Anandi Hattiangadi, Professor in Philosophy at Stockholm Universtity

“In the natural sciences you have to start out by memorizing lots of facts, and it is only at a much higher level that you can investigate the most fundamental questions. In philosophy you can address the fundamental questions right away. I remember when I tried to raise fundamental questions in my biology lectures, and they were dismissed”, says Anandi, who is now at 44 a professor in philosophy at Stockholm University. Despite coming to Sweden with her family only four years ago, Anandi speaks impeccable Swedish, though when she speaks about philosophy, she switches quickly to English so as to express herself more exactly.

Anandi specializes in philosophy of language and mind, and has interests in epistemology, metaphysics and philosophy of science. It is difficult to summarize her research in a short article, since to do it justice would require a book with many pages – something she is right now in the process of writing. See this text therefore as an introduction to her views.

“I started out my doctoral work in philosophy of science, focusing on scientific realism—the questions whether scientific inquiry aims at truth, and whether scientific method gives rise to knowledge. That led me to an interest in skepticism about meaning and content, since it undermines the very idea that we can have any knowledge at all, simply because you have to have a belief in some content in order to have knowledge.”

Doctoral Studies in Cambridge

After completing her undergraduate studies at York University and further studies at the University of Toronto, she moved from Canada to England for doctoral studies at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science in Cambridge. In 2001, Anandi completed her doctoral thesis which was later revised and published as a book, Oughts and Thoughts: Rule Following and the Normativity of Content (OUP 20017). In it, she argued against meaning skepticism, and against her own supervisor, who attempted to change her views.

She was regarded as one of the most promising young philosophers in the world …

“We still have opposing views”, she says with a mischievous smile, showing no tendency to avoid being controversial. In her thesis Anandi, revealed the weaknesses in the influential argument that the American philosopher Saul Kripke finds in Wittgenstein. Simply put, Kripke’s thesis is that there is no fact of the matter what any speaker means by any word.

“I argued against Kripke’s thesis that meaning is normative, which plays a crucial role in his argument.” Soon after she graduated from Cambridge, Anandi was invited to give a lecture at Stockholm University, where she “developed a close connection with likeminded philosophers in Stockholm. Now nearly all of those who reject the view that meaning is normative are at Stockholm University.” Anandi received much acclaim within the academy for the innovative way she addressed the weaknesses of Kripke’s argument. She was regarded as one of the most promising young philosophers in the world, and was appointed as a lecturer at Oxford University shortly after she completed her PhD. Later she was nominated to the Swedish program Pro Futura Scientia for excellent young researchers in the humanities and social sciences. In 2013 Anandi was promoted to Professor in Philosophy at Stockholm University.

Father’s Footsteps

So Anandi, her husband, and their two children moved from the British university town to Stockholm and its university. When we have our interview, she has just returned to her office in the winding corridor on the seventh floor of the D house at the university. Several boxes with books await unpacking in the barely furnished room. She has been commuting to SCAS (Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study) in Uppsala where she has been working on a book with the provisional title The Fundamentality of Intentionality, in which she argues that meaning and intentionality are as fundamental as the laws of physics.

”Because it is so much fun!”

When I ask Anandi why she encourages students to study philosophy, her answer is short and simple, in contrast with her earlier answers which were long and carefully reasoned.

“Because it is so much fun!” she says, with a gleam in her eye.

Sometime after the interview is over, I come to the realization that it was a huge benefit to philosophy that the young biology student several decades ago abandoned the natural sciences, to follow in her father’s footsteps and choose to pursue philosophy. 

Text by Eva Jarlsdotter. This interview is part of a series of interviews with faculty members ("Our Stories") of the Deparpartment of Philosophy, Stockholm University.

Profile page for Anandi: Anandi Hattiangadi