Abstracts for Akadeemia 4/2006

Peeter Olesk
Didactics and methodology

The article discusses the content of the concepts “didactics” and “methodology” in our society whose (re)independence has been so short that there are no young people yet who have obtained their education from the first form to the certificate of secondary education in independent Estonia, to say nothing of receiving higher degrees. The education of present-day young people contains accommodation to opportunities and fashion, and the idea that one of the features of reliable education is the consistency of teaching tends to remain purely theoretical.

The author draws our attention to the fact that the significance of “didactics” and “methodology” is often underestimated, which is wrong. Both are means for creating order in knowledge and behaviour, and order is necessary in education. Neither of them limits the functional freedom of the learner or the teacher; on the contrary, they make it more efficient. In Estonia, the emphasis in education has shifted to compiling syllabuses and curricula, which do not replace relying on didactics and methodology.

John Deely & Urve Eslas
Semiotics and ethics: An interview with John Deely

Deely argues that the move toward maturity of semiotics today is the most important development in intellectual culture since the rise of science in the modern sense in the seventeenth century. In his opinion, semiotics is nothing less than the dawn of a truly “postmodern” era in philosophy.

Although semiotics is a firm ally of the development of modern science, it remains more on the side of philosophy because it is a coenoscopic development of human understanding, i.e. a development of human understanding in terms of common experience, while science is from the first ideoscopic, i.e. a development which relies principally on special experiences, such as those resulting from experiments. The point could be summarized as follows: with semiotics, we come to realize that the world of nomos (culture), construed as in opposition to (rather than as a species-specific extension and expression of) physis (nature), was misguided and mistaken from the start. With the realization that culture is not properly opposed to nature, but is to be understood rather as a part of nature that has species-specific human semeiosis, not only is modernity over but a global semiotics is established.

To understand Deely’s semiotic claims, the terms “subject” and “object” have to be used in a different sense from what is customary in modern intellectual culture. The “turn to the subject” of modern philosophy resulting in the Way of Ideas with its “critical philosophy” and “epistemology” and, in the end, “linguistic philosophy” is exactly what has sedimented in common speech as the “subject/object” distinction, where the subjective is implied to be the mind-dependent and the objective the “mind-independent”, but this is an incoherent opposition. The doctrine of signs requires two things: a reversal of the modern development of this distinction and a completion of the line of development implicit in the medieval understanding, but a completion which is integrated above all by a clear understanding of the nature of relations among the modes of being, for it is in that nature that the sign participates. Deely has attempted to formulate the nature of objectivity as the existence of things precisely as known, which is in principle never private or subjective but always in principle public and even (prospectively) intersubjective.

The most important development in semiotics for the near-term future is the extension of semiotics to the practical order of human affairs, especially under the rubric of “semioethics”. Semioethics should be conceived as an inevitable development of semiotics from within, which is necessary to the health of the biosphere insofar as humans are involved with it.

Piret Kuusk
Real and unreal time

Piret Kuusk presents a commentary on the paper by Kurt Gödel, “A remark about relationship between relativity theory and idealistic philosophy”, elucidating briefly the mathematics and physics of the Gödel solution to the Einstein equations. The notions of absolute time and subjective (personal) time used by Gödel and their relation to the time in Kant’s critical philosophy are discussed. The philosophical and biographical background to the paper is based on Hao Wang’s book A logical Journey: From Gödel to Philosophy.

Ülo Lumiste
Ferdinand Minding and differential geometry in the Imperial University of Tartu: 200 years from Ernst Ferdinand Adolph Minding’s birth

The first part of the article gives a short biography of Ferdinand Minding. He was born on 23 January 1806 in Kalisz, grew up in Hirschberg (now Jelenia Góra), and studied in the universities of Halle and Berlin. He graduated from Berlin University in 1828 and worked as a teacher in a suburb of Berlin, teaching geometry in Latin. After a year, he moved to West Germany and worked in the classical secondary school of Elberfeld, teaching mathematics and other subjects. These years were also filled with intense research work. As one of the results, he presented a manuscript to Halle-Wittenberg University in October 1829 and obtained a dr. phil. diploma in mathematics and physics. Minding published several research papers in Crelle’s Journal für die reine und angewandte Mathematik and in 1831 started working in Berlin University as a privatdozent. In 1843, Minding left Berlin to accept the invitation of Dorpat (Tartu) University to take up the professorship of applied mathematics. He worked here for 40 years; in 1865, he was elected a corresponding member and in 1879, an honorary member of St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. Minding died on 13 May 1885 in Tartu and was buried there in Raadi cemetery.

The second part describes briefly the development of differential geometry at Tartu University in the nineteenth century. It summarizes the achievements of M. Bartels and C.E. Senff (the Bartels-Frenet equations), of Minding himself, and their disciple K. Peterson (the Peterson-Codazzi equations and the fundamental theorem of surface theory) as well as the later works of O. Staude, A. Kneser, and Fr. Schur.

Kalevi Wiik
A Western view on the origin of Britons and other northern Europeans

Kalevi Wiik provides an overview of and comments on an interesting article on ancient populations of the British Isles by a group of UK and US geneticists (A. Töpf, M.T.P. Gilbert, J.P. Dumbacher, and A.R. Hoezel), “Tracing the phylogeography of human populations in Britain based on 4th-11th century mtDNA genotypes”. The article appeared in Molecular Biology and Evolution (Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 152-161), the journal of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution, which is published by Oxford University Press (http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/short/23/1/152).

The article compares the bone material found in graves at several places in the British Isles and dating back to different times with respective material of populations at several places in Europe and the Middle East that had been obtained earlier.

The following question was posed: do the skeletons found in earlier and later graves in the British Isles have the same “ancient genetic relatives” as the respective modern populations? If such relatives exist, where can the ancient relatives of “earlier British skeletons” and “newer British skeletons” be found?

The authors give the following explanation. The earlier skeletons had relatively many common ancient relatives among the populations of northern Europe – Estonians, Finns, Norwegians, Scots, Icelanders, West Islanders, and Sami. The later skeletons had relatively many ancient relatives among the populations of the more southern regions of Europe and the Middle East – Germans, French, Spaniards, Armenians, and Palestinians.

Mati Kröönström
Estonian officers in the Russian army in the nineteenth century

Usually Estonians’ history in the nineteenth century has been viewed as agrarian history or the history of the nationalist movement and related themes (education, founding of societies, etc.). Historians have studied mostly the social groups that participated actively in the nationalist movement. Estonians’ social mobility has also been discussed in the context of the nationalist movement. We know very little about Estonians who, having received education, became Germanized or Russified and were lost for Estonian nationalism.

Military officers as a social group have received little attention from historians. It was partly because in the Soviet period the officers of the Tsarist army were not a favoured theme of research. Moreover, unlike people from some other walks of life, officers did not make a visible contribution to the nationalist movement. A great part of materials on officers are preserved in the archives and libraries of Russia, which makes research complicated, although not impossible.

The current article presents an overview of Estonians’ chances of reaching the status of an officer in the Russian army in the nineteenth century and attempts to ascertain the approximate number of officers of Estonian descent in that period. An approximate assessment says that, before cadet schools were opened in the 1860s-1870s, the Russian army had a few dozens Estonian officers. After the opening of cadet schools, the number of Estonian officers increased rapidly to about a hundred at the turn of the century. If we include reserve ensigns (about twenty at the end of the nineteenth century), the total number of Estonian officers in the nineteenth century may have been 140-150. These are approximate data. The number can be somewhat larger, as data on junior officers or officers who served for short periods before the opening of cadet schools are missing.

A great proportion of the first officers of Estonian descent Russified relatively quickly. Nonetheless, many, particularly those who completed cadet schools in the late nineteenth century, retained their contacts with Estonia. Several officers who served in Estonia, Riga, Pskov, St Petersburg and Kronstadt socialized with local Estonians and were active in Estonian societies.

For Estonians, who were mostly of peasant origin, promotion to the rank of an officer meant a sharp rise in the social hierarchy. Being aware that there were Estonians among the privileged class of officers may have boosted Estonians’ self-confidence in the period of national awakening. The Estonians who graduated from cadet schools in the last quarter of the century should definitely be counted among the Estonian intelligentsia.

Several Estonians who had become officers in the nineteenth century reached the rank of colonel before World War I (A. Pensa, A. Tats, M. Pluss, J. Kirp, J. Sarnit, etc.). At least four (H. Rautsman, E. Peterov) became generals before World War I and another two (J. Lepik, A. Silberg) during the war. In addition, there were several generals and senior officers of Estonian descent in the Russian army in the nineteenth century. These were officers who descended from Estonian parents but had become fully Russified or Germanized (the Tenner brothers, P. Kuhlberg, F. Mets, and several others).

Social barriers were not insurmountable in the nineteenth century. The rank of a staff officer or even a general could be attainable for young men from lower social strata.

Alur Reinans
Memories of the initial years of the journal Mana

In its first years (1957-1964), the émigré Estonians’ literary and cultural journal Mana came out in Sweden. Its founders were Ivo Iliste (1935-2002), Ilmar Laaban (1921-2000), Ivar Grünthal (1924-1996), and Alur Reinans. Initially, the leader was Ivar Grünthal. When Hellar Grabbi became the editor, the publication of Mana was transferred to the United States. The circulation was 800-1500 copies. From 1979, striving for broader geographic scope, the journal engaged co-editors in Australia, Canada, Sweden, and Finland. Mana‘s programme was critical of the older and more conservative section of the Estonian refugee community and attempted to establish contacts with the contemporary Western art scene and social thought. From 1961, Mana consistently published writings by authors living in occupied Estonia and reviewed their work. At the beginning, Mana was a quarterly publication, later it came out irregularly. Its last issue was published in 1999.

The author finds support for his memories in preserved documents and letters, the most interesting of them by Ivar Grünthal from 1957-1965. These enable him to follow and comment on the activities of Mana‘s editorial board in the initial years of the journal. The memories do not heroize the attempts to preserve and promote Estonian culture; they describe the background to the everyday disputes between the editors and conflicts in the émigré cultural circles.

Minutes of the foreign affairs and national defence committee of the Riigivolikogu in 1938­1940. VIII Addenda: Minutes of the foreign affairs and national defence committee of the Riiginõukogu

According to the new constitution of the Republic of Estonia that took effect on 1 January 1938, the Estonian Parliament (Riigikogu) was to consist of two chambers – Riigivolikogu and Riiginõukogu. The elections of the Riigivolikogu were held on 24-25 February 1938, and its first session was on 21 April. On 5 May, the Riigivolikogu elected a nine-member foreign affairs and national defence committee that included eight members supporting the government (M. Hansen, A. Jürima, V.-G. Kadarik, A. Karineel, J. Nyman, O. Pukk, R. Riivik, L. Vahter) and the former foreign minister A. Piip as a representative of the opposition. When issues of greater significance were discussed, leading statesmen, including the opposition leader J. Tõnisson, participated at the meetings of the committee.

In March 1940, with the Soviet occupation of Estonia impending, the minutes of the foreign affairs and national defence committee were sent to the Estonian embassy in Sweden. The last of the minutes were returned to Estonia in 2002, but the fate of some of them is still unknown.

The minutes differ in how detailed they are. In some cases, particularly after the conclusion of the mutual assistance pact between Estonia and the Soviet Union, the information shared at the meeting was considered so sensitive that the content of the discussion was not recorded in the minutes.

The most essential historical sources are the minutes that have recorded leading Estonian public officials’ and opposition representatives’ views on Estonia’s security. These explain the transition from the policy of collective security to the policy of neutrality and shed light on the circumstances that led to the conclusion of the Estonian-German non-aggression pact and the Estonian-Soviet mutual assistance pact.

From spring 1939, the committee’s assessment of international situations in Europe turned increasingly pessimistic, and on 13 April, Foreign Minister K. Selter stated that war could start in the nearest future. The government and the army general staff were of the opinion that the main threat to Estonia was the Soviet Union; the opposition, particularly J. Tõnisson, found that the main threat was Germany.

The minutes of the joint meeting of the foreign affairs and national defence committees of both houses of the parliament of 8 June and 20 September 1938 reflect the considerations why Estonia abandoned the obligation to impose sanctions against the aggressor as stipulated by Article 16 of the League of Nations Pact and adopted the policy of neutrality.

On 25 May 1939, a heated discussion took place about concluding the Estonian-German non-aggression pact. Foreign Minister K. Selter substantiated the need for concluding the pact; J. Tõnisson and A. Piip, however, argued against it. J. Tõnisson warned against the threat coming from Germany and claimed that Estonia had nothing to fear from the Soviet Union. He also insisted on close cooperation with Britain and the Nordic countries.

The most tragic question for the parliament, the government, the military leadership, and the whole nation was the conclusion of the Estonian-Soviet mutual assistance pact. V. Molotov had proposed it to K. Selter on the evening of 24 September. On 26 September, the government decided to start negotiations about the conclusion of the pact, trying to achieve as favourable conditions as possible. The same issue was discussed on the afternoon of 26 September at the joint meeting of the foreign affairs and national defence committees of both houses of parliament. A number of leading public officials and higher military officers were present; all the speakers at the meeting considered the conclusion of the pact inevitable. Later it was revealed that their considerations – refusal would mean war, while no help could be expected – were justified.

The ratification of the pact concluded on 28 September was discussed on 2 October. The participants expressed intriguing opinions about Estonia’s situation and future prospects and demanded the government’s resignation. The minutes of the following meetings (the last meeting was held on 10 April 1940) are of less interest for researchers.

It is obvious that the information presented to the committee by the foreign minister and some other officials was one-sided, and the committee was not informed about all the considerations of the government and about some foreign political measures taken by it.

Published 19 April 2006
Original in English

Contributed by Akadeemia © Akadeemia Eurozine


Published in

Share article


Subscribe to know what’s worth thinking about.