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Sven Ilmari Krohn (1903-1999)


Philosopher and parapsychologist, the most promiment advocate of phenomenology and philosophical anthropology in Finland in the late 20th century. During his tenure as professor at the University of Turku, Sven Krohn focused on the main problems of philosophy, but after retirement, he felt more free to talk about out of body experiences and rebirth, both topics frowned upon in the academic world. Besides philosophical works, Krohn published three collections of poetry.

"I acknowledge with gratitude my debt to Indian Philosophy and I particularly appreciate those impulses that I have received from the profound analyses of man's basic experience to be found in the philosophy under discussion, where attention is paid to the higher transcendental states of consciousness revealead to man during his search, states of consciousness which differ from the ordinary consciousness of everyday." ('from 'Jivatman in the context of Dayananda', in World Perspectives on Swami Dayananda Saraswati by Ganga Ram Garg, foreword by Kenneth W. Jones, 1984)

Sven Krohn was born in Helsinki, the second son of Leopold Krohn, an engineer, and Betty Pesonen. Krohn's father read widely from quantum physics to psychoanalysis and occultism. Among his friends was the Finnish Rocicrucian and theosophist Pekka Ervasti (1875-1934); he also influenced Krohn's thought in his late teens. When two of the childred died of diabetes at an early age, Leopold started to experiment with automatic writing, believing that he received messages from his deceased son. For the The Finnish Rosicrucian Society, established by Ervasti, he made an astrological horoscope. His sons Sven and Eino worked for a period at the Rosicrucian Kulmakoulu. 

Like a number of other well-to-do families, the Krohns had a villa in the Karelian Isthmus in the south-east of Finland, where they spent the summer. After a mystical experience, Krohn became convinced of being part of a larger cosmic consciousness. Later Krohn often returned to his first revelatory sense of oneness with the universe, which had prompted him to devote his life to philosophy.

Krohn graduated from the Normal Lyceum and entered the University of Helsinki, where he studied philosophy under Arvi Grotenfelt and Rafael Karsten. He also attended Rolf Lagerborg's and Erik Ahlman's (1892-1952) lectures. Krohn received his M.A. in 1929 and then worked as a teacher of German language, philosophy, psychology, and history at a secondary school. In 1930, Krohn married Ruth Sigrid Sofia Grönroos; they had five children.

In the 1930s, Krohn became a member of two parapsychological associations, Sällskapet för psykisk forskning and Suomen parapsykologinen tutkimusseura. With Åke Tollet he wrote a book on parapsychology, Jälleenlöydetty sielu (1936). Its text was based on their popular radio broadcasts from 1934-35. For Krohn's surprise, the work received positive reviews, in spite of its controversial content. In 1953, Krohn participated the First International Utrecht Conference on Parapsychology at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. There he met Dr. Hans Bender, who work at the Institut für Grenzgebiete der Psychologie und Psychohygiene impressed him deeply. Efforts to investigate scientifically paranormal phenomena gave Krohn additional evidence that mechanistic-materialistic worldview was false. (It has been claimed, that Hans Bender's most famous case, the Rosenheim poltergeist which he investigated in 1967, was an elaborate fake.)

In the 1930s Krohn remained aloof both with national socialism and communism. During the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union, Krohn was exempted from military service but in the Continuation War (1941-44) he served in the artillery for some time and was discharged in 1942.

Krohn's academic career started relatively late. His doctoral dissertation, Der logische Empirismus (1949), a strong criticism of the concepts of logical empiricism, appeared when he was 46. Ahlman, who had introduced phenomenology to academic discussion in Finland, supervised Krohn's doctoral thesis. With his brother Eino he edited Ahlman's book Ihmisen probleemi (1953, The problem of man); for decades, this introduction to philosophical anthropology was a textbook at the Jyväskylä Institute of Pedagogics (the University of Jyväskylä). In 1951, Krohn became a lecturer at the University of Helsinki. Although Krohn was never appointed professor there, he substituted for G.H. von Wright (1916-2003) in 1954, 1958, and 1960.

When Krohn applied for the professorship of theoretical philosophy at the University of Helsinki, von Wright regarded Oiva Ketonen, a student of Eino Kaila (1890-1958),  more qualified for the job; Ketonen was appointed Kaila's successor in 1951. Before S. Albert Kivinen's studies, parapsychological interests were largely treated with suspicion in academic circles. Krohn also applied for the professorship in moral and social philosophy in the Faculty of Social Sciences. Eino Kaila and Oiva Ketonen submitted reports on the scholarly merits of the applicants. The Faculty declared all applicants (Sven Arne Runeberg, Sven Krohn, and Kaarle Laurentius Sorainen) to be unqualified for the post. Rafael Karlsten stated in his report, that Krohn presented the philosophy of Bertrand Russell "in a two-faced manner against logical empirism." When Jaakko Hintikka was appointed to the chair in 1959, Krohn had lost for the second time to a representantive from the analytic school. 

Krohn's most prominent opponent, Eino Kaila, was a logical empiricist and highly influential opinion leader, who in general dismissed metaphysical statements as meaningless. Kaila maintained that philosophy as a method is logical analysis. According to an anecdote, he threw Krohn's dissertation out of the window after reading only a few pages of it. Krohn sent also Der logische Empirismus to Bertrand Russell who answered with a polite letter: "I have read with very great interest your book Der logische Empirismus. I admire your thorough knowledge of the literature and your care in dissecting arguments. I find myself also in broad agreement with your conclusions. As I have a bias in favour of empiricism, this measure of agreement does us both a credit. I congratulate you warmly on your work."

From 1960, Krohn held the chair of philosophy at the University of Turku, succeeding J.E. Salomaa. During this period phenomenologico-hermeneutical research dominated at the Faculty of Arts, but Krohn was also interested in Marx's more ethically oriented early writings. Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), the founder of phenomenology, was the philosopher who had the greatest influence on his own thinking. Krohn maintained that the phenomenological starting point is essential for all philosophical investigation. Differing from the majority of his colleagues, Krohn published several of his major works in the German language. Krohn retired in 1970. His follower was Risto Hilpinen.

"Lopultakaan ei mikään ongelma eikä tutkimus ole ihmiselle keskeisempi kuin ihminen itse." (from Ihminen, luonto ja logos, 1981)

Krohn's last major work was Ihminen, luonto ja logos (1981), in which he anticipated rising interest in metaphysics and philosophical anthropology. In his retirement, Krohn also started to discuss more freely about parapsychology. Krohn believed in reincarnation and argued in the essay 'Jälleensyntymisen oppi elämää ja kuolemaa, itää ja länttä yhdistävänä' (Ydinihminen, 1989), that there is documented evidence that support the hypothesis of rebirth memories. His first collection of poems, Astronautti, Krohn published in 1987. It was followed by Planeetan uni (1992) and Vaellus maassa ja tähdissä (1996). Some of the poems he had written for his essays or speeches. A central theme through these collections, and especially in Planeetan uni, is that man, as a microcosm, is a picture of the macrocosm. A selection of Krohn's lectures, speeches, and articles was collected in Etsin ihmistä (1996), his 12th book on philosophy. Due to Krohn's poor eyesight, the book had an editor, who helped to organize and proofread the material, and contribute (?) to the end an anynymous, imaginary interview of Krohn, entitled 'Kosketukseni parapsykologiaan' (My encounter with parapsychology). 

Krohn emphasized that we are timeless beings whose existence do not begin at birth and end in death. The universe is governed by logos, but the soul of man expresses itself as reason and love. In the essay 'Vieraantunut nykyihminen' (1970) Krohn warned of the dehumanizing effects of modern value-free rationality and the view of man as a machine. The way out of the Sinnverlust (loss of meaning) is a radical change of attitudes, placing spiritual values before material.

In the 1990s, Krohn delivered several speeches dealing with spiritual growth and philosophy of life. As Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the Austrian founder of anthroposophy, Krohn believed in spiritual beings who exist in higher planes. Sven Krohn died at home in Tampere on June 26, 1999. The first major evaluation of Krohn's work was made by Mikko Salmela in his dissertation about cultural philosophy in Finland, Suomalaisen kulttuurifilosofian vuosisata (1998). In 2004, four Krohn's books were included in an exhibition at the Helsinki University Library presenting Finnish philosophers in the world and world's philosophers in Finland.

For further reading: Suomalaisen kulttuurifilosofian vuosisata by Mikko Salmela (1998); 'In memoriam: Sven Krohn (1903-99)' by Ilkka Niiniluoto, in Ajatus, 56 (1999); Päin nousevan Suomen rantaa: tutkijaprofiileja Turun yliopistosta by Timo Tarmio (2000); Ajatuksen kulku. Tankens vägar. Trains of thought, ed. by Inkeri Pitkäranta (2004); 'Filosofi Sven Krohn ja ihmisyyden pitkä tie', in Tien päällä ja taivaan alla – kirjoituksia etsijän polulta by Erkki Lehtiranta (2011)

Selected works:

  • Jälleen löydetty sielu: seitsemän keskustelua parapsykologiasta, 1936 (with Åke Tollet), 1936
  • Der logische Empirismus: eine kritische Untersuchung, 1949-50 (2 vols.)
  • 'Todellisuusprobleema Upanišaadissa ja buddhalaisessa filosofiassa', in Ajatus, XVII, 1952
  • Arvojen yleispätevyyden ongelma: arvofilosofinen tutkielma, 1953
  • Definitionsfrage und Wirklichkeitsfrage: zum Studium der Natur der analytischen Philosophie, 1953
  • 'Methodical Sensualism and Parapsychology', in Proceedings of the First International Conference of Parapsychological Studies (Utrecht 1953), 1955
  • Die normative Wertethik in ihren Beziehung zur Erkenntnis und zur Idee der Menschheit, 1958
  • 'Zum Subjektivismus und Objektivismus in der Ethik'. (Jus humanum. Studia in honorem Otto Brusin), 1966
  • Totuus, arvo ja ihminen: filosofisia esseitä, 1967
  • Möglichkeit und Wirklichkeit etnischer Verantwortung und Entscheidung (Akten des XIV Internationaled Kongress für Philosophie VI), 1971
  • 'Über die Bedingungen des Ethischen in freien Selbsttätigkeit des Subject', in Studien zur Werttheorie II, herausg. von Arto Siitonen und Timo Airaksinen, 1976
  • 'Sinnlosigkeitskrisis oder wiedergefundener Mensch', in Studien zur Werttheorie III, herausg. von Risto Maula, 1977
  • Credo: mihin minä uskon, 1979 (with others)
  • Ihminen, luonto ja logos, 1981
  • 'Universaalikysymys filosofisena ongelmana', in Ajatus, 40, 1983
  • Jälleensyntymisen oppi elämää ja kuolemaa, itää ja länttä yhdistävänä, 1986 (Jyväskylän yliopisto. Filosofian laitos. Julkaisu 30)
  • Astronautti, 1987
  • Studien zur Werttheorie = Studies in the theory of value = Etudes sur la theorie des valeurs. 6, Über die Universalität des Geistes, 1987
  • Ydinihminen: ihmisen mitta ja tulevaisuus, 1989 (edited by Toivo Salonen)
  • Planeetan uni, 1992
  • Valkoinen aukko: tieto, usko ja filosofia, 1993
  • Vaellus maassa ja tähdissä, 1996
  • Etsin ihmistä: filosofisia esseitä, 1996 (edited by Marita Airakorpi)
  • 'Cultural Crisis and Prerequisites for Cultural Rebirth,' 2009 (Futura 2009: 1. Philosophical Essays of Knowledge of the Future. Guest-editors Pentti Malaska & Eleonora Masini)
  • Jälkipaloja, 2018 (edited by Marita Airakorpi)

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