Abstracts for Akadeemia 3/2011

28 March 2011
Only in en

Mario Vargas Llosa
In praise of reading and fiction

In his Nobel Lecture while receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature on 7 December 2010 at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, the Laureate emphasized that thanks to literature, civilization is now less cruel than when storytellers began to humanize life with their fables. Like writing, reading is a protest against the insufficiencies of life. Literature creates a fraternity within human diversity and eclipses the frontiers erected among men and women by ignorance, ideologies, religions, languages and stupidity.

In addition to places in his homeland, the writer has been most greatly inspired by Paris. He is, however, most grateful to France for the discovery of Latin America. There he learned that Peru was part of a vast community united by history, geography, social and political problems, a certain mode of being and “delicious language”. If one investigates only a little, one discovers that Peru, like the Aleph of Borges, is a small format of the entire world. What an extraordinary privilege for a country not to have an identity because it has all of them!

Another place that made a great impression on Llosa was Barcelona under Franco’s already enfeebled dictatorship. It became the cultural capital of Spain. In a sense, it was also the cultural capital of Latin America because of the number of painters, writers, publishers, and artists from Latin American countries who either settled in Barcelona or travelled back and forth; it was where you had to be if you wanted to be a poet, novelist, painter, or composer of that time. All Llosa’s books have been published in Spain; Spain also granted him nationality when he could have lost his Peruvian citizenship.

In the Llosa’s opinion, it must be repeated incessantly until new generations are convinced of it: fiction is more than entertainment, more than an intellectual exercise that sharpens one’s sensibility and awakens a critical spirit. It is an absolute necessity so that civilization continues to exist, renewing and preserving in us the best of what is human.

Marek Volt
Truth and air: An introduction to the deflationist theory of truth

The question “what is truth?” is one of the most important problems in philosophy. This seems to be confirmed by the fact that, throughout the history of philosophy, it has received different answers from the corresponding theories: coherence theory and pragmatism. As philosophy has been considered the castle of disagreements, the lack of a common solution has not been considered particularly tragic. With the birth of the “truth theory” of deflationism at the beginning of the last century, some philosophers developed a doubt that something is wrong with the search for the essence of truth itself. Perhaps the search is pointless as they are searching for something non-existent, or the truth is not important, at least not as important as to devote a specific theory to it.

Volt attempts to give (1) an overview of the central endeavours of deflationism, including (2) what the meaning of “deflationism” is for that theory, (3) to explain the views of deflationism on the role of the truth phrase, (4) to clarify some of the reproaches to this view of truth – those related to the use of the truth phrase in conditionals, and its so-called blind use, also the supposed troubles of deflationism with indexical expressions and when explaining the importance of truth.

Paul Horwich
Varieties of deflationism

Deflationism is a reaction against the traditional picture of truth. This generates the question whether there is any reason to assume that truth must be a substantive property which nature will rationalize our epistemic methods and explain the desirability of their goal.

More specifically, the deflationary position is four-pronged. First, the word “true” has an idiosyncratic conceptual function, a special kind of utility.There is agreement that we must distinguish “true’s” raison d’être from that of other terms, and that we must especially beware of assimilating it into empirical predicates – such as “red” – which utility resides in its role in prediction and causal explanation.

Second: the non-predictive non-explanatory role of the truth predicate implies that its meaning is not empirical. Rather, the central principle governing our overall deployment of the truth predicate is, very roughly speaking, that each statement articulates the conditions that are necessary and sufficient for its own truth.

Third: insofar as “true” does not have the role and meaning-constituting use of an empirical predicate, we can appreciate a priori that there will be no reductive analysis of truth to empirical (i.e. naturalistic) properties. Similarly, we can see that the fundamental facts about truth will not be natural laws relating it to empirical phenomena.

And fourth: in light of the foregoing, truth is not, as often assumed, a deep concept and should not be given a pivotal role in philosophical theorizing. It cannot be the basis of our conceptions of meaning, justification or logic.

The broad philosophical significance of deflationism, its impact on our theorization of meaning creates a space for non-truth-conditional, non-relational accounts (such as Brandom’s normative inferentialism and Horwich’s own propensities-of-use theory), and thereby protects meaning from the threat of Kripke-style scepticism.

Finally, Horwich concludes that minimalism is the best of the competing specific theories of truth that fall under the deflationary umbrella.

Janno Reiljan, Aivo Ülper
The Gordian knot of Estonian administrative-territorial division

Janno Reiljan and Aivo Ülper’s goal was to analyse the theoretical, political and organizational bases of the territorial division of the country into municipalities and propose research ideas for identifying conceptual solutions to the development problems of Estonian municipalities.

The analysis of theoretical approaches to the size of municipalities pointed out that they were fragmented and incompatible. Some authors support small municipalities, and others large. The theoretical reasoning behind both of these directions is often strongly simplified and biased.

To get an overview of practical experience, the administrative-territorial division of the Nordic countries and the administrative-territorial reforms carried out in these countries were analysed. The analysis revealed that both the current division and the reform experience varied between countries.

The comparison of the administrative-territorial division of the Nordic countries with the administrative-territorial division of Estonia revealed that Estonian municipalities have a considerably lower average population than the municipalities in the Nordic countries (except Iceland), and the areas of Estonian municipalities are also much smaller. Therefore, it was concluded that there could be room in Estonia for municipal mergers.

The empirical part first describes the evolution of the Estonian administrative-territorial division during the last twenty years and then specifies the indicators by which the impact of the size of the municipality on its economic, financial and democratic development could be analysed. The indicators used in this paper can be divided into four groups: indicators describing the public service delivery capacities, also including the development level and dynamics of municipalities; indicators describing the financial capacities of municipalities; indicators describing the development of democracy in municipalities; indicators describing the economic efficiency of municipalities.

Correlation analysis was used to analyse the relationships between these indicators and the municipal size indicators (population, area and population density). The analysis revealed that there was no empirical evidence to confirm either the presence of significant size-related advantages among municipalities or the existence of an optimal municipal size considering the current municipal functions and financing. The lack of size advantages and the lack of an optimal size, in its turn, mean that the need to change (reform) the administrative-territorial division cannot be justified.

The lack of significant theoretical and empirical evidence on the necessity for administrative-territorial reform means that merging of municipalities alone cannot significantly improve their public service delivery capacities and economic and democratic development.

Liisi Pärsik, Taavi Pae
Regional differences in Estonians’ first names in 1840

Temporal changes in name fashion have been studied relatively often; much less attention has been paid to regional regularities in the choice of first names. The choice of names is influenced by the peculiarities of each nation’s language and culture; therefore, there is reason to believe that there are also some regional differences in the use of first names.

The aim of the current study was to find and analyse the regional differences in Estonians’ first names in 1840. Applying the traditional division of Estonia into parishes, it observes all the Christian names given in 1840. It analyses the number of names given, the favoured and rare names.

The year 1840 was chosen because at that time peasants were still relatively dependent on manor owners and, therefore, sedentary. This made it possible to draw conclusions about regional differences in names. Another reason was that in the second half of the 1840s, people in Livonia (present-day South Estonia) massively transferred to Orthodoxy, which brought several new names of Russian origin into Estonians’ name repertoire.

The data for the study come from Saaga, the digitized database of family histories at the Estonian Historical Archives.

The research results show that Estonians’ name repertoire in 1849 was relatively uniform and with few regional differences. The number of names used in 1840 was quite small. A great part of newborns (ca 21 000) got their name from among the ten most popular names (73 per cent of girls and 66 per cent of boys). A total of 278 different names were given during the period studied.

Although, by parishes, the use of names was relatively uniform, some regional differences still existed. The differences could be most clearly noticed between North and South Estonia and between mainland Estonia and the islands. Regional names (that occurred more than once in a certain region) were more often used in South-Eastern Estonia and on the islands. The use of names in the areas inhabited by coastal Swedes also differed from the rest of Estonia. Certain differences can also be attributed to dialects. For example, the names Els, Epp and Jaak can be related to the cultural space of the Mulgi dialect. Quite probably, the results of the study can be extended to the choice of names in Estonia during the whole first half of the nineteenth century. In the second half, however, the fashion for names changed greatly, primarily because of transition to Orthodoxy in Livonia and general social changes in society.

Timothy Gowers, Juhan Aru, Kristjan Korjus
General goals of mathematical research. Part II

“General goals of mathematical research” appeared originally as one of the introductory chapters in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics, a book that serves as “a panoramic view of modern mathematics” (The Economist). The chapter was written by the book’s primary editor, Field’s medal winner and Cambridge mathematician Timothy Gowers.

The translation encompasses most of the original chapter. To facilitate the reading, this translation has been complemented with a glossary and brief comments that try to link the principles of mathematical thought with examples from outside of mathematics.

The last edition of Akadeemia contained the first four subsections of the original chapter: 1) solving equations, 2) classifying, 3) generalizing and 4) discovering patterns.

This edition presents the next five subsections: 5) explaining apparent coincidences, 6) counting and measuring, 7) determining whether different mathematical properties are compatible, 8) working with arguments that are not fully rigorous 9) finding explicit proofs and algorithms.

Mathematicians, as everyone else, like to be surprised. Nevertheless, encountering a coincidence, they will most certainly be tempted to explain it. Such a coincidence might, for example, be that a certain number is very close to being a whole number, or one sequence of numbers is just too similar to another one with a totally different origin. Finding an explanation to such coincidences might reveal new connections between apparently distant areas of the mathematical world.

To understand this mathematical world, one also wants to quantify its objects and their properties. For example, it might be of interest to know how many rotational symmetries a certain object might have, or in how many different ways a certain number can be represented as the sum of four squares. Hence, counting and measuring are central to a mathematician’s work. Concrete answers are not always possible for counting problems and in these cases – as often in real life – estimates must be used. Perhaps slightly differently from real life even very slight improvements in these estimations might be of great mathematical importance. Of similar importance might be knowing only the typical average behavior of some processes or being able to characterize the extreme cases.

Some objects are best described by certain characteristics and we would like to know if these characteristics could guarantee these objects to have yet another desirable property. One could, for example, hope that the price and origin of a wine, or colorfulness of its label might say something about the taste, and in some of these cases success will follow. In mathematics, too, one wants to know which properties of an object are compatible and which are exclusive, only perhaps a bit more rigorously than for wine.

Sometimes, however, it might be useful to give up this very rigor. Calculations based on physical intuition, and which might look “illegal” to a mathematician on first encounter, can (often) bring deep mathematical insight and offer new directions. Similarly, it sometimes proves helpful to take for granted some unproved results which have, for example, strong numerical evidence just to explore the possible consequences and thereby find new statements and theorems the proofs of which can be in favor or against this unproved result.

After having proved a new theorem, yet another step is often desirable. Namely, we would not be satisfied to prove that our new digital lock can be opened, but would rather like to know the code. We would not be happy to know only that there is a winning strategy, but rather to figure out of what that strategy consists. In mathematics, providing concrete examples and algorithms can shed light on different aspects of the results, but is also of importance in cases of implementation on computers.

“All kinds of rumours are going around…”: Reports about the situation in Estonia in 1943-1945. Part III
We publish information summaries about the situation in Estonia in the last years of the German occupation, the beginning of the second Soviet occupation, and about the fate of Estonian refugees. The reports meant for Estonian diplomatic representatives in Finland and Sweden (in 1943-1944 also for the Finnish General Staff) were mainly compiled by journalist Voldemar Kures (1893-1987). He interviewed refugees, monitored letters from Estonia, newspapers, radio programmes, etc.

Published 28 March 2011

Original in Estonian
First published in

Contributed by Akadeemia
© Akadeemia Eurozine


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