On the Ethics and Philosophy of Sex

Francesco Orsi is a senior researcher at the UT Department of Philosophy. His research interests include meta-ethics, value theory, and the history of ethics. In January, Orsi’s book on Value Theory came out in print.

Sex in art

A naked man and woman in sexual congress on a bed. Coloured process print. Wikimedia Commons.

This year I taught the course on Ethics and the Philosophy of Sex for the third time in Tartu. While this is not my particular area of research, I had long been curious to read what philosophers had written on the topic. Sexuality had been a constant but peripheral concern of philosophers at least until Freud’s theories became popular. But an explosion of interest occurred from the late 1960s on, possibly as an academic output of the so-called sexual revolution occurring in Western Europe and North America.

Philosophers, at least in the Anglo-American academic world, began bringing the tools of rational argumentation and careful analysis of concepts to work in an area where many of their predecessors had let themselves loose (intellectually speaking), probably swayed by personal biases or simply lack of sufficient first-hand experience.

While studying the literature, it became clear to me that launching a course would be a good idea. The topic would attract interest, students would be able to relate to it, and, perhaps most importantly, it could be used as a channel to ease students into learning and practicing philosophical modes of thinking and arguing. Continue reading

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Ken from Singapore: Japanese Are a Bit Estonian

Three years ago, Saburi Ken had two final study choices on the table: one from Finland and another one from the University of Tartu in Estonia. Although Estonians are known to be slow, they still replied faster than the Finns and got this Singaporean on board.

As soon as the confirmation email landed in Ken’s inbox, he bought a plane ticket. Only then did he go and tell his father: “Here’s my ticket to Estonia”. His Dad replied: “Um, okay.” Ken smiles: “My Dad is Japanese. So in certain ways he is a bit Estonian. He is a man of few words”.

Saburi Ken

Saburi Ken in the role of international student ambassador at UT. Photo by Andres Tennus.

Why choose such a little-known and far-away country to study business administration when you live in Singapore, a country with one of the freest, most innovative, most competitive, and most business-friendly economies? All of this was undermined by Ken’s desire to start an independent life off the beaten track (Now he has even forgotten how many kilometers he is away from home: 10,000 or 20,000. Ken, it’s 9243 km).

He also wanted a change after three years of stressful work in the sports industry. In Singapore, it is quite common to work 10–12 hours a day and only get 14–16 days of vacation per year. Ken knows that time is a big asset in Singapore, that everything is very systematic and even, as he puts it, robotic.

When Ken arrived to Estonia in mid-August three years ago, everything felt like eternity — so quiet, so slow. Later, he fell in love with the calmness that Estonia had instilled in him (read more about it in Ken’s post: Embrace The Pace). Continue reading

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Lena from Ukraine: In Tartu I Learned How To Learn

Lena Sologub

Organising a ‘photolaundry’ in Tartu. Photo by Viljar Sepp.

Listen to the interview with Lena Sologub:

Lena’s first trip to Tartu two years ago was nerve-racking. It was the last day to apply for studies at the University of Tartu, she was on the bus to Tartu, and the bus was running late. When she finally reached the university and said that she came from Kiev to submit her application documents, the staff looked shocked.

Why would anyone hassle with a visa and travel long hours if you can send the required hard copies by mail?! However, Lena was eager to get to Tartu. She admits feeling absolutely fascinated by the town long before her arrival. Luckily, Tartu did not disappoint her. She praises its charm and safety. If there is something that Lena misses here, then it is the noise of a big city — she grew up in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.

Looking back at the two years of mastering the European Union – Russia Studies MA Programme, Lena sums up the result without hesitation: “You learn how to work in a team, how to do something together, how to share and present your ideas, and also how to defend them. You learn how to develop yourself, and you learn how to learn.” Continue reading

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How Successful Is Estonian Science?

biological sciences in EstoniaAfter the global financial crisis of 2007–08, Estonia’s economy started growing again modestly in 2010. However, the budget for basic research has largely remained at the pre-crisis level. Taking into account annual inflation, the research budget has in fact been diminishing.

On the other hand, as University of Tartu Professor of Experimental Psychology Jüri Allik points out in his recent paper on progress in Estonian science, Estonia deviates from other European countries in terms of how research is funded. Namely, more than 80 per cent of our research funding is project-based, coming from the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research, while in other OECD countries national project-based research funding makes up about 20 per cent on average and rarely exceeds half of the funding.

How have the diminishing financing and a heavy emphasis on project-based funding influenced the standing of Estonian science in recent years?

Surprisingly enough, bibliometric indicators of the progress in Estonian science have never been better. During 1996–2006, Estonian papers were cited 17.5 per cent less than the average paper worldwide, as registered by Thomson Reuters’ Essential Science Indicators (ESI) database. In the last eleven years (2004–2014), however, the average citations per paper authored by Estonian scientists exceeded the ESI mean citation rate by 5 per cent.

The impact of Estonian papers relative to the ESI’s average

The impact of Estonian scientific papers relative to the ESI’s average. Graph: Jüri Allik

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Estonian Wildlife Headliners

With the awakening of nature, representatives of Estonian wildlife are reaching local and international media headlines.

Deers in Matsalu

Deers in Matsalu. Photo by Toomas Tuul.

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How Russia and Estonia Remember WWII?

Alexandra Yatsyk is the Director of the Centre for Cultural Studies of Post-Socialism at Kazan Federal University in Russia and a former guest fellow at the Institute of Government and Politics, University of Tartu (Aurora and Estophilus programmes).

Victory day banner

St. George ribbon on the Victory Day banner in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. Image credit: Marco Fleber / Flickr Creative Commons.

This year the world celebrates the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the bloodiest in the history of mankind. 1  Russia attaches particular importance to this event – around RUB 7 billion is expected to be spent for its commemoration, with the largest chunk of the budget allocated for mass media coverage and advertising. Such generosity against the backdrop of the current economic crisis testifies of the extraordinary salience of Victory Day to the Russian elite. In fact, symbolically the mega-project entitled ‘The Great Patriotic War’ becomes key to on-going Russian nation building.

Yet the high symbolism of 9 May is accompanied by the shrinking public space for debates about the war, with alternative interpretations being emasculated, marginalized, or simply prohibited along the lines of the well-known totalitarian practices. Archive materials are kept classified, human rights NGOs – such as “Memorial” – are declared detrimental to national interests, and monuments attesting to crimes committed by the state against its citizens during the Stalinist repressions vanish from the public gaze.

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  1. Update from 9 May, 2015: In the initial version of the post, it was misleadingly stated that the world celebrates this anniversary on 9 May.
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English in Estonia: The Country’s Future Lingua Franca?

Josep Soler-Carbonell is a research fellow at the Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics of the University of Tartu and a lecturer at Stockholm University.

Like many foreigners in Estonia, my first memories in this country are full of language-related anecdotes. Back in the summer of 2005, when I first set foot in the country, I remember that I ordered a beer at Tallinn’s Raekoja Plats by saying, “Pivo, pozhalujsta”, trying to brush up the little bit of Russian I had proudly learned a couple of years before that.

Maybe not the smartest choice to order a drink, I admit. The bar attendant did not look so happy about my attempt, and she replied somewhat angrily, saying: “We also speak English in this country”. Indeed, it was quite apparent that I was a foreigner, and the fact that I tried to use Russian with her, not her language either, did not seem to match the expectations of what was appropriate in that context.

English, as we know, is probably the world’s first second language, and over the past half-century or so it has made important inroads into areas and contexts hardly ever present before. In that sense, Estonia has not remained immune to this phenomenon, and for foreigners like me, English is the resource that allows us to get by over the first few months, maybe years, in the country, before we manage to learn some decent Estonian, and past the survival skills stage of “pilet Tartu kell kaheksa, palun”.

But what about the local population? How is English perceived by Estonians and Russian-speakers in the country? Is it a language that is appreciated or feared? And, most interestingly, can English actually evolve into the country’s lingua franca, a language of inter-ethnic communication?

"Greening Lasnamäe" project

Organisers of the “Greening Lasnamäe” project used bilingual signs to appeal to both the Estonian and Russian population. Photo by Carl-Johan Sveningsson / Flickr Creative Commons

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