Lauri Rauhala (1914–2016)

Philosopher and psychologist Lauri Matias Rauhala died in Helsinki on 5 April 2016 at the age of 101. He was born on 13 September 1914. Along with his teachers Erik Ahlman and Sven Krohn, Rauhala was one of the most important Finnish representatives of philosophical anthropology and phenomenological-hermeneutic philosophy in the twentieth century. He was also one of the most influential Finnish theorists of human studies in the fields of psychology, philosophy, education and nursing. As a thinker and a human being, he was characterized by a uniquely bright and encouraging approach as well as intellectual courage, a determination to defend his own ideas, and a constant openness to new ideas. These qualities, together with his extensive literary output, made Rauhala a mentor and an inspiration to several generations of scholars.


Studies and wartime

Rauhala came from a modest background and his educational path was long and colorful. Born in Sievi in northern Ostrobothnia as the son of farmers, Lauri lost his mother when he was only a few years old. His upbringing was marked by the austere spirit of the Lutheran Awakening movement (körttiläisyys). Lauri’s scholarly abilities were noticed early on, but at the time secondary education was not easily accessible in the Finnish countryside because of the costs and distances involved; after the short primary school curriculum, Lauri had to continue working in the household. The next opportunity to continue his studies came only at the threshold of adulthood, when Lauri was accepted at the Kajaani teachers’ seminary for training as a primary school teacher. The pedagogical training, with its emphasis on the humanities and general education, provided a first contact with educational science and psychology, and also the educational philosophy of theorists such as Johann Friedrich Herbart and William James. However, Rauhala, who graduated in 1939 on the eve of the Winter War, only worked as a primary school teacher for a few weeks: with the mobilization of the armed forces, the schools were taken over by the military and the men were conscripted.

World War II lasted five years for Rauhala – he spent even the interim peace of 1940-41 – as a conscript, but his everyday life was punctuated by staff duties and duties as a financial officer towards the end of the war. During the war Rauhala decided to continue his studies, and already during the lull periods and military leaves Rauhala began to take examinations for a degree in education at the University of Helsinki under Professor J. A. Hollo (1885-1967). After being dismissed from the military in September 1944, Rauhala began to work ardently on his studies in Helsinki. He also had to fill in the gaps in his previous education, such as his missing matriculation examination.

In the postwar years, Rauhala’s enduring love of philosophy was kindled by the legendary lectures of Eino Kaila (1890-1958). Kaila’s most important frame of reference was the Vienna Circle, whose philosophical approach he had introduced to Finland during the 1930s. However, Kaila maintained a certain distance to the scientific philosophy of the logical empiricists and sought a more holistic conception of philosophy in his teaching. To Rauhala, Kaila appeared first and foremost as a traditional humanist who disdained formal disciplinary boundaries. Kaila’s teaching also emphasized the role of psychology, which until 1946 was part of the philosophy department in Helsinki. It was psychology that Rauhala chose to major in, primarily with a view to finding employment. Rauhala completed his Master’s degree in psychology in 1949 under the supervision of Kai von Fieandt (1909- 2000) and Arvo Lehtovaara (1905-1985), both students of Kaila. The second supervisor of his Master’s thesis was Professor Erik Ahlman (1892-1952), whose philosophy of life, values and culture, influenced by Max Scheler’s phenomenology of values, later became an important guide for Rauhala.


“The Nikkilä Awakening”

1949 was a significant year in Rauhala’s life: that year he married Esteri Kankaanpää (1918-2017) – they remained married for almost 70 years – and took up a post as Finland’s first hospital psychologist at the Nikkilä psychiatric hospital. The years 1949-1955 in Nikkilä were a turning point in Rauhala’s thinking; he later referred to his experiences as a special “Nikkilä awakening”. Although psychiatrists at the hospital included humane and progressive doctors such as Oscar Parland (1912-1997), the main methods of psychiatric treatment at that time were still electric shocks and sedative medication. Lobotomies were also performed on a certain number of patients.

In line with the positivistic and behaviouristic scientific ideology of the time, the role of the hospital psychologist primarily consisted in the diagnostic testing of patients. Some of the testing methods were questionable: Rauhala’s licentiate thesis in psychology, completed in 1953, demonstrated through empirical sampling the inability of the popular Szondi personality test to distinguish diagnostically between hospital patients and hospital staff and an external control group. Rauhala also encountered the problems of behaviorist psychology during his 1954 visit to the Maudsley Institute of Psychiatry in London. There, he followed the work of the research group of the famous Hans Eysenck (1916-1997): only statistical and quantitative test data were accepted as research material, and information such as the subject’s descriptions of their own moods was considered irrelevant. All this led Rauhala to question the usefulness of quantitative-statistical diagnostics and the prevailing classification of psychiatric illnesses in the concrete work of helping mentally disturbed people. The theoretical basis for these doubts was provided by psychoanalysis, especially by C. G. Jung’s depth psychology, which had been introduced to Finland in the early 1950s. During his trip to London, Rauhala himself underwent a Jungian psychoanalysis.

After returning from London, Rauhala left his job at Nikkilä to work as a clinical psychologist at the Institute of Occupational Health and as a lecturer in psychology at the School of Social Sciences in Helsinki. In the late 1950s, his own theoretical approach matured, culminating in his first book Mitä psykoterapia on ja kuka sitä tekee? (What Is Psychotherapy and Who Performs It? 1961).

Unbeknownst to Rauhala, his work was connected to a wider international trend critical of medicalisation and behaviorism. The year of publication of his debut work, which emphasized the non-medical, case-specific and meaning- and experience-centered nature of psychotherapeutic help, was a turning point in approaches to mental illness. The year 1961 saw the publication of Michel Foucault’s Madness and Civilization, which explored the modern developments in the  conceptual history of “madness” and the emergence of the modern concept of mental illness, and Thomas Szasz’s The Myth of Mental Illness, a direct critique of the very concept of mental illness. 1961 also saw the founding of the American Association for Humanistic Psychology, which under the leadership of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow sought to establish itself as a “third force” in psychology alongside behaviorism and psychoanalysis. Like Rauhala, the association emphasized a holistic, goal- and meaning-oriented view of the human being.

However, Rauhala did not adopt the more radical positions of the “anti-psychiatry” movement as such, nor the commercialized self-help thinking typical of humanistic psychology. For Rauhala, medication and other forms of psychiatric help have their obvious place as part of helping mental patients, even if holistic and case-by-case human work cannot be limited to these forms of treatment. Rauhala’s emphasis on the uniqueness of the individual does not imply an atomistic individualism, often promoted by commercial self-development manuals, that would disregard the communal and social context.



Rauhala’s professional orientation towards psychology did not lead him to abandon philosophy – quite the opposite. In the 1950s, Rauhala’s interest in philosophy continued in the form of his participation in the lectures on Heidegger delivered by professor of Physiology Yrjö Reenpää (1894-1976) and in the meetings of the Philosophical Society of Finland. He also took part in the activities of the Philosophical Club of the Helsinki City Library, led by Uuno Saarnio (1896-1977) and Raili Kauppi (1920-1995), among others. After the publication of his debut book, Rauhala had the opportunity to return to academic philosophy. Sven Krohn (1903-1999), Professor of Philosophy at the University of Turku, encouraged him to seek a philosophical basis for his work in the phenomenological-hermeneutic approach, which Krohn saw as being closely linked to the starting points already adopted by Rauhala. Rauhala took up the challenge and carried out his dissertation research, which lasted for the main part of the 1960s, partly within the framework of the Turku Phenomenological Circle, which operated around Krohn. The result, in 1969, was Intentionality and the Problem of the Unconscious, which combines the phenomenological concept of intentionality and Jungian depth psychology into a unified theoretical model of the unconscious processes underlying conscious experience. The dissertation was also well received in international fora. It even served as the starting point for a series of international articles in the early 1970s introducing Rauhala’s idea of the interpretive and understanding-oriented nature of psychoanalysis, with phenomenological-hermeneutic philosophy as its “metatheory”.

However, Rauhala never really established himself as an  academic philosopher. He was awarded the title of Docent in philosophy in 1970, and until his retirement he worked as an assistant professor of applied psychology in Helsinki from 1976 to 1980. In retrospect, he saw the avoidance of academic administrative responsibilities and publishing pressures as ultimately beneficial for developing his thinking, and retirement, in particular, gave him free rein to develop his own theoretical project in the direction he wanted. He continued to participate in the debates of the scientific world by writing articles, and also maintained a lively contact with the academic psychology community.


Regulative situational circuit

Rauhala’s mature thinking focuses on sketching out a holistic and dynamic model of human existence as a mutual, constantly evolving interplay of several mutually irreducible but interdependent aspects of being. Ontologically, this model represents what Rauhala calls “monopluralism”, rather than Cartesian dualism or physicalistic monism. Rauhala’s main conceptual innovation is often seen to be “the regulative situational circuit” which he first introduced in 1973. Drawing on Husserl and Heidegger, Rauhala describes human consciousness as a meaningful, intentional orientation towards a meaningful world that is always encountered in a specific existential circumstance, a singular situation. What makes a situation meaningful is its meaning-context – in Heidegger’s terms, a “pre-understanding” (Vorverständnis) – which is the result of certain “prior selections”: one’s particular historical period, one’s culture, language, social class, gender and one’s level of education lead one to encounter the world against a certain background. This background is a “regulative circuit”, a hermeneutic interpretive horizon that regulates and informs the way in which the meaning of the world is constituted for a person in his or her particular situation. Each lived situation of meaningfulness is ultimately unique and singular, even in the case of a mental “disorder”, by which Rauhala does not mean a deviation from a fixed norm but a functionally unfavorable, impoverished or outright harmful way of experiencing or behaving. However, a pre-understanding is not fixed but malleable: in principle, one’s current experience always offers the possibility of reflecting on the starting points that orient one’s manner of experiencing, which can then also be reconsidered, revised and reshaped, thus opening up new forms of meaningful experiencing. It is precisely this kind of fruitful hermeneutic process that is the goal of psychotherapeutic help.

Later, the model of the regulative situational circuit is developed into Rauhala’s famous threefold conception of the human being as consisting of mind, body, and situation. The mind is the aspect of human being oriented to purposes and meanings. The body is the organic and material aspect of human beings. The situation is one’s contact with the world, one’s situatedness with regard to the surrounding social and material reality and its intrinsic relations. The situation is made up of various components, some of which are determined by natural conditions, geography, heredity and physiology, as well as cultural and social factors while others (such as education and culture, social and family relations, choice of home and workplace, socio-economic status) can be actively influenced. These factors make up a unique situation which may be more or less favorable for the individual and his/her environment. The regulative situational circuit as the holistic dynamic of human existence is shaped by the interactions between these aspects of being, which are not unidirectionally causal or determining. Rather, they can be seen as mutually enabling: the different dimensions of human existence support one another and are actualized only in this interplay.

This tripartite structure also allows for a novel differentiation of the field of human-oriented work, work with humans. A person who is unwell or symptomatic can be helped by work oriented to the situation (social work, environmental planning, architecture) or to the body (health care, physiotherapy), while psychotherapy is a generic term for work oriented to the mind. The central problem of psychotherapy is therefore the problem of meaning. What is philosophically essential in Rauhala’s dynamic triangulation is the rejection of the reductionist tendencies of modern ontologies of the human being. Where German idealism and its heirs tended to reduce other aspects of being to the mind, the Marxist tradition to social relations, and eliminative materialism to physiology and biology being, Rauhala’s tripartite monopluralism preserves the irreducible complexity of being human. This unified but internally heterogeneous complexity is the ontological precondition for the unique situatedness and situationality of the human being.

Rauhala’s century, which largely coincides with the twentieth century, was philosophically in many ways averse to Rauhala’s key ideas. Transcendental and absolute idealism and historical materialism have passed the peak of their popularity, but the physicalistic conception of the human being is still going strong, especially in the fields of neuropsychology and artificial intelligence research. Time will tell how future thinkers will view the human being  – whether, for example, the Kantian and Feuerbachian anthropocentric paradigm of philosophy is giving way to an age of “posthumanism”. The fact that Rauhala remained outside the mainstream of his time both in psychology and in philosophy underlines his originality and his role as a questioner and challenger in the discourses of the human sciences.

Rauhala’s thinking is often referred to as humanistic psychology, philosophy of psychology, philosophical anthropology, phenomenology or hermeneutics – it is characterized by all of these without being reducible to any  single dogmatic position. Rauhala’s aim from the outset was to find an independent theoretical voice and place. It remains to be seen whether it is precisely this unconventionality and lack of compartmentalisation that will one day make him appear as a philosophical pioneer.


Translated from a text by Jussi Backman (original title “Lauri Rauhala (1914–2016)” published in, 1.6.2016)

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Rauhala’s main publications

Tutkimus Szondi-testin skitsofrenian syndromatiikan pätevyydestä. Psykologian lisensiaatin työ. Helsingin yliopiston Psykologian laitos, Helsinki 1953.

On the Validity of Szondi’s Syndromatics of Schizophrenia. (Reports from the Psychological Institute, University of Helsinki, 3.) University of Helsinki, Helsinki 1956.

Über die Validität von Szondis Syndromatik der Schizophrenie. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Psychologie und ihre Anwendungen. Vol. 17, No. 3, 1958, 174–197.

Mitä psykoterapia on ja kuka sitä tekee. (Syvyyspsykologinen sarja, 1.) Gummerus, Jyväskylä 1961.

Intentionality and the Problem of the Unconscious. Filosofian väitöskirja. (Turun yliopiston julkaisuja, B 110.) Turun yliopisto, Turku 1969.

Die Seinsfrage in der sog. neueren Psychosomatik. (Turun yliopiston julkaisuja, B 118.) Turun yliopisto, Turku 1970.

Man – the Philosophical Conception and Empirical Study. Journal of Analytical Psychology. Vol. 15, No. 2, 1970, 148–154.

Psykoanalyysin hermeneuttinen tieteenfilosofia. (Turun yliopiston filosofian laitosten julkaisuja, 2/1972.) Turun yliopisto, Turku 1972.

The Hermeneutic Metascience of Psychoanalysis. Man and World. Vol. 5, No. 3, 1972, 293–297.

The Myth of Mental Illness. Psychiatria Fennica. Vol. 3, 1972, 107–116.

C. G. Jung: Hänen keskeiset teoreettiset ja psykoterapeuttiset käsityksensä sekä niiden tämänhetkinen arviointi, esitetty Psykiatrian klinikan seminaarissa 26.1.1972. (Folia psychiatrica Aboensia, 4/1.) Turun yliopisto, Turku 1972.

Situationaalinen säätöpiiri psyykkisissä häiriöissä ja psykoterapiassa. (Helsingin yliopiston keskussairaalan psykiatrian klinikan julkaisusarja, 23.) Psychiatria Fennica, Helsinki 1973.

The Basic Views of C. G. Jung in the Light of Hermeneutic Metascience. The Human Context. Vol. 5, No. 2, 1973, 254–267.

The Regulative Situational Circuit in Psychic Disturbance and Psychotherapy. Teoksessa Studia philosophica in honorem Sven Krohn septuagesimum annum complentis 2.V.1973. (Turun yliopiston julkaisuja, B 126.) Turun Yliopisto, Turku 1973, 157–176.

Wissenschaftsphilosophie der Tiefenpsychologie. Zeitschrift für Analytische Psychologie und ihre Grenzgebiete. Vol. 4, No. 2, 1973, 79–93.

Psyykkinen häiriö ja psykoterapia filosofisen analyysin valossa. (Prisma-tietokirjasto, 35.) Weilin & Göös, Helsinki 1974.

C. G. Jung and European Culture. The Human Context. Vol. 6, No. 1, 1974, 254–255.

The Existential Analysis of Anxiety and Its Implications for Clinical Psychology. Psychiatria Fennica. Vol. 5, 1974, 191–200.

Filosofinen orientoituminen psykosomatiikan ongelmaan. Helsingin yliopisto, Helsinki 1976.

Ihmistutkimuksesta eksistentiaalisen fenomenologian valossa. (Helsingin yliopiston Psykologian laitoksen Soveltavan psykologian osaston julkaisuja, 3/1978.) Helsingin yliopisto, Helsinki 1978.

Merkityksen ongelma psykologiassa ja psykiatriassa. (Helsingin yliopiston Psykologian laitoksen Soveltavan psykologian osaston julkaisuja, 8/1981.) Helsingin yliopisto, Helsinki 1981.

The Problem of Meaning in Psychology and Psychiatry. Teoksessa Studien zur Werttheorie – Studies in the Theory of Value – Études sur la théorie des valeurs, 5. Toim. I. Korte-Karapuu & A. Siitonen. (Turun yliopiston julkaisuja, B 155.) Turun yliopisto, Turku 1981, 87–114.

Ihmiskäsitys ihmistyössä. Gaudeamus, Helsinki 1983.

Jooga-meditaatio ja psyykkisten häiriöiden problematiikka. (Helsingin yliopiston Psykologian laitoksen Soveltavan psykologian osaston julkaisuja, 4/1983.) Helsingin yliopisto, Helsinki 1983.

Humanistinen psykologia. Yliopistopaino, Helsinki 1990.

Henkinen ihmisessä. Yliopistopaino, Helsinki 1992.

Tajunnan itsepuolustus. Yliopistopaino, Helsinki 1995.

Ihmisen ainutlaatuisuus. Yliopistopaino, Helsinki 1998.

Ihminen kulttuurissa – kulttuuri ihmisessä. Yliopistopaino, Helsinki 2005.


Hankamäki, Jukka, Lauri Rauhala: suomalaisen filosofian grand old man tekee uusia avauksia. niin & näin 2/2006, 16–21.

Koski, Tapio, Keskustelu Lauri Rauhalan kanssa. niin & näin 2/2006, 22–29.

Tökkäri, Virpi (toim.), Kokemuksen tutkimus, V: Lauri Rauhala 100 vuotta. Lapin yliopistokustannus, Rovaniemi 2015.

Rauhalan muistokirjoitus Helsingin Sanomissa 7.5.2016:

Heikki Vuorila: In memoriam Lauri Rauhala.

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