An Interview with Professor Henrik Lagerlund on Background, Influences, and the History of Skepticism (Part One)

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Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 22.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Eighteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: April 8, 2020

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 2,717

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract

Professor Henrik Lagerlund is a Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Stockholm University. He discusses: background; a self extended through time; influences on formation; mentors and others of influence; authors and books that were significant; pivotal educational moments in youth; formal postsecondary education; tasks and responsibilities as a professor at Stockholm University; main areas of research, and work on the history of skepticism; and advice for aspiring students.

Keywords: dogmatism, G.H. Von Wright, Harry Martinson, Henrik Lagerlund, Lutheran, novelist, poet, skepticism, Stockholm University, Thorild Dahlqvist, Uppsala University.

An Interview with Henrik Lagerlund: Professor, Philosophy, Stockholm University (Part One)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is family background or lineage, e.g., surname(s) etymology (etymologies), geography, culture, language, religion/non-religion, political suasion, social outlook, scientific training, and the like?

Professor Henrik Lagerlund: I grew up in northern Sweden, in a small town called Sundsvall. It is a nice place to grow up – safe and boring. The summers stick out in my mind. It was northern Sweden so the summer days are very long when the sun almost never goes down. It was great for a young boy, but the downside was, of course, that the winters are very long and dark. There were also a lot of snow in the 70’s when I grew up. At least that is what I remember. On the other hand, long dark winter nights meant that I could stay in and read, which is what I spent most of my school years doing. I read all kinds of things – mostly novels, but also a lot of history. I also harboured dreams of becoming a novelist and a poet. As the saying goes a philosopher is a failed poet. I actually tried very hard to get published as a poet, which never happened, but I also myself wrote several shorter books – novels that I never published. Another aspect of my school years was my interest in computers and mathematics. I early had my own computer, a Commodore 64, and started writing my own programs and games. I spent a lot of time in front of the computer. One thing I didn’t do was spend a lot of time on my school work at least early on.

My family was not really religious; although my mother sometimes went to church. Her mother, my grandmother, was a devoted Lutheran, which at the time was the state religion in Sweden. It was a good home to grow up in. My parents are both dead now and I miss them sometimes; especially my dad who died already at 60 of lung cancer. It was not an intellectual environment though. My parents both came from a non-academic background and had only basic schooling (even though my mother later in life studied to become a nurse). She read a lot of detective novels and I could relate to her though her reading, but I sought out more demanding literature and ideas, which seemed alien to her I think. When I began to study philosophy my father took out a subscription on Filosofisk Tidskrift (a Swedish philosophy journal), which I loved him for. I don’t know how much of it he got or even read, but I thought the gesture of trying to relate to my interests was sweet.

2. Jacobsen: With all these facets of the larger self, how did these become the familial ecosystem to form identity and a sense of a self extended through time?  

Lagerlund: The two things that formed me intellectually was this dual interest in literature and mathematics (computers). I think that was why I became interested in philosophy since it belongs in the humanities, but looks to science and often deals with issues rooted in science – at least analytical philosophy, which was my educational background. I only discovered philosophy at university, however, and had read very little before coming to Uppsala University. Before that I studied engineering, which was really something my parents wanted me to study. Their idea of a good job was becoming an engineer or a medical doctor. I didn’t want to do the latter and I liked math so I chose the first.

3. Jacobsen: Of those aforementioned influences, what ones seem the most prescient for early formation?

Lagerlund: I think I had a rather late intellectual awakening. I would place it at my arrival at Uppsala university. It was always my interest in literature that had the most influence on me before that. I played a lot of tennis as a young person as well and almost chose a professional career as a tennis player. In the end school was too important to me. I think that early experience of playing a lot of competitive tennis was very important. It teaches you to overcome adversity by yourself. On the tennis court there is no one else to help you – you are on your own facing an opponent. Being able to deal with such situations and overcoming them is an important lesson for life – never give up. If you want something really bad don’t give up.

4. Jacobsen: What adults, mentors, or guardians became, in hindsight, the most influential on you?

Lagerlund: I am not sure I had any mentors early in life. I had as I arrived at Uppsala. The person that meant most to me then was an older philosopher called Thorild Dahlqvist. He had been a teacher in philosophy at Uppsala for most of his career, but he did not write much, but influenced generations of students by his personality and his vast knowledge. He took an interest in me and helped me a lot. I am not sure what I would have been without him. He died 10 years or ago. I was in Canada at the time and missed his funeral, which I have always regretted.

5. Jacobsen: As a young reader, in childhood and adolescence, what authors and books were significant, meaningful, to worldview formation?

Lagerlund: As already mentioned I read a lot of novels. An author that meant a lot was the Swedish Nobel prize winner Harry Martinson. Aniara is a poem in 103 verses about a space ship originally destined for Mars with colonist from the destroyed planet earth. En route the ship malfunctions and is set on a course to nowhere into empty space. It is a colorful and striking metaphor of human kinds existential situation. I remember the line “We are beginning to realize that we are more lost than we previously thought.” It somehow captures humanities situation. The second book that probably was the reason I wanted to continue my studies in philosophy in the first place is a book in Swedish by the Finish philosopher G.H. Von Wright called Vetenskapen och Förnuftet (Science and Reason in English) It is a partially historical account of the development of science and a criticism of reason as it has been formed since Descartes time. I don’t think I in my formative years read anything that had such an impact on me. As I look back a lot of my own research in the history of philosophy has been motivated by what I read there. I think my interest in skepticism has its source there as well.

6. Jacobsen: What were pivotal educational – as in, in school or autodidacticism – moments from childhood to young adulthood?

Lagerlund: It was definitely coming to Uppsala as a student. I was slow to awake intellectually despite having read a lot in school. At Uppsala and in philosophy I finally started to awake and see the world in a new way. Part of that had to do with reading von Wright’s book. It presented a completely new perspective on the world and took to task Western rationality founded on science and technology. In a sense, it presents a kind of skepticism towards reason. A skepticism not unlike the kind David Hume present in his works.

But at the same time, I was swept up by all the new ideas I was taught. They consumed me. I started reading all kinds of philosophical literature and dove into history of philosophy in particular.

7. Jacobsen: For formal postsecondary education, in academia, why that path or road?

Lagerlund: After my engineering degree, I had a bit of a personal crisis. I never wanted to go that route. I even considered joining the navy full time. In Sweden at that time, late 80’s, it was mandatory for all boys to do military service. I did mine in the navy. I kind of liked it and even applied to the naval academy to become an officer. I was accepted but declined and moved to Uppsala to study literature. It was there I took my first courses in philosophy, which was a revelation to me.

Uppsala philosophy was dominated by logic in the early 90’s. The professor were all studying modal logic. I was too in the beginning, but I was always looking to combine my interest in history with my passion for philosophy. It was through my professor at Uppsala Krister Segerberg that I came into contact with Simo Knuuttila in Helsinki. He was a world-renowned scholar of medieval philosophy and it was through him that I could combine my interest in logic/math and history. It was with him as my supervisor that I wrote my dissertation Modal Syllogistics in the Middle Ages (Brill 2000). It was the perfect start for me. It was the first dissertation in history of philosophy in Sweden for a very long time.

8. Jacobsen: As a professor at Stockholm University, what tasks and responsibilities come with the position? 

Lagerlund: My position in Stockholm is as the professor of the history of philosophy. I do research and teaching in history of philosophy. I also supervise students at the MA level and at the PhD level. I do much the same things as I did in Canada (Western University) where I was previously. I moved to Stockholm in 2018. I enjoyed my time in Canada, but my position in Stockholm is much freer and I have more time to my own research. In Canada I had for a long period a lot of administration as Head of Department and as Director of the Rotman Institute of Philosophy. It gave me a lot of experience, but it is in a modern university impossible to combine such administrative roles with an active research profile. It was in many ways a relief to come back to Sweden to a position like the one I now occupy.

9. Jacobsen: What are the main areas of research and research questions now? In particular, why skepticism and its associated in-depth history, as you wrote a book on the subject, recently?

Lagerlund: Skepticism has fascinated me for a long time. Perhaps ever since I came into contact with philosophy. It has been an important part of philosophy ever since ancient times. I have also been looking into skepticism in the Middle Ages for some time. Almost 20 years now. I have gradually moved into Renaissance skepticism and further into later history of philosophy. I noticed that there were no complete history of skepticism. There were stuff on ancient and modern but no overview that also covered medieval skepticism. I decided to write one and it is coming out in May 2020 (Skepticism in Philosophy: A Comprehensive, Historical Introduction, Routledge 2020).

Skepticism is more important than ever. I end the book with a chapter about skepticism outside of philosophy today. I there relate skepticism to issues like the replication crisis in science and knowledge resistance. It is important to keep trak of what kind of skepticism we are dealing with, since skepticism today is often used as an argument for some dogmatism.

10. Jacobsen: If you could give advice to aspiring philosophy students with an interest in philosophy and the skepticism, what would it be for them?

Lagerlund: I think philosophy is needed more than ever in our divided and complicated world. History of philosophy and philosophy in general gives students a unique ability to navigate the world. To study the history of philosophy is to study reason at work. Reason is what gives us humans the ability to rule the world and adapt to new situations. It is why we are the dominant species, but as von Wright showed in his book and as climate change is showing us, it can also become our downfall and destruction. It is here that the role of skepticism becomes important. Reason can with the help of the right kind of skepticism be turned against itself and we can come to see how we need to modify our thinking and steer ourselves and our rationality in a new productive direction. Hume talks about this in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. He writes that: “the mind must remain in suspense between them [that is, reason and common life]; and it is that very suspense or balance, which is the triumph of scepticism.” There is a balance to be upheld between reason and experience. Skepticism reins in reason when it gets carried away. Skepticism makes us step back and look again. Is this the right way to proceed or do we need to change course.

I welcome new students to philosophy and especially to the study of the history of philosophy. There are so many interesting areas to explore. I would advise them to look for ways to bridge gaps and look to new traditions of thinking and language traditions. Arabic philosophy needs much more study, but Indian and Chinese philosophy are severely neglected by Western scholars. Scholars that can bridge gaps between civilizations and heal the divides of the world.

11. Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Professor Lagerlund.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Professor, Philosophy, Stockholm University.

[2] Individual Publication Date: April 8, 2020: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/lagerlund-one; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with Professor Henrik Lagerlund on Background, Influences, and the History of Skepticism (Part One) [Online].April 2020; 22(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/lagerlund-one.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2020, April 8). An Interview with Professor Henrik Lagerlund on Background, Influences, and the History of Skepticism (Part One)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/lagerlund-one.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with Professor Henrik Lagerlund on Background, Influences, and the History of Skepticism (Part One). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A, April. 2020. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/lagerlund-one>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2020. “An Interview with Professor Henrik Lagerlund on Background, Influences, and the History of Skepticism (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/lagerlund-one.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with Professor Henrik Lagerlund on Background, Influences, and the History of Skepticism (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 22.A (April 2020). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/lagerlund-one.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2020, ‘An Interview with Professor Henrik Lagerlund on Background, Influences, and the History of Skepticism (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 22.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/lagerlund-one>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2020, ‘An Interview with Professor Henrik Lagerlund on Background, Influences, and the History of Skepticism (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 22.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/lagerlund-one.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with Professor Henrik Lagerlund on Background, Influences, and the History of Skepticism (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 22.A (2020):April. 2020. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/lagerlund-one>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with Professor Henrik Lagerlund on Background, Influences, and the History of Skepticism (Part One) [Internet]. (2020, April 22(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/lagerlund-one.

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