In Memoriam Simo Knuuttila

In: Vivarium
Mikko Yrjönsuuri University of Jyväskylä Finland Jyväskylä

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Professor Simo Knuuttila died very unexpectedly on June 17th 2022. Although officially retired already 2014, he was working in research until the very end. Indeed, on the last day of his life he gave public comments on professor Martha Nussbaum’s talk at the University of Helsinki. That he did not wake up the next morning came to the Finnish and international philosophy community as a very sad surprise.

From the beginning to the end Knuuttila’s career was multidisciplinary. Among his teachers, philosophy professor Jaakko Hintikka and classical Greek professor Holger Thesleff were particularly important. Knuuttila worked on his dissertation mainly at the philosophy department, but chose to defend it in the faculty of theology in 1976. From 1981 onwards, he worked as a professor in theological ethics and philosophy of religion at the University of Helsinki.

Knuuttila was very much liked among students without genuine research orientation, but very demanding for students whom he saw to become researchers. As a personal memory, I well remember his recommendation when I submitted a first draft for a master’s thesis on Boethius’s logic. He said, “you should read Boethius’s production once more.” That is, I was to read the 1600 pages of vol. 64 of the Patrologia Latina again, although my Latin was not so good at the time.

Knuuttila was clearly a philosopher in the analytic tradition, but he first aimed at a dissertation in continental philosophy. As a result of this, Knuuttila’s students in the history of philosophy always learned the Gadamerian concept “fusion of horizons.” When studying the material, a medievalist is to look both for similarities and for fundamental differences. Logical modalities, for example, were not conceived the same way in the Middle Ages as they are now. Anachronisms must be avoided, but at the same time the material must be turned congenial to the modern reader.

Professor Knuuttila was not only a major figure in the Finnish history of philosophy community, but also a highly respected scholar internationally. His expertise had a wide range from ancient to early modern philosophy. His studies on conceptions of logical modalities in medieval scholasticism had a profound influence. But he was not just a logician. As the head of the Academy of Finland’s centers of excellence in 2002–2013, his main interests were in the philosophy of mind. His last major monograph was on Emotions in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy (Oxford, 2016).

We have lost a scholar who had seemingly endless amounts of philosophical curiosity and an acute sense for getting the historical facts right. He was a warm and friendly person with a good sense of humor. But any life may end unexpectedly, as all of us should know.

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