Reflecting on real and fictional worlds through philosophy & art
I am an inquisitive person and spend much of my time with reflections on myself and the world as well as with their expression. These span a wide range of domains and media from digital artworks to academic writings, but the underlying concern is always a genuine exploration of the human condition and its various socio-cultural facets: the hope that a commitment to a continuous reflective journey does not only provide one with a source of personal fulfillment but also with a space to think critically about the institutional world and one's own involvement in it.
Philosophy | Arts & Music | Worldbuilding
Reflecting on social reality through fiction
I have been passionate about fictional worlds since my childhood, and more recently I have begun some own creative explorations, combining different art forms to bring my ideas to life. I use this project as a playground to gain a better understanding of the various aspects of visual and audio design, as I started to work with a wide range of media and domains, from traditional watercolor pencil drawings to data-based digital renders and orchestral mockups. I also occasionally work as a commissioned artist for the projects of others. My first tangible attempts include a variety of fictional cartographies and neographies done with digital tools, several watercolor pencil drawings, and some first orchestral compositions. To accomplish these, I use a variety of programs (QGIS, Blender, GIMP, Inkscape, and DaVinci Fusion for digital artworks as well as Musescore and Cakewalk by Bandlab for orchestral compositions), giving me an understanding of the fundamentals of graphic and audio design as well as video editing.
I find that, through its blending of socio-cultural, historical, and moral considerations, imagining alternative ways to live life provides a space for an exploration of our real concerns in how we live our lives, of the things that make us flourish or suffer, of what a good life means for us and how we should think about virtues and flaws in our lives. The underlying hope is that worldbuilding can serve to articulate critical perspectives on the real world, but that since it’s fictional it can do so in ways that are not authoritative and definitive, but inquisitive and explorative. And while I was always keen on trying my hands at a comparable endeavor of my own, I only really began committing serious efforts to it with the Covid-19 pandemic, as part of an attempt to make the time spent in isolation worthwhile. To me this is mostly a side project that I do for its own sake and for the things I get to learn in the process, but I hope that the project as a whole can, in time, provide a space for conversation on how we experience life in different cultural settings as they just happen to form historically, and thereby some sense of human solidarity beyond the cultural contingencies that set us apart.
Asking what it means to live a reflective life
Another good example of the way I reflect on myself and the world is my thesis project. Back in 2018, when I began my graduate education in Helsinki, I grew quite fond of the spirit that carried the work inside the university and across its larger organizational ecosystem. There was a widely shared sense of well-intentioned pragmatism in approaching problems and conceiving solutions. One of the terms that captured this spirit and hence resonated well with me was ‘meaningful innovation’. And so, it came naturally to return to this term when it was time to think of possible themes for my thesis project. This led to questions, beginning with the question what the term ‘meaningful innovation’ could mean in the first place. Obviously, ‘meaningful’ here implies something other than a reminder that innovations should best avoid being nonsensical; much rather, it is meant in a way similar to when a person says that she wishes to live a meaningful life. Innovation, of course, is more than a private affair, so that the aspiration here seems to be a meaningful life for entire communities; a hope for a world that is in some sense better than other alternatives. But if the idea of ‘meaningful innovation’ entails a vision of a different world, what justifies us in calling it a ‘better’ one? In other words, what prevents those involved in the bringing about of innovations or other aspects of professional practice from superimposing their personal concerns onto the lives of those affected by their work, even or especially when the professional is concerned about a ‘meaningful’ outcome?
What I thus involved myself in was an inquiry into the normative foundations of professional practice, and writing a text about them was an almost strange endeavor because being socialized in the contemporary university system and work life, one might become convinced that there are none. Yet, there seems to be something of a paradox in the idioms of contemporary organizational life. Namely, the avoidance of explicit normative claims within conversation among professionals stands in stark contrast with the abundance of covert normative claims: intrusive terms such as ‘good’ and ‘true’ are replaced by safe alternatives, such as ‘meaningful’ and ‘authentic’. While no innovation is ‘justified’, many are ‘valuable’. While few things are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, a lot of things are ‘beneficial’ or ‘problematic’. While few professionals would dare to make claims about ‘the good life’, promises to increase ‘well-being’ are abundant. And so on. Perhaps the paradigmatic phrase here is ‘improving the status quo’; a highly neutral avowal to work towards a noncommittally better world. And while there is certainly nothing problematic with a careful rhetorical delivery of personal visions, the normative vacuum in some parts of institutional life seems all the stranger against the deafening backdrop of a public debate shaken by an increasingly unrelenting assertion of seemingly irreconcilable demands.
While these considerations are little more than an unqualified hunch, they do outline one of the starting points of this project: an inquiry into my own idiosyncratic versions of ‘improving the status quo’. One was the conception of an ‘authentic life’, and so, at the onset of this project, it seemed plausible to ask how that could be harnessed to substantiate a conception of ‘meaningful innovation’; a pairing to improve an integrated status quo of private and professional life. This inquiry was of course motivated by a question that is inevitably triggered at the end of one’s education – the question how to live. Asking how to live in professional environments is an odd undertaking, for various reasons; yet what I set out to pursue in this project is a philosophical inquiry into what it means to live a reflective life, both in the sense of what meaning this phrase could have and in the sense of what aspiring to such a conception might imply for the life of the individual professional or entire communities, and how this might change the perspective on commitments to ‘improve the status quo’. This endeavor confronted me with another omnipresent yet evasive matter: the capacity to reflect on oneself and other things.
Reflection is a phenomenon that has received widespread interest within different domains, including research of professional practice and organizational life, and that is often mounted as a supplier of epistemological, methodological, or normative ideals, as it has been associated with deep and systematic thinking, ethical conduct, or the transformation of social conditions. At that, a plethora of rival conceptions of the phenomenon exist, and these conceptions are often distinguished by the drawing of arbitrary definitory lines as motivated by the respective scholar’s personal metatheoretical concerns. In forming a critical stance towards this extended discussion, this project thus became at once an inquiry into the situation of professional life, and a critique of one of the terms central to its self-understanding.
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In this work, I develop a conceptual account of reflection and critical reflection to provide a fundamental critique of existing conceptions and to inquire into the normative potential of reflection. Drawing from phenomenology and analytical philosophy, I define reflection as ‘thematizing one’s own attitudes’ and distinguish it from deliberation, making it possible to compare and locate the specific forms of reflection scholars have in mind when they conceive of the phenomenon as a goal-oriented pursuit of coherent justified beliefs and intentions within a larger spectrum that equally includes biased, convoluted, and incoherent ways to reflect. Besides the distinction between reflection and deliberation, I suggest that the phenomenon of reflecting on one’s life – thematizing how one experiences the world at large qua the holistic context of one’s attitudes – provides the key to understanding the motivational dynamics and interrelations between different forms of reflection. By extending these conceptual developments to encompass the social dynamics of different forms of reflection, I inquire into the foundations of professional practice within contemporary organizational life. Specifically, I raise the question of what it would mean to live a reflective life, both individually and collectively, and how this social ideal relates to the reality of institutional life partitioned into the spheres of the private and the professional. As a result, I suggest that reflection is misunderstood if it is taken as a provider of justified attitudes, theoretical orientations, or life conceptions. Instead, the normative merit of critical reflection lies in making normative conversation possible, making its actualization essential for cooperation within free societies.