Attitudes That Matter

Uku Tooming holds a PhD in philosophy from the University of Tartu. His doctoral thesis examines the communicative significance of beliefs and desires.

It often matters to us what other people believe and want. This is apparent in everyday interactions, in gossip and in debates, in domestic life, and in a meeting of strangers.

Knowledge about the beliefs and desires of others is a form of basic social knowledge because these attitudes express a person’s take on the world: from the perspective of their possessor, beliefs are about what is the case and desires are about what should be the case.

It is noticeable that such knowledge matters to us as social animals: already the fact that another person believes or wants something, especially if one disagrees with it, might bring about strong affective reactions in us. Why is that? I am not asking here about the psychological mechanisms which ground our reactions to others’ attitudes. This is a philosophical question of why we should care about these attitudes and how this relates to our practical interests more generally. Questions about why something is important are admittedly quite imprecise but still worth inquiring into, for the sake of reflective self-understanding.

There are at least three answers to our question which do not necessarily exclude one another. According to the first, knowing others’ attitudes matters to us because these attitudes have behavioural consequences, at least potentially, which might be contrary to our interests. This can’t be the whole story, however, because others’ attitudes seem to matter even in cases when we haven’t got a clear idea what actions would follow from these attitudes (That being said, predictions of action that the awareness of attitudes enables can’t be dismissed as a negligible benefit of attitude attributions).

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My Passion Called Estonia

The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs recognized Kazimierz Popławski as a civil diplomat for his years of work presenting Estonia through his portal in 2014. In 2008–2011 Kazimierz studied three semesters as an exchange student at the University of Tartu.

Kazimierz Poplawski with PM Rõivas

Kazimierz at the meeting with Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas (first on the right from the standing PM) as a part of the “100 friends” study visit last summer. Image credit: Government Office

Questions about the origins of my passion called “Estonia” are quite problematic for me. Usually, people who ask these kinds of questions expect romantic or at least family stories as an answer, yet mine is quite simple, pragmatic, and even boring.

I got my first computer when I was in middle school. I never had a great passion for computer games, but the Internet was something that was very fascinating. I thought back then that it would be nice to create a part of it. I decided to learn to build websites – coding, administering, publishing, etc. I’d heard some interesting news about this little country north of Poland, and I thought: “Hmm, Estonia is a good topic to cover – it’s small, so I’ll build the website, I’ll write about all the possible topics, and I’ll be done within 2–3 months”.

I failed, as it’s already 12 years and I’m still working on the website (from the beginning of the year you can visit the brand new version of During this time hundreds of thousands of people have visited the website and each of them have read a couple of articles and news. People simply need information about Estonia, and I can tell you that many of them are just fascinated by what they read about. That’s the first reason why I keep working on it. There are more of them, and to me, personally, the following are probably even more important. Continue reading

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10 Most Popular Stories on UT Blog in 2014

Let’s take a look at the most popular stories on our blog from the last year. Truth be told, some stories from previous years continued to be extremely popular also in 2014, like our most successful story ever: 10 Tips for a Good Presentation, but we will focus on the stories published last year. So, in 2014 our big hit was this:

1. 10 Tongue Twisters To Get You Started on Estonian

Impress your friends and yourself by learning some difficult and fun Estonian words and phrases. For example, ‘jäääär':


2. The Song Festival Is Sacred for Estonians

This survey led by University of Tartu researchers reveals why the tradition of song and dance festivals is sacred for Estonians, and also reveals the top 5 festival experiences.

3. Family Tradition Brings Ana from Georgia To Study Medicine in Tartu

Read the fascinating story of a Georgian family and their love for Estonia. Ana (17) started her medical studies at the University of Tartu in her father’s steps, but the story begins even earlier with Ana’s grandmother. Continue reading

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Christmas Gift Idea: Infinity Scarf in Less Than an Hour

In November, four master’s students of communication management at our Institute of Social Studies – Eliise Ott, Helena Hain, Liina Külv and Kai Reinfeldt – launched a campaign entitled “I’ll make Christmas gifts myself this year!” as a part of their E-marketing course. As part of the campaign, the girls try out a lot of do-it-yourself gift ideas and post the results on the campaign blog, Facebook, and Instagram.

“Buying Christmas gifts has become a somewhat nerve-wracking responsibility, when you oftentimes grab stuff from supermarket shelves that brings no joy to the gift receiver or the giver. We think that a thoughtful Christmas gift is a great sign to our close ones how much we care about them,” said Kai, one of the campaign initiators.

One of the most popular gift ideas that Kai tried making was the so-called infinity scarf, which took her 40 minutes to complete without knitting needles. All you need is 2–4 skeins of yarn and your own hands. For the best result, the yarn should be bulky, stiff, and non-stretchy.

The yarn that Kai used turned out to be a bit too soft and stretchy for this purpose — in fact, she unraveled her old scarf in order to make a new one. So, Kai’s new scarf got some holes in it as a result – one way to go if you don’t want your scarf to be too warm.

This is the video that Kai used to guide her:

And let’s follow Kai’s progress as she went through the steps:

step 1The start has been made…

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Why Speaking Languages Is Inspiring, Enjoyable, and Healthy

If you have heard something about languages and the brain, chances are that your knowledge is heavily biased towards the role of the left hemisphere of the human brain. It is amazing how this 19th-century model can still be found even in psychology textbooks.

Edna Andrews“Thank goodness the imaging technology has made it absolutely clear: Language is a bi-hemispheric phenomenon,” says Edna Andrews, Professor of Linguistics and Cultural Anthropology at Duke University, who navigates in the fascinating realm of linguistics, neurosciences, and semiotics. Language ability is much more distributed in the brain and is much more variable from person to person.

You may know that language is a grey matter phenomenon, but sub-cortical white matter fiber tracks are also extremely important for making connections in the brain. Those connections are made, unmade, and remade constantly. The faster you learn something — be it languages, playing a musical instrument, or something else — if you stop, the faster you lose it. “There is something to gradual and continuous learning as opposed to abrupt explosive moments which are not sustainable,” knows Andrews.

In addition to language acquisition, the multilingual professor works with a full range of issues that have to do with languages and the brain throughout the entire life cycle, including language maintenance and loss. And whenever you deal with brain and language, it is always about culture and identity as well. “Language is learned in a cultural context and it tells us who we are, who we see ourselves being,” points out Andrews. “If you don’t want to talk to people who speak that language, if you don’t like them, you are in big trouble. If you are forced to learn a language — and this happens a lot in school — you do terribly.”

So, the bottom line is: If you are not doing well in languages, it’s probably not your brain’s fault. It’s about so many things: motivation, goals, identity. Continue reading

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How I Learned Organisational Behaviour by Doing a Charity Project

Hello everyone! I am Kelly and I’m studying economics. This is my 3rd year in university.

This year we had to pass a course called Human Resources Management and Organisational Behaviour. On 17 September we found ourselves facing a charity project. Maaja Vadi, the professor who was going to give us lectures about organisational behaviour, told us that this year students had to participate in a charity project and would therefore get homework points. We were like, “OK, we can do it”, and started to form groups with friends. Then suddenly one of the coordinators of the project said, “Calm down, we have already put each and every one of you into a group”. Then there was a sudden silence. Someone said, “That’s not fair – we will never get this done with people we don’t know”. We had like 60 people participating in this project.

So, our first assignment was to go (with our team) and choose things ourselves which we wanted to collect. We were told that we must not buy any of them by ourselves, all had to be collected from someone else. My team chose to collect different games: board games, cards, etc. There were 6 different types of things in total which we could choose for ourselves: tea packs, socks, games, cooking ingredients (flour, oil), drawing and handicraft things, and sweets. Every type could be chosen by two teams. So we had a challenging moment too: who would be the first to contact bigger companies, because the probability was that when a big company (like Kalev, for example) donated to one group, the other would end up empty handed.

team members Kelly Saar and Kadri Kõivik

Kadri Kõivik and I (on the left) with the donated games at the Võru Street wood workshop. Image from a personal archive

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6 Tips To Survive Your Writing Assignments

Once you have entered the realm known as university, you are faced with a myriad of assignments. Many of these assignment involve you having to put your pen on paper (or your fingers on the keyboard) and produce text. This text is consequently used by your instructor to measure how well you know something by either giving you a grade, representing the ‘correctness’ of your text, or by providing you with feedback which either confirms or rejects your knowledge on the subject and might justify the amount of time you actually spent writing.

The problem with writing, and more specifically, writing at university, is that learning to write is exactly the same as learning to ride a bicycle. Most of us start at a very young age, first with the help of our parents, next with the help of training wheels, and before you know it, these have been removed and you’re off. Your horizon has just expanded, you’re skills have been updated, and you are likely not to forget ever again how to ride your bike. Although learning to write is a much more complex process, we do not seem to make the same early start as we do with riding a bike, right?

Come to think of it, even when attending high school, we are often not adequately trained or prepared for university writing. As a result, when most of us enter higher education, we struggle with the writing tasks, and nobody seems to offer us the training wheels we so desperately need to help us learn how to deal with and survive our (first) writing assignments.

The following guidelines are compiled to give you some support. Follow them and I guarantee that writing becomes tolerable and maybe even enjoyable.

quote on writing

Image credit:

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