In this paper I argue for a priori conjectural scientific knowledge about the world. Physics persistently only accepts unified theories, even though endlessly many empirically more successful disunified rivals are always available. This persistent preference for unified theories, against empirical considerations, means that physics makes a substantial, persistent metaphysical assumption, to the effect that the universe has a (more or less) unified dynamic structure. In order to clarify what this assumption amounts to, I solve the problem of what it (...) means to say of a theory that it is unified. There are, I argue, eight different kinds of unity important in theoretical physics, all varieties of one basic idea. This provides us with a precise way of partially ordering physical theories with respect to their degree of unity. It also leads to a hierarchical view of physics, according to which physics makes a number of increasingly insubstantial metaphysical assumptions concerning the comprehensibility and knowability of the universe. Two of these are identified as constituting a priori conjectures. I conclude by arguing that the view developed in the paper resolves the traditional clash between empiricism and rationalism in the philosophy of science, and has important implications for science, and for academic inquiry more generally. (shrink)
I argue that you can have a priori knowledge of propositions that neither are nor appear necessarily true. You can know a priori contingent propositions that you recognize as such. This overturns a standard view in contemporary epistemology and the traditional view of the a priori, which restrict a priori knowledge to necessary truths, or at least to truths that appear necessary.
In this paper I will offer a novel understanding of a priori knowledge. My claim is that the sharp distinction that is usually made between a priori and a posteriori knowledge is groundless. It will be argued that a plausible understanding of a priori and a posteriori knowledge has to acknowledge that they are in a constant bootstrapping relationship. It is also crucial that we distinguish between a priori propositions that hold in the actual world and (...) merely possible, non-actual a priori propositions, as we will see when considering cases like Euclidean geometry. Furthermore, contrary to what Kripke seems to suggest, a priori knowledge is intimately connected with metaphysical modality, indeed, grounded in it. The task of a priori reasoning, according to this account, is to delimit the space of metaphysically possible worlds in order for us to be able to determine what is actual. (shrink)
This paper argues that a priori justification is, in principle, compatible with naturalism—if the a priori is understood in a way that is free of the inessential properties that, historically, have been associated with the concept. I argue that empirical indefeasibility is essential to the primary notion of the a priori; however, the indefeasibility requirement should be interpreted in such a way that we can be fallibilist about apriori-justified claims. This fallibilist notion of the a priori (...) accords with the naturalist’s commitment to scientific methodology in that it allows for apriori-justified claims to be sensitive to further conceptual developments and the expansion of evidence. The fallibilist apriorist allows that an a priori claim is revisable in only a purely epistemic sense. This modal claim is weaker than what is required for a revisability thesis to establish empiricism, so fallibilist apriorism represents a distinct position. (shrink)
The terms "a priori" and "a posteriori" refer primarily to how or on what basis a proposition might be known. A proposition is knowable a priori if it is knowable independently of experience. A proposition is knowable a posteriori if it is knowable on the basis of experience. The a priori/a posteriori distinction is epistemological and should not be confused with the metaphysical distinction between the necessary and the contingent or the semantical or logical distinction between the (...) analytic and the synthetic. Two aspects of the a priori/a posteriori distinction require clarification: the conception of experience on which the distinction turns; and the sense in which a priori knowledge is independent of such experience. The latter gives rise to important questions regarding the positive basis of a priori knowledge. (shrink)
On rationalist infallibilism, a wide range of both (i) analytic and (ii) synthetic a priori propositions can be infallibly justified (or absolutely warranted), i.e., justified to a degree that entails their truth and precludes their falsity. Though rationalist infallibilism is indisputably running its course, adherence to at least one of the two species of infallible a priori justification refuses to disappear from mainstream epistemology. Among others, Putnam (1978) still professes the a priori infallibility of some category (i) (...) propositions, while Burge (1986, 1988, 1996) and Lewis (1996) have recently affirmed the a priori infallibility of some category (ii) propositions. In this paper, I take aim at rationalist infallibilism by calling into question the a priori infallibility of both analytic and synthetic propositions. The upshot will be twofold: first, rationalist infallibilism unsurprisingly emerges as a defective epistemological doctrine, and second, more importantly, the case for the a priori infallibility of one or both categories of propositions turns out to lack cogency. (shrink)
The distinction between a priori and a posteriori knowledge has been the subject of an enormous amount of discussion, but the literature is biased against recognizing the intimate relationship between these forms of knowledge. For instance, it seems to be almost impossible to find a sample of pure a priori or a posteriori knowledge. In this paper, it will be suggested that distinguishing between a priori and a posteriori is more problematic than is often suggested, and that (...) a priori and a posteriori resources are in fact used in parallel. We will define this relationship between a priori and a posteriori knowledge as the bootstrapping relationship. As we will see, this relationship gives us reasons to seek for an altogether novel definition of a priori and a posteriori knowledge. Specifically, we will have to analyse the relationship between a priori knowledge and a priori reasoning , and it will be suggested that the latter serves as a more promising starting point for the analysis of aprioricity. We will also analyse a number of examples from the natural sciences and consider the role of a priori reasoning in these examples. The focus of this paper is the analysis of the concepts of a priori and a posteriori knowledge rather than the epistemic domain of a posteriori and a priori justification. (shrink)
The major divide in contemporary epistemology is between those who embrace and those who reject a priori knowledge. Albert Casullo provides a systematic treatment of the primary epistemological issues associated with the controversy. By freeing the a priori from traditional assumptions about the nature of knowledge and justification, he offers a novel approach to resolving these issues which assigns a prominent role to empirical evidence. He concludes by arguing that traditional approaches to the a priori, which focus (...) primarily on the concepts of necessity and analyticity, are misguided. (shrink)
What has come to be known as “a priori physicalism” is the thesis, roughly, that the non-physical truths in the actual world can be deduced a priori from a complete physical description of the actual world. To many contemporary philosophers, a priori physicalism seems extremely implausible. In this paper I distinguish two kinds of a priori physicalism. One sort – strict a priori physicalism – I reject as both unmotivated and implausible. The other sort – (...) liberal a priori physicalism – I argue is both motivated and plausible. This variety of a priori physicalism insists that the necessitation of non-physical truths by the physical facts must be underwritten in a certain fashion by a priori knowledge, but the a priori knowledge need not amount to a simple deduction of the non-physical truths from a complete physical description of the world. Further, this sort of liberal a priori physicalism has the advantage that it offers hope for a genuinely satisfying account of how the physical facts manage to necessitate the facts about phenomenal consciousness – thereby in effect solving the “hard problem” of consciousness. The first half of the paper sets out the motivation for liberal a priori physicalism and its superiority to the strict version; the second half presents one strategy available to the liberal a priori physicalist for showing how consciousness can be accommodated in a purely physical world. (shrink)
On rationalist infallibilism, a wide range of both (i) analytic and (ii) synthetic a priori propositions can be infallibly justified, i.e., justified in a way that is truth-entailing. In this paper, I examine the second thesis of rationalist infallibilism, what might be called ‘synthetic a priori infallibilism’. Exploring the seemingly only potentially plausible species of synthetic a priori infallibility, I reject the infallible justification of so-called self-justifying propositions.
Most current theories of meaning and mental content accept externalism. One of its forceful exponents is Ruth Garrett Millikan. She argues that externalism leads to the abandonment of "the last myth of the given", that is, of the idea that identity of meaning and mental content is somehow unproblematically given to us, and that we can easily recognize the sameness of meaning and mental content. If one refuses such a "mythical" giveness or meaning rationalism, one has to admit that there (...) is no logical possibility known a priori . The paper tries to show that even if one abandons meaning rationalism one can still hold that there are logical possibilities known a priori . The claim is defended by arguing that a priori knowledge is not completely independent from experience and does not demand the absolute transparency of meaning from the first-person point of view. A priori knowledge requires only a priori justification, that is, such a justification that is based merely on relations between meanings or contents. (shrink)
In [Laurence, Margolis 2003] the authors try - within their polemics against F.Jackson’s views in [Jackson 1998] - to decide the question whether concepts are a priori (in their formulation “to be defined a priori”). Their discussion suffers - as a number of similar articles - from a typical drawback: some problem whose solution requires an exact notion of concept is handled as if the latter were quite clear. The consequence of this ‘conceptual laxity’ is that a) the (...) topic of the discussion is not very clear (what does the phrase ‘concepts must be defined a priori’ mean?); b) the relevance of the Quinean criticism of the “second dogma of empiricism”, i.e., of Quine’s claim that “science sometimes overturns our most cherished beliefs” and therefore there is no sharp boundary between analytic and synthetic is uncritically accepted; c) no distinction is made between the question whether the relation between an expression and its meaning is a priori and the question whether the relation between a concept and the object identified by the concept is a priori. The present article intends to elucidate and then to answer the questions that can be asked when we say something like “concepts are a priori ”. (shrink)
Most of Kant's readers have assumed that he demanded explanations for all synthetic a priori claims. I argue that this is not the case, and that Kant accepted some synthetic a priori claims as basic. I further argue that he took himself to be justified in making such claims on the basis of a certain sort of robust reflection. In essence, Kant's method is more like that of the phenomenologists than that of 20th century analytic philosophers.
Paul Benacerraf’s argument that mathematical realism is apparently incompatible with mathematical knowledge has been widely thought to also show that a priori knowledge in general is problematic. Although many philosophers have rejected Benacerraf’s argument because it assumes a causal theory of knowledge, some maintain that Benacerraf nevertheless put his finger on a genuine problem, even though he didn’t state the problem in its most challenging form. After diagnosing what went wrong with Benacerraf’s argument, I argue that a new, more (...) challenging, version of Benacerraf’s problem can be constructed. The new version—what I call the Defeater Version—of Benacerraf’s problem makes use of a no-defeater condition on knowledge and justification. I conclude by arguing that the best way to avoid the problem is to construct a theory of how a priori judgments reliably track the facts. I also suggest four different kinds of theories worth pursuing. (shrink)
This paper responds to Achinstein’s criticism of the thesis that the only empirical fact that can affect the truth of an objective evidence claim such as ‘e is evidence for h’ (or ‘e confirms h to degree r’) is the truth of e. It shows that cases involving evidential flaws, which form the basis for Achinstein’s objections to the thesis, can satisfactorily be accounted for by appeal to changes in background information and working assumptions. The paper also argues that the (...) a priori and empirical accounts of evidence are on a par when we consider scientific practice, but that a study of artificial intelligence might serve to differentiate them. (shrink)
Erratum to: Naturalism, fallibilism, and the a priori Content Type Journal Article Category Erratum Pages 1-1 DOI 10.1007/s11098-012-9889-4 Authors Lisa Warenski, Philosophy, Union College, Humanities 216B, 807 Union Street, Schenectady, NY 12308, USA Journal Philosophical Studies Online ISSN 1573-0883 Print ISSN 0031-8116.
Jenkins has developed a theory of the a priori that she claims solves the problem of how justification regarding our concepts can give us justification regarding the world. She claims that concepts themselves can be justified, and that beliefs formed by examining such concepts can be justified a priori. I object that we can have a priori justified beliefs with unjustified concepts if those beliefs have no existential import. I then argue that only beliefs without existential import (...) can be justified a priori on the widely held conceptual approach. This limits the scope of the a priori and undermines arguments for essentialism. (shrink)
In a recent and interesting paper “Experientially Defeasible A Priori Justification,” Joshua Thurow argues that many a priori justified beliefs are defeasible by experience. The argument takes the form of an objection against Albert Casullo’s recent book, A Priori Justification, where Casullo, according to Thurow, denies that if a justified belief is non-experientially defeasible, then that belief is also experientially defeasible. This paper critically examines Thurow’s two arguments in the first two sections I–II. In the last section, (...) III, an alternative line of argument for Thurow’s thesis is suggested that employs other parts of the framework that Casullo provides—especially the thesis of overdetermination of justification. It will be argued that the prospects for this suggestion are brighter than for bothof Thurow’s arguments. (shrink)
Edwin Mares seeks to make the standard topics and current debates within a priori knowledge, including necessity and certainty, rationalism, empiricism and analyticity, Quine's attack on the a priori, Kantianism, Aristotelianism, mathematical knowledge, moral knowledge, logical knowledge, and philosophical knowledge, accessible to students.
Controversy continues to attach to the question whether an externalism about mental content is compatible with a traditional doctrine of privileged self-knowledge. By an externalism about mental content, I mean the view that what concepts our thoughts involve may depend not only on facts that are internal to us, but on facts about our environment. It is worth emphasizing, if only because it is still occasionally misperceived, that this thesis is supposed to apply at the level of sense and not (...) merely at that of reference: what concepts we think in terms of -- and not just what they happen to pick out -- is said by the externalist to depend upon environmental facts. By a traditional doctrine of privileged self-knowledge, I mean the view that we are able to know, without the benefit of empirical investigation, what our thoughts are in our own case. Suppose I entertain a thought that I would express with the sentence `Water is wet'. According to the traditional doctrine, I can know without empirical investigation (a) that I am entertaining a thought; (b) that it has a particular conceptual content, and (c) that its content is that water is wet. (shrink)
This is the published version of a paper presented at the Hegel conference on the occasion of 200 years of Hegel's essay Glauben und Wissen, held in Jena in 2002. It concerns a critical Kantian account of Hegel's critique of Kant.
This volume collects four published articles by the late Tamara Horowitz and two unpublished papers on decision theory: "Making Rational Decisions When Preferences Cycle" and the monograph-length "The Backtracking Fallacy." An introduction is provided by editor Joseph Camp. Horowitz preferred to recognize the diversity of rationality, both practical and theoretical rationality. She resisted the temptation to accept simple theories of rationality that are quick to characterize ordinary reasoning as fallacious. This broadly humanist approach to philosophy is exemplified by the articles (...) in this collection. As just one example, in "The Backtracking Fallacy," she argues that there are policies for decision-making a person may adopt if the person prefers to do so, but need not adopt. A person who employs such a policy no longer can regard standard expected utility theory as exceptionless, thereby sacrificing theoretical simplicity. But it is a mistake, Horowitz argues, to preserve theoretical simplicity by falsifying the decision making methods real people really use. (shrink)
At any given time, an individual has certain beliefs and certain procedures or methods for modifying those beliefs. In The Realm of Reason, as in his previous book, Being Known (1999), Christopher Peacocke is concerned with the elusive question of what it is for someone to be “entitled” to a given belief or procedure.1..
a priori. Since I ended up defending an unpopular answer to this question—"No"—it’s hardly surprising that people have scrutinized the account, or that many have concluded that I stacked the deck in the first place. Of course, this was not my view of the matter. My own judgment was that I’d uncovered the tacit commitments of mathematical apriorists and that the widespread acceptance of mathematical apriorism rested on failure to ask what was needed for knowledge to be a (...) class='Hi'>priori . Nevertheless, my critics have raised important challenges, and have offered rival conceptions that are less demanding. I want to examine their objections to my explication of a priori knowledge, and to explore whether the weaker alternatives succeed in preserving traditional philosophical claims. What follows is a mixture of penitence and intransigence. (shrink)
Chalmers and Jackson (2001) offer an epistemic interpretation of the two-dimensional semantic framework advanced by Kaplan (1979, 1989), Stalnaker (1978), and others. Epistemic two-dimensional semantics (E2D) aims to re-forge the link between necessity and a priority seemingly broken by Kripke (1972/1980). On the E2D strategy, a priori knowledge of certain semantic intensions provides a route to a priori knowledge of a wide range of modal truths---nice outcome, if we can get it. E2D faces the serious challenge, however, that (...) we typically don't have even in-principle a priori access to the intensions at issue (Byrne and Pryor 2006, Melnyk 2001; see also Wilson 1982). As we substantiate, the "access-based challenge" to Chalmers and Jackson's version of E2D is successful; but the problem here isn't for E2D per se, but rather to E2D interpreted as appealing to a conceiving-based epistemology of intensions. Here we develop a version of E2D appealing to abduction rather than conceivability. We argue that abduction gives rise to beliefs that are reasonably taken to be a priori; and we show that E2D when combined with an abductive epistemology of intensions---that is, abductive two-dimensionalism---can successfully respond to the access-based challenge. We finish up with a case study, involving zombies and the mind-body problem, illustrating how the two versions of E2D may differ in application. (shrink)
The argument known as the 'McKinsey Recipe' tries to establish the incompatibility of semantic externalism (about natural kind concepts in particular) and _a priori _self- knowledge about thoughts and concepts by deriving from the conjunction of these theses an absurd conclusion, such as that we could know _a priori _that water exists. One reply to this argument is to distinguish two different readings of 'natural kind concept': (i) a concept which _in fact _denotes a natural kind, and (ii) (...) a concept which _aims_ to denote a natural kind. Paul Boghossian has argued, using a _Dry Earth _scenario, that this response fails, claiming that the externalist cannot make sense of a concept aiming, but failing, to denote a natural kind. In this paper I argue that Boghossian's argument is flawed. Borrowing machinery from two-dimensional semantics, using the notion of 'considering a possible world as actual', I claim that we can give a determinate answer to Boghossian's question: which concept would 'water' express on Dry Earth? (shrink)
This paper explores the problems that are raised by a certain traditional sceptical paradox. The conclusion will be that the most challenging problem raised by this paradox does not primarily concern the justification of beliefs; it concerns the justification of belief-forming practices. This conclusion is supported by showing that if we can solve the sceptical problem for belief-forming practices, then it will be a relatively straightforward matter to solve the problem that concerns the justification of beliefs.
In his essay “Logical Empiricism”, in the anthology Twentieth Century Philosophy, Professor Feigl writes: “All forms of empiricism agree in repudiating the existence of synthetic a priori knowledge.” Schlick makes the same point even more forcibly: “The empiricism which I represent believes itself to be clear on the point that, as a matter of principle, all propositions are either synthetic a posteriori or tautologous; synthetic a priori propositions seem to it to be a logical impossibility.” The denial of (...) synthetic a prioris is a major thesis of the logical empiricist position, being found in the writings of most of the leaders of the movement. The reason for its importance is fairly clear. It provides a formula on which the empiricists can base their critique of traditional philosophy. To use Ayer's phrase, denial of the synthetic a priori results in “the elimination of metaphysics”. The philosophical tradition to which the empiricists are opposed and whose “metaphysics” they wish to eliminate can be called, somewhat loosely, rationalism. (shrink)
Our concern in this paper is with the question of how irrational an intentional agent can be, and, in particular, with an argument Stephen Stich has given for the claim that there are only very minimal a priori requirements on the rationality of intentional agents. The argument appears in chapter 2 of The Fragmentation of Reason.1 Stich is concerned there with the prospects for the ‘reform-minded epistemologist’. If there are a priori limits on how irrational we can be, (...) there are limits to how much reform we could expect to achieve. With this in mind, Stich sets out to determine what a priori limits there are on irrationality by examining `a cluster of influential arguments aimed at showing that there are conceptual constraints on how badly a person can reason’ (p. 30). Stich aims to remove the threat of a priori limits on the project of reforming our cognitive practices by showing, first, that these influential arguments are bad arguments, and, second, that at best there are only minimal constraints on how irrational we can be.2 We aim to show three things. The first is that Stich’s own arguments against strong a priori limits on how badly a person can reason are unsuccessful, because Stich fails to take into account that the concept of rationality is an epistemic, not just a logical concept, and because he fails to take into account the connection between having a concept and being able to recognize conceptually simple inferences involving the concept. The second is that the position Stich argues for, on the basis of Richard Grandy’s principle of humanity, turns out not to be distinct from the one he rejects. The third is that, in any case, the position that Stich rejects in order to preserve some scope for the project of improving our reasoning is not only no danger to that project but must be presupposed by it. (shrink)
The topic of a priori knowledge is approached through the theory of evidence. A shortcoming in traditional formulations of moderate rationalism and moderate empiricism is that they fail to explain why rational intuition and phenomenal experience count as basic sources of evidence. This explanatory gap is filled by modal reliabilism -- the theory that there is a qualified modal tie between basic sources of evidence and the truth. This tie to the truth is then explained by the theory of (...) concept possession: this tie is a consequence of what, by definition, it is to possess (i.e., to understand) one’s concepts. A corollary of the overall account is that the a priori disciplines (logic, mathematics, philosophy) can be largely autonomous from the empirical sciences. (shrink)
The paper argues that, although a distinction between a priori and a posteriori knowledge (or justification) can be drawn, it is a superficial one, of little theoretical significance. The point is not that the distinction has borderline cases, for virtually all useful distinctions have such cases. Rather, it is argued by means of an example, the differences even between a clear case of a priori knowledge and a clear case of a posteriori knowledge may be superficial ones. In (...) both cases, experience plays a role that is more than purely enabling but less than strictly evidential. It is also argued that the cases at issue are not special, but typical of a wide range of others, including knowledge of axioms of set theory and of elementary logical truths. Attempts by Quine and others to make all knowledge a posteriori (‘empirical’) are repudiated. The paper ends with a call for a new framework to be developed for analysing the epistemology of cognitive uses of the imagination. (shrink)
In this paper I argue that a priori arguments fail to present any real problem for physicalism. They beg the question against physicalism in the sense that the argument will only seem compelling if one is already assuming that qualitative properties are nonphysical. To show this I will present the reverse-zombie and reverse-knowledge arguments. The only evidence against physicalism is a priori arguments, but there are also a priori arguments against dualism of exactly the same variety. Each (...) of these parity arguments has premises that are just as intuitively plausible, and it cannot be the case that both the traditional scenarios and the reverse-scenarios are all ideally conceivable. Given this one set must be merely prima facie conceivable and only empirical methods will tell us which is which. So, by the time a priori methodology will be of any use it will be too late. <br>. (shrink)
This paper contains replies to comments on the author's paper "A Priori Knowledge and the Scope of Philosophy." Several points in the argument of that paper are given further clarification: the notion of our standard justificatory procedure, the notion of a basic source of evidence, and the doctrine of modal reliabilism. The reliability of intuition is then defended against Lycan's skepticism and a response is given to Lycan's claim that the scope of a priori knowledge does not include (...) philosophically central topics such as the nature of consciousness. Next a counterfactual account of intuitions proposed by Sosa is criticized. Finally, in response to certain questions raised by Sosa, the explanation of the evidential status of intuition offered in the original paper receives further elaboration. (shrink)
In twentieth-century Kant scholarship, few have provided an account of the analytic-synthetic distinction and of the problem of the synthetic a priori that takes into consideration the views of Kant's idealist successors such as Maimon, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. I first explain how Kant formulates the analytic-synthetic distinction in terms of the determinate-indeterminate distinction, which, in turn, is based on the distinction between general and transcendental logic. Kant's problem of the synthetic a priori , then, is the problem (...) of showing how the logical forms of judgment can be employed determinately (and not merely indeterminately). I then show that Maimon also formulates the distinction and the problem in the same way, and that his interpretation will shape how Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel each construe and address Kant's question, How are synthetic judgments possible a priori ? (shrink)
Suppose a sentence of the following form is true in a certain context: ‘Necessarily, whenever one believes that the F is uniquely F if anything is, and x is the F, one believes that x is uniquely F if anything is’. I argue that almost always, in such a case, the sentences that result when both occurrences of ‘believes’ are replaced with ‘has justification to believe’, ‘knows’, or ‘knows a priori’ will also be true in the same context. I (...) also argue that many sentences of the relevant form are true in ordinary contexts, and conclude that a priori knowledge of contingent de re propositions is a common and unmysterious phenomenon. However, because of the pervasive context-sensitivity of propositional attitude ascriptions, the question what it is possible to know a priori concerning a given object will have very different answers in different contexts. (shrink)
1. Background. At least from the time of the ancient Greeks, most philosophers have held that some of our knowledge is independent of experience, or “a priori”. Indeed, a major tenet of the rationalist tradition in philosophy was that a great deal of our knowledge had this character: even Kant, a critic of some of the overblown claims of rationalism, thought that the structure of space could be known a priori, as could many of the fundamental principles of (...) physics; and Hegel is reputed to have claimed to have deduced on a priori grounds that the number of planets is exactly five. (shrink)
In this journal Andy Egan argued that, contrary to what I have claimed, quasi-realism is committed to a damaging asymmetry between the way a subject regards himself and the way he regards others. In particular, a subject must believe it to be a priori that if something is one of his stable or fundamental beliefs, then it is true. Whereas he will not hold that this is a priori true of other people. In this paper I rebut Egan's (...) argument, and give further consideration to the correct way to think about our own fallibility. (shrink)
If I understand him correctly, Derek Parfit’s views place us, philosophically speaking, in a very small box. According to Parfit, normativity is an irreducible non-natural property that is independent of the human mind. That is to say, there are normative truths - truths about what we ought to do and to want, or about reasons for doing and wanting things. The truths in question are synthetic a priori truths, and accessible to us only by some sort of rational intuition. (...) Parfit supposes that if we are to preserve the irreducibility of the normative, this is just about all we can say, at least until we bring in some actual intuitions to supply the story with some content. (shrink)
I reconstruct and critique two arguments Laurence BonJour has recently offered against skepticism about the a priori. While the arguments may provide anti-skeptical, internalist foundationalists with reason to accept the a priori, I show that neither argument provides sufficient reason for believing the more general conclusion that there is no rational alternative to accepting the a priori.
Alvin Goldman’s contributions to contemporary epistemology are impressive—few epistemologists have provided others so many occasions for reflecting on the fundamental character of their discipline and its concepts. His work has informed the way epistemological questions have changed (and remained consistent) over the last two decades. We (the authors of this paper) can perhaps best suggest our indebtedness by noting that there is probably no paper on epistemology that either of us individually or jointly have produced that does not in its (...) notes and references bear clear testimony to the influence of Professor Goldman’s arguments. The present paper is no exception (and this would be a particularly inapt place to break with our tradition of indebtedness). Professor Goldman has produced a series of discussions that we find particularly important for coming to terms with the venerable idea that there may be truths that can be known a priori (Goldman 1992a, 1992b, 1999). We do not altogether follow his lead, while he draws on the idea that a priori justification has something to do with innateness or processess, we prefer to accentuate the idea that a priori justification turns on a conceptually grounded truths and access via acquired conceptual competence (at least in many significant philosophical cases). Still, in developing our understanding we have been aided by much that Professor Goldman says regarding concepts, conceptual competence, and related psychological processes. The influences should become progressively clear, particularly in the later sections of this paper. What would it take for there to be a priori knowledge or justification? We can begin by reflecting on a widely agreed on answer to this question—one that purports to identify something that would at least be adequate for a priori justification. The answer will then serve as one anchor for the present investigation, a bit of shared ground on which empiricists and rationalists can, and typically do, agree.. (shrink)
Roderick Chisholm appears to agree with Kant on the question of the existence of synthetic a priori knowledge. But Chisholm’s conception of the a priori is a traditional Aristotelian conception and differs markedly from Kant’s. Closer scrutiny reveals that their agreement on the question of the synthetic a priori is merely verbal: what Kant meant to affirm, Chisholm denies. Curiously, it looks as if Chisholm agreed on all substantive issues with the empiricist rejection of Kant’s synthetic a (...)priori. In the end, it turns out that Chisholm disagrees with both, empiricism and Kant, over a fundamental question: whether mere understanding of the contents of our thoughts must always remain within the circle of our own ideas or can provide us with genuine knowledge of matters of fact. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is make a contribution to the ongoing search for an adequate concept of the a priori element in scientific knowledge. The point of departure is C.I. Lewis’s account of a pragmatic a priori put forward in his "Mind and the World Order" (1929). Recently, Hasok Chang in "Contingent Transcendental Arguments for Metaphysical Principles" (2008) reconsidered Lewis’s pragmatic a priori and proposed to conceive it as the basic ingredient of the dynamics of an (...) embodied scientific reason. The present paper intends to further elaborate Chang’s account by relating it with some conceptual tools from cognitive semantics and certain ideas that first emerged in the context of the category-theoretical foundations of mathematics. (shrink)
It is commonly accepted by Kant scholars that Kant held that all necessary truths are a priori, and all a priori knowledge is knowledge of necessary truths. Against the prevailing interpretation, I argue that Kant was agnostic as to whether necessity and a priority are co-extensive. I focus on three kinds of modality Kant implicitly distinguishes: formal possibility and necessity, empirical possibility and necessity, and noumenal possibility and necessity. Formal possibility is compatibility with the forms of experience; empirical (...) possibility is compatibility with the causal powers of empirical objects; noumenal possibility is compatibility with the causal powers of things in themselves. Because we cannot know the causal powers of things in themselves, we cannot know what is noumenally necessary and what is noumenally contingent. Consequently, we cannot know whether noumenal necessity is co-extensive with a priority. Therefore, for all we know, some a priori propositions are noumenally contingent, and some a posteriori propositions are noumenally necessary. Thus, contrary to the received interpretation, Kant distinguishes epistemological from metaphysical modality. (shrink)
The Marburg neo-Kantians argue that Hermann von Helmholtz's empiricist account of the a priori does not account for certain knowledge, since it is based on a psychological phenomenon, trust in the regularities of nature. They argue that Helmholtz's account raises the 'problem of validity' (Gueltigkeitsproblem): how to establish a warranted claim that observed regularities are based on actual relations. I reconstruct Heinrich Hertz's and Ludwig Wittgenstein's Bild theoretic answer to the problem of validity: that scientists and philosophers can depict (...) the necessary a priori constraints on states of affairs in a given system, and can establish whether these relations are actual relations in nature. The analysis of necessity within a system is a lasting contribution of the Bild theory. However, Hertz and Wittgenstein argue that the logical and mathematical sentences of a Bild are rules, tools for constructing relations, and the rules themselves are meaningless outside the theory. Carnap revises the argument for validity by attempting to give semantic rules for translation between frameworks. Russell and Quine object that pragmatics better accounts for the role of a priori reasoning in translating between frameworks. The conclusion of the tale, then, is a partial vindication of Helmholtz's original account. (shrink)
Kant famously argued that, from experience, we can only learn how something actually is, but not that it must be so. In this paper, I defend an improved version of Kant's argument for the existence of a priori knowledge, the Modal Argument , against recent objections by Casullo and Kitcher. For the sake of the argument, I concede Casullo's claim that we may know certain counterfactuals in an empirical way and thereby gain epistemic access to some nearby, nomologically possible (...) worlds. But I maintain that our beliefs about metaphysical necessities still cannot be justified empirically. Furthermore, I reject Casullo's deflationary thesis about the significance of such justification. Kitcher's most troublesome objection is that we can gain any modal justification whatsoever through testimony , i.e. in an experiential way. This can be countered by distinguishing between productive sources of justification, like perception, and merely reproductive sources, like testimony. Thus, some productive a priori source will always be needed somewhere. 1. (shrink)
In this article I investigate a neglected form of radical skepticism that questions whether any of our logical, mathematical and other seemingly self-evident beliefs count as knowledge. ‘A priori skepticism,’ as I will call it, challenges our ability to know any of the following sorts of propositions: (1.1) The sum of two and three is five. (1.2) Whatever is square is rectangular. (1.3) Whatever is red is colored. (1.4) No surface can be uniformly red and uniformly blue at the (...) same time. (1.5) If ‘if p then q’ is true and ‘p’ is true, then ‘q’ is true. (1.6) No statement can be both true and false at the same time and in the same respect. (1.7) If A is taller than B, and B is taller than C, then A is taller than C. (1.8) Everything is identical to itself. (1.9) If the conclusion of an inductive argument is contingent, it is possible for the premises of that argument to be true and its conclusion to be false. (1.10) George W. Bush could have been a plumber. (1.11) George W. Bush could not have been a prime number. (1.12) ‘2 + 3 = 5’ is necessarily true. (shrink)
There are four approaches to analyzing the concept of a priori knowledge. The primary target of the reductive approach is the concept of a priori justification. The primary target of the nonreductive approach is the concept of a priori knowledge. There are two approaches to analyzing each primary target. A theory-neutral approach provides an analysis that does not presuppose any general theory of knowledge or justification. A theory-laden approach provides an analysis that does presuppose some general theory (...) of knowledge or justification (call it the background theory ). Those who embrace a theory-laden analysis incur a special burden: they must separate the features of their analysis that are constitutive of the a priori from those that are constitutive of the background theory. My goal is to illustrate how the failure to separate these features leads to erroneous conclusions about the nature of a priori knowledge. (shrink)
One strategy for blocking Chalmers's overall case against physicalism has been to deny his claim that showing that phenomenal properties are in some sense physical requires an a priori entailment of the phenomenal truths from the physical ones. Here I avoid this well-trodden ground and argue instead that an a priori entailment of the phenomenal truths from the physical ones does not require an analysis in the Jackson/Chalmers sense. This is to sever the dualist's link between conceptual analysis (...) and a priori entailment by showing that the lack of the former does not imply the absence of the latter. Moreover, given the role of the argument from conceptual analysis in Chalmers's overall case for dualism, undermining that argument effectively undermines that case as a whole in a way that, I'll argue, undermining the conceivability arguments as stand-alone arguments does not. (shrink)
Against Norton's claim that all thought experiments can be reduced to explicit arguments, I defend Brown's position that certain thought experiments yield a priori knowledge. They do this, I argue, not by allowing us to perceive “Platonic universals” (Brown), even though they may contain non-propositional components that are epistemically indispensable, but by helping to identify certain tacit presuppositions or “natural interpretations” (Feyerabend's term) that lead to a contradiction when the phenomenon is described in terms of them, and by suggesting (...) a new natural interpretation in terms of which the phenomenon can be redescribed free of contradiction. (shrink)
I present and defend a unified, non-reductive analysis of the a priori and a posteriori. It is a mistake to remove all epistemic conditions from the analysis of the a priori (as, for example, Alvin Goldman has recently suggested doing). We can keep epistemic conditions (like unrevisability) in the analysis as long as we insist that a priori and a posteriori justification admit of degrees. I recommend making the degree to which a beliefâs justification is a (...) class='Hi'>priori or a posteriori solely dependent on the revisability relations that obtain among the faculties that deliver the belief and all other faculties. (shrink)
This paper argues for and explores the implications of the following epistemological principle for knowability a priori (with ‘Ka’ abbreviating ‘it is knowable a priori that’). (AK) For all p, q such that p semantically presupposes p: if Kap, then Kaq. -/- Well-known arguments for the contingent a priori and a priori knowledge of logical truth founder when the semantic presuppositions of the putative items of knowledge are made explicit. Likewise, certain kinds of analytic truth turn (...) out to carry semantic presuppositions that make them ineligible as items of a priori knowledge. On a happier note, I argue that (AK) offers an appealing, theory-neutral explanation of the a posteriori character of certain necessary identities, as well as an interesting rationalization for a commonplace linguistic maneuver in philosophical work on the a priori. (shrink)
How might one explain the reliability of one's a priori beliefs? What if anything is implied about the ontology of a certain realm of knowledge by the possibility of explaining one's reliability about that realm? Very little, or so it is argued here.
Williamson (1986) presents a troublesome example of the contingent a priori ; troublesome, because it does not involve indexicals, and hence cannot be defused via the usual two-dimensional strategies. Here I explore how the example works, via an examination of crucial belief-forming method M, partly in response to Hawthorne (2002) and the questions there raised for 'hyperreliable' belief-forming methods. I suggest that, when used to form a belief, M does its special work through creating a verifying state of affairs (...) which guarantees the truth of the belief thus formed. This creative link can be said to account for the knowledge-conferring status of M. But it also provides us with a way to defuse the purported example of the contingent a priori . The knowledge at issue is only a priori in virtue of this creative link, an importantly different epistemic achievement from standard cases of a priori knowledge. One important moral to be drawn is that the a priori / a posteriori distinction does not appear to be slicing the epistemological beast at its joints. (shrink)
A thumbnail sketch of the philosophical thinking about the a priori would surely include that it has been dominated by two major approaches: the Kantian absolute conception of it and the Millian-Quinean absolute rejection of it (section 2). Yet, one can find in the literature claims about the existence of a ›functional a priori‹, a ›relative a priori‹, a ›relativised a priori‹ and suchlike. They are all meant to carve a space between the two extremes. An (...) important thought behind the search for a middle ground is that the supposed coincidence between the constitutive and the unrevisable is wrong. The entitlement to accept a principle as being constitutive of experience prior to any empirical justification of it is compatible with an entitlement to revise or abandon such a principle on empirical grounds. If a priori principles are meant to be independent of experience, how should this claim of independence be understood so that room is left for the possibility that a principle is both independent of experience and revisable on empirical grounds (section 3)? A straightforward and natural way to approach this issue is to think of constitutive principles along the lines of Poincaréan conventions, which can be seen as delineating a new sense of the a priori – the conventional a priori principles. These are substantive principles that are constitutive of theoretical frameworks – in the sense that they define (or constitute) the object of knowledge – without being either synthetic a priori or empirical generalisations. Still, their negation is conceivable and they are revisable on empirical grounds (section 4). (shrink)
There has been a significant shift in the discussion of a priori knowledge. The shift is due largely to the influence of Quine. The traditional debate focused on the epistemic status of mathematics and logic. Kant, for example, maintained that arithmetic and geometry provide clear examples of synthetic a priori knowledge and that principles of logic, such as the principle of contradiction, provide the basis for analytic a priori knowledge. Quine’s rejection of the analytic-synthetic distinction and his (...) holistic empiricist account of mathematic and logical knowledge undercut the traditional defenses of the a priori in two ways. First, one could no longer defend the view that mathematical and logical knowledge is a priori solely by rejecting Mill’s inductive empiricism. Moreover, holistic empiricism proved to be a more challenging position to refute than inductive empiricism. Second, the rejection of the analytic-synthetic distinction blocked an alternative defense of the a priori status of mathematics and logic that appealed to their alleged analyticity. (shrink)
Abstract: This article contends that the relation of early logical empiricism to Kant was more complex than is often assumed. It argues that Reichenbach's early work on Kant and Einstein, entitled The Theory of Relativity and A Priori Knowledge (1920) aimed to transform rather than to oppose Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. One the one hand, I argue that Reichenbach's conception of coordinating principles, derived from Kant's conception of synthetic a priori principles, offers a valuable way of accounting (...) for the historicity of scientific paradigms. On the other hand, I show that even Reichenbach, in line with Neo-Kantianism, associated Kant's view of synthetic a priori principles too closely with Newtonian physics and, consequently, overestimated the difference between Kant's philosophy and his own. This is even more so, I point out, in the retrospective account logical empiricism presented of its own history. Whereas contemporary reconstructions of this history, including Michael Friedman's, tend to endorse this account, I offer an interpretation of Kant's conception of a priori principles that contrasts with the one put forward by both Neo-Kantianism and logical empiricism. On this basis, I re-examine the early Reichenbach's effort to accommodate these principles to the paradigm forged by Einstein. (shrink)
In recent years, Reichenbach’s 1920 conception of the principles of coordination has attracted increased attention after Michael Friedman’s attempt to revive Reichenbach’s idea of a “relativized a priori”. This paper follows the origin and development of this idea in the framework of Reichenbach’s distinction between the axioms of coordination and the axioms of connection. It suggests a further differentiation among the coordinating axioms and accordingly proposes a different account of Reichenbach’s “relativized a priori”.
Kripke maintains that one who stipulatively introduces the term ‘one meter’ as a rigid designator for the length of a certain stick s at time t is in a position to know a priori that if s exists at t then the length of s at t is one meter. Some (e.g., Soames 2003) have objected to this alleged instance of the contingent a priori on the grounds that the stipulator's knowledge would have to be based in part (...) on substantive metalinguistic knowledge. I examine Soames's argument for the a posteriority of the relevant metalinguistic knowledge, and I argue that its main premise is false. (shrink)
After a brief review of the notions of necessity and a priority, this paper scrutinizes Kripke's arguments for supposedly contingent a priori propositions and necessary a posteriori propositions involving proper names, and reaches a negative conclusion, i.e. there are no such propositions, or at least the propositions Kripke gives as examples are not such propositions. All of us, including Kripke himself, still have to face the old question raised by Hume, i.e. how can we justify the necessity and universality (...) of general statements on the basis of sensory or empirical evidence? (shrink)
To evaluate Hume's thesis that causal claims are always empirical, I consider three kinds of causal statement: ?e1 caused e2 ?, ?e1 promoted e2 ?, and ?e1 would promote e2 ?. Restricting my attention to cases in which ?e1 occurred? and ?e2 occurred? are both empirical, I argue that Hume was right about the first two, but wrong about the third. Standard causal models of natural selection that have this third form are a priori mathematical truths. Some are obvious, (...) others less so. Empirical work on natural selection takes the form of defending causal claims of the first two types. I provide biological examples that illustrate differences among these three kinds of causal claim. (shrink)
A number of philosophers, from Thomas Reid1 through C. A. J. Coady2, have argued that one is justified in relying on the testimony of others, and furthermore, that this should be taken as a basic epistemic presumption. If such a general presumption were not ultimately dependent on evidence for the reliability of other people, the ground for this presumption would be a priori. Such a presumption would then have a status like that which Roderick Chisholm claims for the epistemic (...) principle that we are justified in believing what our senses tell us. (shrink)
Abstract: This article explains and motivates an account of one way in which we might have substantive a priori knowledge in one important class of domains: domains in which the central concepts are response-dependent. The central example will be our knowledge of the connection between something's being harmful and the fact that it is irrational for us to fail to be averse to that thing. The idea is that although the relevant responses (basic aversion in the case of harm, (...) and a kind of interpretive failure in the case of irrationality) are produced by independent psychological mechanisms, they have distal causes that turn out to be related in ways that—once language enters the picture—yield epistemically accessible necessary connections between the referents of their corresponding terms. (shrink)
William Rowe’s a posteriori arguments for the non-existence of God are well-known. Rather less attention has been given, however, to Rowe’s intriguing a priori argument for atheism. In this paper, I examine the three published responses to Rowe’s a priori argument (due to Bruce Langtry, William Morris, and Daniel and Frances Howard-Snyder, respectively). I conclude that none is decisive, but I show that Rowe’s argument nevertheless requires more defence than he provides.
The doctrine is familiar. In a sentence, a priori truths are those that are knowable on the basis of reflection alone (independent of experience) by anyone who has acquired the relevant concepts. This expresses the classical conception of the a priori. Of course, there are those who despair of finding any truths that fully meet these demands. Some of the doubters are convinced, however, that the demands, are somewhat inflated by an epistemological tradition that was nevertheless on to (...) something of importance. These thinkers would then seek to reconceive the a priori somewhat--accommodating some of the classical demands within a "retentive analysis." Ultimately, we will urge a place for both the classical conception and a complementary revisionary but retentive conception as well. (shrink)
Tyler Burge offers a theory of testimony that allows for the possibility of both testimonial a priori warrant and testimonial a priori knowledge. I uncover a tension in his account of the relationship between the two, and locate its source in the analogy that Burge draws between testimonial warrant and preservative memory. I contend that this analogy should be rejected, and offer a revision of Burge's theory that eliminates the tension. I conclude by assessing the impact of the (...) revised theory on the scope of a priori knowledge. (shrink)
Recent work on the evidential argument from evil offers us sundry considerations which are intended to weigh against this form of atheological arguments. By far the most provocative is that on a priori grounds alone, evil can be shown to be evidentially impotent. This astonishing thesis has been given a vigorous defense by Keith Yandell. In this paper, we shall measure the prospects for an a priori dismissal of evidential arguments from evil.
Many philosophers ponder the question of the a priori status of logical rules like modus ponens. In this paper I argue that the way in which such questions are usually posed is misguided. I argue that to accept modus ponens is nothing else than to have an implication; hence that to ask how do we know that implication obeys modus ponens does not make sense. To ask whether modus ponens is a priori is to ask whether having implication (...) is a priori. I argue that as one is not born with a language (but perhaps only with a predisposition to acquire a certain kind of language, namely one posessing logical vocabulary and hence displaying logical structure), logical rules can be a priori only in the sense that we tend to acquire language governed by such rules. (shrink)
The seal of the a priori is imprinted on the reception of Kant's philosophy. Piaget's epistemological argumentation seems to ascribe knowledge a more fruitful constructiveness than Kant, seeing the a priori as rooted in unvarying reason. Yet, it seems, he failed to recognize the complexity of Kant's theory, which does not always follow a quid iuris line. Moments of experience, analysis and self-observation played more than a marginal role in his discovery of the a priori. Indeed, Kant (...) himself raises the question of ontogenetic category assimilation in a review which pre-empts Piaget, borrowing the category of `original acquisition' from the doctrine of the laws of natural right. And although Kant should not be elevated to the harbinger of the knowledge on development issues delivered thus far by the history of science and experiments, he did recognize the temporal reference of their categories in principle without resolving their validity in psychogenetic terms. Key Words: a priori categories genetic epistemology Geneva School neo-Kantianism original acquisition Jean Piaget psychogenesis self-observation. (shrink)
One of Laurence BonJour’s main arguments for the existence of the a priori is an argument that a priori justification is indispensable for making inferences from experience to conclusions that go beyond experience. This argument has recently come under heavy fire from Albert Casullo, who has dubbed BonJour’s argument, “The Generality Argument.” In this paper I (i) defend the Generality Argument against Casullo’s criticisms, and (ii) develop a new, more plausible, version of the Generality Argument in response to (...) some other objections of my own. Two of these objections stem out of BonJour’s failing to fully consider the importance of the distinction between being justified in believing that an inference is good and being justified in making an inference. The final version of the argument that I develop sees the Generality Argument as one part of a cumulative case argument for the existence of a priori justification, rather than as a stand-alone knock-down argument. (shrink)
(K1) All knowledge of necessary propositions is a priori. (K2) All propositions known a priori are necessary. (K3) All knowledge of analytic propositions is a priori; and (K4) Some propositions known a priori are synthetic.
In this paper I claim that Quinean naturalist accounts of science, that deny that there are any a priori statements in scientific frameworks, cannot account for the foundational role of certain classes of statements in scientific practice. In this I follow Michael Friedman who claims that certain a priori statements must be presupposed in order to formulate empirical hypotheses. I also show that Friedman's account, in spite of his claims to the contrary, is compatible with a type of (...) non-Quinean naturalism that I sketch. Finally I also show that Friedman's account needs amending because it cannot provide a rational account of theory change. I accomplish this by arguing for a structural realist view of theory change. I show how this view fits well with an account like Friedman's and helps it deal with the problem of theory change and in retaining its superiority over Quinean naturalism. (shrink)
Some recent discussions of a priori knowledge, taking their departure from Kant's characterization of such knowledge as being absolutely independent of experience, have concluded that while one might delineate a concept of a priori knowledge, it fails to have any application as any purported case of such knowledge can be undermined by suitably recalcitrant experiences. In response, certain defenders of apriority have claimed that a priori justification only requires that a belief be positively dependent on no experience. (...) In this paper, I begin by showing how the exchange of arguments between the disputants comes down, in the end, to no more than a display of conflicting intuitions. I shall then provide a diagnosis explaining how our explication of a priori justification depends on our standards for applying the term 'a priori' with this, in turn, reflecting our prior intentions as to whether we are willing to allow the existence of such warrants. I shall further argue that the claim that such knowledge can be affected by subversive experience is not entirely compatible with the spirit of apriority. Finally I conclude by making some methodological remarks about the prospects of a positive characterization of a priori knowledge by comparing it to the concept of knowledge. (shrink)
It seems to me that discussions of the past decades have made clear how intricate and complex the classical notion of the a priori is, and neither the Strong conception nor the Weak conception (nor anything else) can provide a coherent explication. (Kitcher 2000.
Why believe in the a priori? The answer is clear: there are many examples, drawn from mathematics, logic and philosophy, of knowledge that does not seem to be empirical. It does not seem possible that this knowledge could be justified or revised “by experience.” It must be justified in some other way, justified a priori.
In Naming and Necessity' Saul A. Kripke gives two types of examples of contingent truths knowable a priori. So he disagrees with the first leg of the thesis. As we will see later, his examples depend on the direct designation theory of names. While there have been attempts to provide examples of the contingent a priori that do not depend on that theory, most of those examples should be viewed as expansions, or modifications, of Kripke's examples. Philip Kitcher, (...) for example, gives an interesting example that has nothing to do with theories of names, but is produced using the indexical 'actual'.2 His example, however, is a variation of Kripke's Neptune Type example.' In what follows I will focus on Kripke's two types of examples and modifications of them. I will argue that although both types of example fail, it is possible to modify his Standard Metre example in such a way that we have an example of the contingent a priori. (shrink)
In the central chapter of Can God Be Free?, William Rowe offers what amounts to an a priori argument for atheism. In what follows, I first clarify this argument, and I then defend it against recent criticisms due to William Hasker. Next, however, I outline four ways in which theists might plausibly reply to Rowe’s argument.
This paper has three parts. First, a discussion of our use of intuitions as evidence (reasons) in logic, mathematics, philosophy (hereafter, “the a priori disciplines”). Second, an explanation of why intuitions are evidence. The explanation is provided by modal reliabilism—the doctrine that there is a certain kind of qualified modal tie between intuitions and the truth. Third, an explanation of why there should be such a tie between intuitions and the truth. This tie is a consequence of what, by (...) definition, it is to possess the concepts involved in our intuitions. These three parts form the basis of a unified account of a priori evidence and, in turn, a priori knowledge. (shrink)