Tore's blog

Tore's blog


I took the picture above some years ago: the Nile somewhere between Luxor and Aswan.

In Swedish:


OF BOOKS AND PEOPLEPosted by Tore Nordenstam Friday, February 01 2008 17:38:56

Anders Lindseth is a professor of Practical Knowledge at Bodø Regional University in northern Norway. One of his tasks is to supervise graduate students who are doing research based on their own professional experience. The point of departure is usually a narrative which the student writes in the beginning of the studies and which is then elaborated, expanded and changed on the way towards the dissertation. As a philosophical practitioner he also starts from narratives. For Anders Lindseth it is always a question of reflective journeys in the landscapes of experience.

Now he has published a book with reflections around his experiences as a philosophical practitioner: Zur Sache der Philosophischen Praxis. Philosophieren in Gesprächen mit ratsuchenden Menschen (237 pp., Freiburg/Munich 2005). All professional philosophers may be said to be philosophical practitioners, usually attached to universities or high schools. But Anders Lindseth uses this expression in a special sense. In 1981, the first philosophical practice, in this sense, was founded by Gerd Aschenbach in Bergisch Gladbach in Germany. Anders Lindseth went to see him a few years later, which led to a long and close cooperation between them. All the chapters in the book are based upon lectures given by Anders Lindseth at Aschenbach’s institute and at conferences and colloquia arrranged by the International Society for Philosophical Practice.

What is going on in a philosophical practice is different from what is happening when you consult, say, a psychologist or a psychiatrist. To emphasize the differences Lindseth avoids words like ‘client’ and ‘patient’. The persons who come to his practice in search of assistance are ‘visitors’ or ‘guests’. All the chapters in Lindseth’s new book have the same aim, viz. to shed light on what is going on in philosophical practices in the indicated sense. Perhaps the best place to start with is the chapter on Ethics as First Philosophy – Why Philosophising has to be Philosophical Practice (also in Swedish in Dialoger, 81-82, Stockholm 2007): “When married couples come to the philosophical practice, it is often a question of conflicts …” One type of conflict is when the woman feels that she is not taken seriously, whilst the man feels that his wife is too emotional and subjective … A good beginning of an illuminating chapter.

The aim is to reach a better understanding of the visitors’ narratives in discussions between the philosopher and his guests. One tries to get a better hold of the ways in which the narratives are expressed, e.g. by focussing on ambiguities and conceptual unclarity; one focusses on underlying assumptions; one may attempt to shift the perspective; and so on. In short, all the means of philosophy are used in order to make something for the persons in need of clarification of the situations in which they have landed.

What is new in this kind of philosophical practice is not the philosophical means; it is the ways in which the philosophical means are used. One could perhaps describe it as small size philosophy. In this way, Anders Lindseth also helps to clarify what is – or could be – the core of philosophy.

A philosophical practice in this sense is based on respect for the individual. In his reflections on this theme, Lindseth broadens the perspective to a critique of fundamental assumptions of the Western cultural tradition, which tends to overestimate the value of factual knowledge at the expense of understanding the individual. What is often lacking is a sense for the limits and preconditions of theoretical knowledge. The tacit assumptions also include the ethics which is included in all human encounters. In a certain sense, one could say that ethics comes before knowledge. That is the thesis which Anders Lindseth defends in Ethics as First Philosophy.


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OF BOOKS AND PEOPLEPosted by Tore Nordenstam Saturday, December 15 2007 12:29:05

"Ich bin Ich, und hoffe es immer mehr zu werden."

"I am I, and hope to become ever more so."

The German painter Paula Modersohn-Becker in a letter to Rainer Maria Rilke 1906.

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OF BOOKS AND PEOPLEPosted by Tore Nordenstam Thursday, September 27 2007 14:25:19

My great grandfather, Anders Jacobsson Nordenstam, took the name Nordenstam in the 1830s when he began his studies in theology at the University of Uppsala. He stemmed from the northernmost region of Sweden; hence the name. (His seal contained the words Aquilone natus, “born of the wind from the North”.)

My great grandfather had six children. Two of them, Ossian and Roland, had children in their turn. Roland, my grandfather, was married to Karin, née Hay. There is a survey of all their descendents in a booklet entitled Ättlingarna till Bernhard och Clara Hay, published by the Hay Family Foundation (Hayska familjefonden, Jönköping, Sweden, 2000). Ossian had eight children, four sons and four daughters, but I have no information on their descendents.

To complicate matters, my great grandfather was not the only one who took the name Nordenstam in the 19th century. My great grandfather, Anders Jacobsson Nordenstam, had an uncle named Olof Andersson (1785-1867) who had six sons and four daughters. Three of those sons took the name Nordenstam. There exists no survey of all their descendents.

When my great grandfather and his three cousins took the name Nordenstam in the first half of the 19th century, there was at least one family who carried that name already. A man called Carl Fredric Swart from Gothenburg was ennobled in 1751, with the name Nordenstam, and introduced into the Swedish House of Lords in 1752. Carl Fredrik Nordenstam was governor of the county of Stockholm from 1762 to his death in 1768. The family was immatriculated in Finland in 1818 when Finland got its own House of Lords. There was a prominent Nordenstam in Finland in the 19th century, Johan Mauritz Nordenstam, born in Stockholm in 1802, dead in 1882. The noble family called Nordenstam is now extinct. I don’t think that we are related to that family at all.

The same applies to Carl Rudolf Bernadotte Nordenstam and his descendants. He was the son of the Swedish king Charles XV and “the beautiful Miss Nordenstam” and settled in Norway, where he became well-known as a magician.

There are many Nordenstams in the United States too. I don’t know how they are related to the Swedish Nordenstams.

There are many people around in Scandinavia and the United States with the family name Nordenstam. Perhaps somebody who reads this can help to shed some light on the connections there might be in this field.


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OF BOOKS AND PEOPLEPosted by Tore Nordenstam Saturday, July 28 2007 11:36:33

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Håkan Törnebohm was one of the three teachers in the Department of Philosophy when I began my philosophy studies at the University of Göteborg in 1954. He had published his doctoral thesis – A Logical Analysis of the Theory of Relativity – two years earlier. There were few students of philosophy at that time. Håkan Törnebohm’s logic lectures were only attended by two or three of us, and he used to invite us home after the lectures to have tea and chat in his little flat not far from the building which housed the philosophy department. In 1957, he was appointed to the chair of philosophy at the new university in the capital of the Sudan, Khartoum, where he stayed for six years. He then returned to Göteborg as the first professor in Sweden in Theory of Science. He held that chair up to the middle of the 1980s. (He got an interesting offer from one of the best universities in the United States, but didn’t want to leave his new department then.)

We were on friendly terms right from the beginning. One day in June 1961, a chance encounter on the main street in Göteborg came to change my life for ever. Håkan and his wife Siv spent the long vacation (from April to July, the hottest time of the year in Khartoum) in their Gothenburg apartment. After the usual greetings and so on, he looked at me and asked, “Do you want to come to Khartoum as a university lecturer for five years?” I looked back and said, “Yes!”, adding that I wanted to ask my wife how she felt about that prospect. She felt the same, as I had suspected, and in September that year we moved to Khartoum with an enormous crate filled with furniture and books and other belongings.

For the next few years, we used to have long talks with each other almost every day. One day I said that it might be interesting to make an inquiry into Sudanese conceptions of ethics some time in the future. Håkan commented, “Start immediately!” And so I did.

In 1977, we both attended a conference on African philosophy which was arranged by our colleagues at the University of Khartoum. We decided then that it would be a good idea to try to carry out a project concerning research and development in the Sudan. That led to several joint trips to the Sudan; our Sudanese partner Dr Ibrahim Ahmed Omer came to talk with us both in Bergen and in Göteborg; and we produced a good number of reports on work in progress on the way to the final publication, the book which was published by Khartoum University Press in 1985. Bergen Talks on Philosophy of Development contains our discussions in Bergen in November 1982.

Håkan set out to develop the new subject of Theory of Science with great enthusiasm. He and his students (especially Gerard Radnitzky) were not well received by the philosophical establishment in Sweden. Two of the leading professors of philosophy went as far as addressing the central university authorities in the country in an attempt to get Radnitzky demoted from the senior research fellowship in Theory of Science which he had got after his doctorate in 1968. But Håkan continued to develop the new subject in his own gentle way, which amongst other things led to an impressive number of research reports in the so-called grey series from the Department of Theory of Science at the University of Göteborg.

An excellent little survey of Håkan Törnebohm’s work is to be found in the book which was dedicated to him on his 60th birthday on December 6, 1979: Jan Bärmark, Aant Elzinga and Göran Wallén, "The Emergence of a New Discipline", in Jan Bärmark, ed., Perspectives in Metascience, Kungl. Vetenskaps- och Vitterhets-Samhället, Göteborg 1979, pp. 9-12.

PS. The photo above stems from the beginning of the 1960s.

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OF BOOKS AND PEOPLEPosted by Tore Nordenstam Sunday, May 27 2007 11:14:48

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He was born in a beautiful 16th century house in the centre of a Mediaeval town in the German-speaking part of the new state of Czechoslovakia. He grew up in a prosperous Old Austrian family and went to school in his home town Znaim (which is now called Znojmo). In 1938, it was decided by the United Kingdom, France and Italy that the German-speaking parts of the newly created state should be transferred to Germany, and the population got a choice between German citizenship or leaving their home area for good. That is how he became a citizen of Groβdeutschland, which meant obligatory military service for men of his age. He managed to get into the Luftwaffe, got a solid training as an air force pilot and spent some years as a pilot and flight instructor, outside Paris, in Greece and other places. On April 19, 1945, he landed on the military airfield of Bredåkra in Southern Sweden in a stolen aeroplane, a twin-engined Siebel 204 equipped with an advanced radar installation for locating submarines. When the Swedes found out that he was born in Czechoslovakia, he was allowed to stay in Sweden, unlike other deserters from Germany, who were promptly sent back to their home country.

In his new role as a refugee, he supported himself for some time as a fashion draughtsman and painter, followed by four years as a bank clerk, before entering the academic world, which became the third and longest stage of his life. He got a doctorate in the Department of Theory of Science at the University of Göteborg in 1968, and after some years as a senior research fellow in Göteborg he got a chair in Wissenschaftstheorie in Western Germany (first in Bochum, then in Trier). When he retired, he began the fourth stage of his life – critical reflection on the circumstances which had formed his life – the history of 20th century Europe as seen by a Central European emigrant.

The last result of that critical reflection was a book which he managed to finish before he died in March 2006: Gerard Radnitzky, Das verdammte 20. Jahrhundert. Erinnerungen und Reflexionen eines politisch Unkorrekten /The Damned 20th Century. A Politically Uncorrect Man’s Recollections and Reflections/, Georg Olms Verlag, Hildesheim-Zürich-New York 2006, 353 pp.

The book alternates between the micro and macro levels. Anecdotes and reminiscences from the author’s childhood and youth are interspersed with critical historical surveys and excursions in various directions. The years in the beautiful old town are described as an idyllic time in a sheltered environment. The first language which he learned to read and write was Czech, which was unusual in that part of the country. That was a bad investment, he writes, apart from its usefulness when flirting with Czech girls whom he found sexier than the German ones.

He liked flying, but regarded the years as a pilot as slave labour. Deprived of his freedom, the only thing that the young aesthete could do was to try to make his existence as pleasant as possible. The war was hardly noticeable in the idyllic air fields in beautiful surroundings where some of the schools were situated. When he was ordered to take part in the bombing of London, he was lucky to have a crew who thought in the same way as he did – the bombs were dropped over the Channel, and after flying for a while high up over London, they could return to Paris. He was far from being a Nazi, and his aversion towards all kinds of totalitarian systems became very strong indeed as he got older. In his picture of 20th century Europe, it is socialism in its various forms which makes it the damned century – the national socialism of Germany and Czechoslovakia, the international socialism of the Soviet Union and its satellites, and the social democratic variations on the theme in countries like Sweden and Western Germany. He remained deeply grateful to the Swedes for receiving him, but his comments on the Swedish economic policy after the war are harsh.

It is a fascinating book which I think I shall come back to, not least his analyses of such events as the Japanese attack on the American Pearl Harbour base on December 7, 1941, and the still mystifying flight to Scotland which Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess undertook in the middle of May 1941. Those episodes are presented in great detail, supported by an extensive list of references to the relevant literature. The same applies to such themes as the fate of the German-speaking population in Czechoslovakia under the hands of the Czech national socialist régime and the expulsion of the German-speaking people from Central and Eastern Europe after the the capitulation in 1945.


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