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HÅKAN TÖRNEBOHM - THE FIRST PROFESSOR OF THEORY OF SCIENCE IN SWEDEN

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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