Amia Srinivasan is an epistemologist at All Souls and University College London. She’s not the usual analytic philosopher. She works with the typical rigor and in the same mode, but with an eye towards questions often thought to be in the corral of the ‘Continental’ philosophical tradition. She has clarified the debate over whether any mental states are ‘luminous’ and has also written about ideology and the ineffable. She is currently working on a book examining what she calls ‘genealogical anxiety’, a kind of doubt provoked by the historical and cultural contingency of many of our philosophical beliefs.
Her interviewer asks, Why is philosophy so hard?
Luckily, Srinivasan takes the question seriously:
‘This is not a standard view by any means’, she tells me, ‘but I think philosophy presupposes the ability to do something that’s actually not possible for us to do’.
This, she says, is to stand outside the relationship between ourselves and the world. We want to be able to understand the world from something like an objective point of view, to think about it with maximal detachment.
‘But unfortunately’, she continues, ‘we are a mind in the world, and not just in the world generally, but a very specific world, a particular world for each person. And so we have this regulative aspiration, but that’s at best a regulative ideal, not one that we can actually achieve, and I think that’s part of the pain: it’s the pain of wanting to transcend and being thrown back on our localness and finitude.’