Life of a philosopher

A guy from Hyvinkää

E. Saarinen is a regular guy from Hyvinkää, Finland, who lives in the center of Helsinki on the street Bulevardi (”the Boulevard”), a street he loves for its green, middle-European flavour and for its nearness to Cafe Ekberg, a favorite hang-out. He is a philosopher of the everyday life who wants to help people to flourish in their lives, who loves his family, and struggles to improve his own act. The big dream is to walk on his home street Bulevardi at the age of 80, completely bald, wearing a pink tuxedo, and tremendously in love with the Lady of His Life, the Queen, looking at her in the same way as he did at the time he was courting her in the early 1980’s. (Esa already owns the Pink Tuxedo – a gift from participants of one of Esa’s Paphos Seminars.)

Young doctor

Esa got his doctorate at the age of 24 at the University of Helsinki, working under the ingenious Professor Jaakko Hintikka. The exciting and excited athmosphere of Hintikka’s research group was magnificently uplifting to Esa, with superb talents and great personalities such as Simo Knuuttila, Lauri Carlson and Ilkka Niiniluoto as close collegagues and friends. The Helsinki Philosophy Department of the 1970’s was at the height of its powers. In addition to Hintikka’s extremely energetic research group, Academician G.H. von Wright and Academician Oiva Ketonen radiated uncompromising air of greatness to their environment, strengthened by the differences in their style and approach, personalities and priorities. Both Academicians were extremely important sources of inspiration for Esa, Ketonen becoming a close family friend. With great talents young and old around at the Department of Philosophy, the result was a liberally minded and creative, friendly and inspiring institution highly exceptional in its productivity by any standards.


Helsingin yliopisto 1980 – 1993
Teknillinen korkeakoulu 2010-2010 Aalto-yliopisto 2010-2021


Puoliso Queen Pipsa Pallasvesa, kaksospojat Oliver & Jerome 


The Queen and the Family

After working in the 70’s in the tradition of analytic philosophy and philosophical logic, Esa moved in the 80’s to broader themes, to Sartre’s existentialism, philosophy of feminism, history of philosophy and philosophy of culture, writing groundbreaking books in Finnish on these themes.

Parallel to his broadening of range of interest in philosophy, Esa also became a media star in the 80’s in Finland. He domesticated the concept of a philosopher living a real life in real time through numerous appearances in the public media (tv, press and most radically at the time women’s magazines). He recorded a LP and published books with titles such as ”Erection on Albert’s street” (where he was living with his lady, the Queen), in addition to commenting all kinds of burning issues in the press. For many Finns, Esa was pretty much the only living philosopher they knew by name and apprearance.


Book collaborations

In the early stages of his career as a public intellectual Esa collaborated with Jan Blomstedt and the famed Finnish cultural figure M. A. Numminen resulting in the controversial books Punkakatemia 1980 and Terässinfonia 1981 both of which have a cult status. 

In 1990 Esa published the book Muutostekijä (Change agent) together with industrialist Ensio Miettinen, the founder of Ensto Companies. The innovative and highly unconventional industrialist was convinced that work life and business required a synthesis of the objective and the subjective world, the latter being the challenge. After reading Esa’s ”Erection on Albertstreet”, Ensio felt that he might be a guy worth collaborating with, given Esa’s bold, non-Iron Tower oriented style. This lead to another key turning point in Esa’s life – towards a growing interest in work life contexts, and to a desire to enhance people’s lifes via contributions to leadership, company culture and organizational behaviors.

Esa’s interest in what he called ”Media Philosophy” found another platform in the book Imagologies: Media Philosophy, a major work he co-authored with Mark C. Taylor, one of America’s leading philosophers. The book came out 1994, went on to several printings, and stood out also because of its visual design. The highly innovative design was a groundbreaking work of Marjaana Virta, an acclaimed Finnish graphist. The design lead also to a product line with Marimekko. Each page of the book is different, a piece of art on its own, and designed to support the fragmented argument structure of the book as well as its content which sets out to outline an ambitious philosophy of the contemporary ”simcult” technological age.

Positive philosophical practice & systems intelligence

Interest in organizations and leaderhip remains a key emphasis in Esa’s efforts. What he calls ”Positive Philosophical Practice”, ”Performative Philosophy” and ”Philosophy in Action” has been developed in lecture and seminar situations in companies and organizations. The urge to develop modes of philosophizing that would make a difference in the business world and in people’s lives has been a chief emphasis for Esa since 1990. A major uplift in this realm has been the possibility to work closely with Nokia in the course of its astonishing rise in the 1990’s and many other leading companies since then. 

In 2001, Esa was invited to join the faculty at Helsinki University of Technology (Aalto University since 2010) where he started to teach the course  ”Filosofia ja systeemiajattelu” (Philosophy and systems thinking) that became extremely popular. Through Youtube and various podcast platforms the lectures were viewed and streamed more than 1’000’000 times when Esa retired from Aalto University in 2021.  

Esa’s appointment to Aalto University was an initiative of Professor Raimo P. Hämäläinen, a leading systems and decision theorist. With Raimo, Esa has developed the concept of Systems Intelligence, a chief notion to understand human behaviors from the kind of ”optimistic and realistic” viewpoint Esa prefers, and combining engineering thinking that seeks results with the humanistic tradition that sophisticates the sensibilities. On systems intelligence see the home page of the research group.

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