Chair No. 7 - Åsa Wikforss
Åsa Wikforss was born in 1961 in Gothenburg, growing up in suburban Högsbohöjd. After graduating from Hvitfeldska Gymnasium she worked as a substitute teacher. Evening classes in literary studies aroused an interest in text analysis, which quickly led her to philosophy. She says she knew immediately on commencing basic studies in the discipline in late 1982 that she would dedicate her career to philosophy research. Doctoral studies at Columbia University in New York resulted in the presentation in 1996 of her thesis on Linguistic Freedom: An Essay on Meaning and Rules. It considers normativity and language and challenges the common view that, in essence, spoken language is a rule-guided activity. A fundamental question is to what extent we must follow semantic rules for the words we use to have meaning.
After her thesis, Åsa Wikforss published a number of scientific articles that also bear upon the intersection of language philosophy and the philosophy of mind. She was appointed associate professor at Stockholm University in 2002, making her Sweden’s first female senior research fellow in theoretical philosophy. In the following year she was awarded a two-year research grant from the Riksbank’s anniversary fund for the “Knowing One’s Own Thoughts” project. Its purpose can be summarised as investigating the understanding we have of our own thoughts and beliefs. In 2008 she was appointed Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at Stockholm University, one of the two first female professors in that subject in Sweden. The other professorship went to Kathrin Glüer-Pagin, with whom Åsa Wikforss had collaborated on several assignments. One was the five-year project “The Nature of Belief” for which they were awarded a grant from the Swedish Research Council in 2013.
Åsa Wikforss is a sought-after lecturer in Sweden and abroad. In recent years she has sought involvement in popular science fora and has contributed to the Vetandets värld (World of Science) and Filosofiska rummet (The Philosophy Room) radio programs. Through her book Alternativa fakta – om kunskapen och dess fiender (“Alternative facts - on knowledge and its enemies”, 2017) and her talk in 2018 in a mainstream radio series, Sommar i P1, she found wide public recognition and contributed to a general uptick in interest in philosophy in Sweden. The book investigates the agitated phenomenon of knowledge resistance from a philosophical perspective. She discusses what knowledge is, which psychological mechanisms lie behind resistance, how they combine with disinformation, and what we can do to rebuff the threat against knowledge. A recurrent example used is Donald Trump’s campaign for president in 2016. At the initiative of one of the founders of the Fri Tanke publishing house, Björn Ulvaeus, the book is being distributed to approximately 110,000 gymnasium students of the 2019/2020 school year.
Åsa Wikforss currently leads a large, cross-disciplinary research program at Stockholm University where the nature and causes of knowledge resistance are studied systematically, both empirically and theoretically. The program is sponsored by the Riksbank’s (Central Bank) anniversary fund and involves researchers in psychology, political science, media sciences and philosophy.
Among Åsa Wikforss’s many honorary appointments is membership in Academia Europea. In 2018 she was appointed member of the Royal Swedish Academy and in 2019 succeeded Sara Danius on Chair No. 7 in the Swedish Academy.