matters also in connection with Kant and transcendental arguments. Similarly, my interest in Heidegger has to do with him paying a great deal of attention to questions about the nature of philosophy.
Another interest is the nature of morality and moral deliberation. In the context of my work on these issues I’m trying to make use of certain methodological ides of Wittgenstein’s, and not simply to develop yet another theory of moral thinking. Partly my research on these issues is motivated by what appears to be philosophy’s almost total irrelevance when it comes to addressing actual moral questions. It seems that pretty much the last thing people consult when trying to deal with moral issues in their life is a philosophy book – which suggests that somehow philosophy doesn’t strike people as practically relevant. But surely this isn’t how things were originally thought to be by philosophers or how things should be. So, rethinking seems required.
Relating to questions about the nature of philosophical statements various issues relating to modal notions arise. They constitute a further focus of research interest for me, though I haven’t yet published anything on this beyond the context of my work on Wittgenstein.
My entry point to Wittgenstein’s philosophy is his conception and methods of philosophy, and my research comprises both his early and later work. A central question here is what Wittgenstein means by not having theses or theories in philosophy, for example: what distinguishes his so-called grammatical statements from philosophical theses about necessities pertaining to language use? I seek to explicate the later Wittgenstein’s conception of philosophical statements by reference to his notion of an object of comparison which I take to be designed to keep distinct the often assimilated notions of generality and necessity. This assimilation gives rise to the problem of dogmatism in philosophy which I understand the later Wittgenstein as responding to. But his conception of philosophical statements has other far reaching consequences too, such as the dissolution of philosophical hierarchies of more and less fundamental concepts. Applied in the context of the interpretation of Wittgenstein’s remarks on meaning and language these methodological ideas explain, for example, why it is not correct to interpret his conception of meaning as use and his rule-following considerations as constituting a foundation of his philosophy.
2) Ethics and philosophy’s practical relevance
In my work in ethics I’ve been developing a particular conception of moral judgments and moral evaluation which is intended to solve a number of meta-ethical problems relating to the nature of moral thinking. (Not that morality and moral deliberation would be exhausted by judgment making.) This conception of moral evaluation – according to which we determine the moral value of, for instance, an action by establishing what kind of an action someone’s doing such and such in certain circumstance constitutes, and what concepts would be appropriately applied to the action to describe it – is also intended to form the basis for an alternative to the prevailing, theory-based way of understanding philosophy’s practical role and relevance. The hope or hypothesis is that in this way we would be able to do better justice to the actual complexity of moral thinking and the life it concerns. Accordingly, this approach might help to resolve problems relating to the apparent practical irrelevance of philosophy, which seem to arise from certain simplistic tendencies of philosophical thinking dressed up in the gown of methodological rigour.
3) Philosophical methodology and the philosophy of logic
Questions about philosophical methodology, when pursued in the context of analytical philosophy, lead to questions about the nature of logic as a tool of philosophy. Were one to accept a conception of philosophy as some kind of a conceptual or logical investigation – in the wake of Russell, Wittgenstein and Carnap or along the lines of the so-called ordinary language philosophy – what exactly would that commit one to? And would it really be possible to find a way out of philosophy’s eternal disputes and a path to progress by employing such methods, as the just mentioned philosophers thought? These are some questions I pursue in my recent research both from a historical and systematic angle, arguing that – unbelievable as it may seem – it may indeed be possible to overcome philosophical disagreements, if we understand the status of philosophical statements in a particular way, distinct from true/false factual statements. This can also help us to understand the plurality of philosophical positions and methods, without any kind of relativistic implications regarding truth.
4) The foundations of cognitive science
A research project that is dormant at the moment but which I plan to take up again in the future concerns the foundations of cognitive science. Here one aspiration is to show that the dispute between the so-called folk psychologists, eliminativists, and so on, about the foundation of this discipline is based on certain shared problematic assumptions relating to psychological concepts such as belief and the notion of a mental state or process. By questioning these assumptions I hope to contribute to the articulation of an alternative way of understanding the foundations of this discipline, i.e. the science of the mind.
I am a founding member of the Nordic Network for Wittgenstein Research.
Areas of Expertise
- 7 Finished
Kuusela, O., 15 May 2023, Wittgensteinian Exercises: Aesthetic and Ethical Transformations. Guidi, L. (ed.). Brill
Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceeding › Chapter (peer-reviewed) › peer-review
Kuusela, O., 2022, In: Ermeneutica Letteraria. XVIII, p. 13-21 9 p.
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article › peer-review