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Saarinen completed his Ph.D. degree in 1978 at the University of Helsinki, where he has since held docentship. His extrovert public persona - he became known as the punk doctor - was reflected in his lectures at the university, which drew increasingly large audiences until the late 1990s. After failing to get the position of full-time professor at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Helsinki, Saarinen resigned his lecturer position. Soon afterwards he was appointed professor at Helsinki University of Technology, since renamed Aalto University. His lectures there each year draw full lecture halls.
Saarinen's philosophical interests have changed dramatically, from early writings in formal logic, to concerns with existentialism and later to media philosophy. The year 1994 saw the publication of Saarinen's most well-known work, Imagologies: Media Philosophy, written jointly with American philosopher Mark C. Taylor. The collage of writings was based on a joint course they ran simultaneously in Finland and USA via conference telecasting - one of the first ever in university education. During the last five years he has been most active in developing the concept of systems intelligence together with professor Raimo P. Hämäläinen.
Since the turn of the century Saarinen's academic lecturing has centered at the Helsinki University of Technology, but he has also continued his business as a coach for Finnish companies and organisations, promoting a doctrine of self-actualization. Saarinen is a frequent guest on Finnish talk shows. The book written to commemorate his 60th birthday included contributions from many notable professors like Ilkka Niiniluoto and business leaders such as Jorma Ollila and Matti Alahuhta.
Saarinen is married to Pipsa Pallasvesa and has twin boys, Jerome and Oliver, born in 1989.
One of Esa Saarinen's most notable and famous students and colleagues is the philosopher Pekka Himanen.
Esa Saarinen was stabbed with a knife by a student outside a lecture hall in March 2014. He survived without serious injuries.
- Philosophy for Managers 2008
- Systems Intelligent Leadership with Raimo P. Hämäläinen 2007
- Systems Intelligence—The Way Forward? A Note On Ackoff’s ‘Why Few Organizations Adopt Systems Thinking’ with Raimo P. Hämäläinen 2008
- Perspectives on Team Dynamics: Meta Learning and Systems Intelligence with Jukka Luoma and Raimo P. Hämäläinen 2008