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TINT in context – Centre for Philosophy of Social Science in Helsinki

by Uskali Mäki


The story of Finnish philosophy of science is often told in terms of sequential generations, expanding from individuals to groups. There was Eino Kaila, logical empiricist, followed by Georg Henrik von Wright and his student Jaakko Hintikka, followed by the latter’s students such as Ilkka Niiniluoto, Raimo Tuomela, and Risto Hilpinen. The generic style of research has been markedly analytic, but the modes of analysis have not been uniform, and the themes addressed have evolved in the course of the past decades. (For a story of Finnish philosophy of science, see e.g. Niiniluoto EPSA Newsletter 2013.)

Among other lines of inquiry, philosophy of the social sciences, broadly conceived, has recently become a major field of group activity, especially at the University of Helsinki. In addition to his many other contributions, G.H. von Wright’s Explanation and Understanding (1971), an exercise in analytic hermeneutics, was an important contribution in its time, even though its major idea – drawing the contrast between natural and social sciences in terms of causal explanation vs practical reasoning -- is now largely abandoned, and it has not given rise to an enduring tradition. Raimo Tuomela, professor of philosophy and methodology of social sciences since 1971, has had a long career in developing accounts of collective intentionality and social ontology more generally, becoming one of the leading experts in this area. Tuomela served as an Academy Professor in 1995-2000, which involved resources for him to put together a research group and thereby to coordinate more extensive collective activity on collective action. This has created a notable tradition in the field. 

Beginning (2006-2011)

Tuomela’s student Uskali Mäki served as professor at Erasmus University in Rotterdam in 1995-2006, founding and directing EIPE [Erasmus Institute for Philosophy and Economics] that launched and coordinated an international PhD programme in philosophy of economics. In 2006, he returned to Helsinki, to adopt a position as Academy Professor. TINT’s first period started as a project linked to this position -- these positions come with a generous budget for assembling a research team. It engaged people such as Petri Ylikoski, Tarja Knuuttila, Aki Lehtinen, Kristina Rolin, Jaakko Kuorikoski and others from Finland, and Till Grüne-Yanoff, Emrah Aydinonat, and Caterina Marchionni from abroad (Aydinonat and Marchionni are graduates from EIPE).

Originally, ‘TINT’ was a shorthand of Trends and Tensions in Intellectual Integration which characterised the contents of the first research agenda – addressing interdisciplinary dynamics around economics and elsewhere, including issues of unification and pluralism in and between the social sciences. ‘TINT’ has been apt for TINT’s subsequent agendas too. The acronym has a distinct meaning of its own in colour theory, with analogies to the intellectual sphere. It also gives us a chance to entertain ourselves by its double use: tint in scientific practice, tint within our community studying that practice.  

Centre of Excellence (2012-2017)

TINT incorporated Tuomela’s social ontology group and won the status as a Centre of Excellence awarded by the Academy of Finland, launching its second period of being in 2012 (see Marchionni 2012). This is a very competitive status and it comes with charitable funding from the Academy and the hosting university. For TINT this meant further expansion as well as intensified challenges of coordination. In the course of the six years of this period, TINT recruited several proficient young philosophers of science and science studies talents to its ranks, including Marion Godman, Carlo Martini, Michiru Nagatsu, Chiara Lisciandra, Miles Macleod, Sonja Amadae, Martina Merz, Magdalena Malecka, Alkistis Elliot-Graves, Manuela Fernandez Pinto, Judith Favereau, Luis Mireles Flores. More people from Finland joined in, including Raimo Tuomela, Pekka Mäkelä, Arto Laitinen, Raul Hakli, Kaarlo Miller, Panu Raatikainen, Paavo Pylkkänen, Tuukka Kaidesoja, Inkeri Koskinen, Mikko Salmela, Jani Raerinne, Samuli Reijula (former Pöyhönen), Saana Jukola, Anna-Mari Rusanen, Johan Munck af Rosenschöld.

During this period, TINT’s research mission was defined by two broad goals. It pursued practically relevant philosophy of the social sciences with implication for scientific practice and its management. It also pursued paths towards a new philosophy of interdisciplinarity. These objectives depend on one another in that interdisciplinarity is a major characteristic of contemporary social science and beyond, driving scientific change. Theoretical and case-based research on five specific themes served as means to these ends: Models and other transferable means of surrogate reasoning; Explanation and evidence across disciplinary boundaries; Social ontology: cooperation, institutions, collective emotions and collective understanding; Economics and interdisciplinary trade; Philosophical foundations of analytical sociology. A large variety of contributions were produced on themes such as models and model transfer, explanation by mechanisms, group reasoning, neurobiological foundations of social science, economics imperialism, and much more. (The TINT website gives a list of all publications, many of them downloadable.)

An updated research agenda, CSCS (2018–)

Since 2018, TINT pursues an updated research agenda: Changing Science in Changing Society (CSCS). CSCS utilizes and expands on previous work – such as that on models, evidence, social ontology, interdisciplinarity, expertise, and values in science. It combines philosophy of science and of the social sciences, findings from the cognitive and social sciences, resources of social ontology and social epistemology, and insights from political theory and policy studies to examine the conditions of successful functioning of scientific institutions in liberal democracies and other socio-cultural contexts. CSCS is an endeavour in scientifically informed and socially engaged philosophy of science. Its humble ambition is to produce research that is more or less directly relevant to the design of the institutions of science, to the public understanding of science, and to science policy.

CSCS addresses three interrelated and overlapping themes: -- Science of Society: analyses of current social science and reflections on the implications of new scientific results; -- Science as Society: philosophical analyses of the social institutions of science, considering the implications of adopting new reward systems and of extending research communities to incorporate artificial agents and members from multiple disciplines or extra-academic communities; and -- Science for Society: methodological and normative analyses of the role of scientific evidence and expertise in responsible policy-making, in problem-oriented participatory research, and in the public trust in science.

Funding for TINT and its constituent projects now comes both from within the university and from several external sources (on top of the Academy of Finland, the country has numerous private foundations that generously support philosophical inquiry). Meanwhile, several TINTers have secured permanent positions at universities (such as Mäki, Ylikoski, Nagatsu, Amadae and Mäkelä in Helsinki; Laitinen, Kuorikoski, Rolin and Raatikainen in Tampere; Lisciandra and Macleod in The Netherlands; Merz and Knuuttila in Austria; Martini in Italy; Favereau in France; Fernandez Pinto in Colombia; Lehtinen in China).

TINT’s visitor programme, workshops and conferences 

As part of its international profile, TINT coordinates a lively visitors programme. It has attracted visitors from a variety of countries at different levels of advancement, from PhD students to full professors spending their sabbaticals in Helsinki. The duration of the visits range from a couple of weeks to a full academic year. Longer term arrangements as visiting professors or fellows have engaged scholars such as Harold Kincaid, Mariam Thalos, Wade Hands, Adrian Walsh, Frank Hindriks, Till Grüne-Yanoff, Julie Zahle, Alain Marciano. All in all, TINT has been a truly international enterprise internally, with seventeen nationalities represented in its ranks thus far (if my count is right).

As part of its external international reach, TINT has hosted a number of regular conferences of international organisations. These include Models and Simulations 5 in 2012; EPSA in 2013; CLMPS in 2015; ENSO [European Network for Social Ontology] in 2013; ENPOSS [European Network for Philosophy of the Social Sciences] in 2016; Nordic Network for Philosophy of Science in 2015; INEM [International Network for Economic Method] in 2011 and again in 2019. 

There has been a much larger number of workshops and symposia focused on specialized themes deriving from TINT’s research agenda, often resulting in guest edited special issues of journals. These are too numerous to be listed here (see TINT web site for a full list), but examples include workshops on interdisciplinarity and the methodologies of its investigation; robustness in modelling; ethics of climate economics; values in social inquiry; experimental social science; scientific imperialism; evidence and expertise; issues in qualitative research; psychology, economics and behavioural economics; law and economics; collective responsibility; multiplicity and unrealisticness of models; and more.

One of the highlights has been a series of workshops on The Market and Marketization: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. This has engaged a group of experts from philosophy, economics, sociology, political science, linguistics, archaeology, and biology. A powerful institution and a contemporary mega trend shaping our social lives have been very usefully illuminated from diverse perspectives. Another highlight was the conference revisiting the famous 1996 report of the Gulbenkian Commission. Interdisciplinary Futures: Open the Social Sciences 20 Years Later was organised in January 2017 jointly with INTREPID and the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, Portugal:

TINT’s interdisciplinary outlook and engaged philosophy of science

TINT is rather interdisciplinary and interfield in its own outlook. It has brought together philosophers of science, social ontologists and sociologists of science, and specialists in philosophies of special sciences such as economics, sociology, cognitive science, biology, ecology, and physics. This is natural given the thematic foci and intellectual ambitions that are being pursued. Another notable characteristic of TINT has been its high collective spirits. One manifestation of this is the exceptionally large amount of collaborative research, resulting in jointly authored papers. Two weekly research seminars, on Mondays and Thursdays, serve as vehicles for advancing research collaboration. 

Engaging with other practices, scientific and more broadly social, has been a major ambition from the start. One instrument to this effect has been a series of AID events [Agora for Interdisciplinary Debate], featuring speakers from two or more disciplines or extra-academic agencies to address a shared problem, phenomenon, or concept. At best up to a hundred or so people from a variety of fields have attended these sessions. This has not been an easy experiment to coordinate, but the hope is that this serves two functions: it generates information and inspiration for TINT’s research endeavours by way of engendering interdisciplinary encounters that produce information otherwise hard to acquire; and it aids disciplinarians to understand themselves and their neighbours and it thereby alerts larger scientific audiences to the usefulness of philosophy of science.


Caterina Marchionni, Interview with Raul Hakli, Uskali Mäki and Petri Ylikoski The Reasoner, Vol 6, No 4, April 2012. 

Ilkka Niiniluoto, The Finnish Tradition of Philosophy of Science EPSA Newsletter, Vol II, Issue 1, August 2013. 

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