Professori Juha Karhun puhe kunniatohtoreille
28.5.2004

Honourable Rector Magnificus,
Distinguished Doctores Honoris Causa,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Hyvä promootioyleisö

Ars longa, vita brevis.

Honorary Doctors!

I am going to praise you all with a single common gift, an intellectual present, presented and made here and now by myself as a speech, in front of you, distinguished Honorary Doctors, and in front of the audience. More concretely: your present in this evening is this speech about a truly traditional Antique saying, an old Greek and Roman proverb. Ars longa, vita brevis.

My speech here is about your glory. I am praising you for your scientific, artistic, and practical achievements. The variety of your fields and methods is astonishing, reaching from architecture, textile design, and photography to education, pedagogy, law, social sciences, and economic activities. Your achievements have been duly notified and documented as reasons for your new status as Honorary Doctors for the University of Lapland. In this sense my speech is unnecessary, and only a supplement. My speech is not needed to substantiate your extraordinary positions. This speech would therefore be totally useless in praising you if I would not try to make it worth something through a philosophical gesture. For my supplementary speech to become a true gift I am going to search for some new meanings, suitable for this occasion, in the saying “Ars longa, vita brevis”.

Ars longa, vita brevis voisi tarkoittaa maanmainiolla meänkielellä vaikkapa: Pitkä Arska, otapa valkolainen viereesi. Latinasta valtasuomelle käännettynä se kuitenkin tarkoittaa sananmukaisesti: taide pitkä, elämä lyhyt. Erityisesti monet nuoret taiteilijat ovat luomisen tuskassaan mielellään nähneet tuon ajatuksen tarkoittavan juuri heitä. Siksi on tarpeen tässä, lahjaksi yliopistomme tämä promootion huipennukseksi kutsumille kunniatohtoreille, etsiä sanonnasta uusia ulottuvuuksia. Uusien kunniatohtoreidemme iloksi yritän kääntää, ja ehkä vähän vääntääkin, sanontaa uuteen valoon.

The profound scope of the saying Ars longa, vita brevis, very suitable for our celebration of you, esteemed Honorary Doctors, is broader than usually understood. Read in its original meaning of combining Latin and Greek cultures, behind the Latin word ars is lurking the Greek word tekhne. Therefore the saying can, without any violation or scandal to its original meaning, include all of you, artists, as well as scientists, and even practical-technically oriented Honorary Doctors.

Toisinaan sanonta Ars longa, vita brevis käännetään tarkoittamaan ”Tartu hetkeen!”. Tämän käännöksen taustana on sanonta alkuperäisessä laajuudessaan: "Vita brevis, ars longa, occasio praeceps, experientia fallax, iudicium difficile." Siinä kaikuvat, elämän lyhyyden sekä tieteen ja taiteen pitkäikäisyyden ohella, tilaisuuksien ohikiitävyys, kokeilujen pettävyys ja päätöksenteon eli judiciumin vaikeus. Siksi ihmisen tulisi elää täyttä elämää kulloisessakin hetkessä.

Today, in our brave new information societies, the first part of the saying, ars longa, seems to become under suspicion. Are art, humanities and natural sciences really anymore long-lasting, something with a long durée? The life cycle of scientific and artistic results seem to have become more rapid. Publish or perish is a necessity for all academics, even in the beginning of an academic career. It is therefore more difficult to see the deep routes and slow rhythm of our traditional academic cultural heritage. When academic activities get funding, there is often a strong assumptions and even demand that results must be reached in a short period. Ars longa is under attack, and the traditional academic celebrations like this “Promootio”, that is conferment of degrees, are means to defend it.

Perhaps also a more positive feature can be seen in the changes just described. Today an understanding of academic activities as a form of a genuine social activity has become stronger. The time for universal geniuses, like Leonardo Da Vinci, is definitely over. There is no need to read “Ars longa, vita brevis” in an individualistic manner, emphasizing the limits of a personal life of every academic person. We can choose a more social point of view. We can and should emphasize the academic community as the true reference for knowledge and other cultural artefacts.

Distinguished Honorary Doctors! The longer version of the saying reads: "Vita brevis, ars longa, occasio praeceps, experientia fallax, iudicium difficile." Occasio praeceps? No, you have been chosen for the highest academic regard because our university wanted to make use of the situation and not let it pass. Experientia fallax? No, we did not make any loose testing but chose all of you on solid arguments. Iudicium difficile? No, your choice was not a difficult one to make but a consequent application of the strategy of our multidimensional university. Together, in all the variety of your activities, you present an extraordinary important resource for our university, and for the whole global academic community.

Lopuksi haluan, akateemisen perinteen hengessä, ehdottaa, että tartumme tilaisuuteen ja kohotamme maljan kunniatohtoreillemme ja toivotamme heille menestystä ja pitkää ikää. I propose a toast for the esteemed Honorary Doctors, and I think we all join in wishing them a long and successfull life: Vita longa!