A Priori

A Priori

Edwin Mares
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    A Priori
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8551-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Part I

    • 1 Introduction
      (pp. 1-12)

      Consider the statement “Every coloured thing is extended in space”. This seems obviously true. If we think about some things that have no length or breadth or depth, we see that they have no colours. Examples of such things are individual points in space and, at least according to traditional philosophy, thoughts. A point cannot have any colour and neither can a thought (although, of course, we can think about colours). But surveying such objects seems unnecessary. We do not have to check everything that has a colour to discover whether it is extended in space. It seems that we...

    • 2 Necessity and certainty
      (pp. 13-33)

      This chapter has two purposes. First, it is a housekeeping chapter. In Chapter 1, I asserted that there is a close tie between necessity and apriority: it seems that all our knowledge of necessities is a priori. In this chapter I set out a framework for talking about necessity: possible-world semantics. I also discuss theories of propositions. I do so because in later chapters we appeal to the notion of a proposition quite often.

      The second purpose of this chapter is to discuss further the relationship between necessity and the a priori, and I introduce another property that a priori...

  5. Part II

    • 3 Rationalism and self-evidence
      (pp. 34-53)

      “Rationalism” is defined in various ways in the philosophical literature. In the canon of English-speaking philosophy departments, rationalism is associated with three philosophers: Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz. With these philosophers in mind, Charlie Huenemann (2008: 7-8) characterizes rationalist epistemology in terms of the following four theses:

      (i) There is a priori knowledge,

      (ii) We have innate ideas or beliefs,

      (iii) We have a “privileged cognitive machinery which allows for the distinction between the intellect and imagination”,

      (iv) Pure reason is more reliable than empirical justification.

      Chapter 4 of this book is devoted entirely to discussing innate ideas and beliefs, so...

    • 4 Nativism
      (pp. 54-65)

      Nativism - sometimes called “psychological nativism” - is the doctrine that we have innate capacities, ideas or beliefs. Historically, nativism has been closely related to rationalism. Many rationalists have also been nativists. Plato thinks that our understanding of the forms is, to a large extent, innate; Descartes thinks that we have a great many innate ideas, as do Spinoza and Leibniz. These philosophers all use innateness to help explain how we have a priori knowledge. The sense in which innate ideas or beliefs are independent of experience is quite clear. We do not need to learn them either from experience...

    • 5 Analyticity
      (pp. 66-82)

      Consider the following sentences:

      (i) A vixen is a female fox.

      (ii) The cat is on a mat.

      The first of these is a paradigmanalyticsentence and the second is a paradigmsyntheticsentence. Sentence (i) seems to be made true by facts about language or about our concepts, but sentence (ii) is made true largely because of something about the world.

      There are many ways to make these notions of analytic and synthetic precise. A full map of the different conceptions of analytic and synthetic, unfortunately, would be an unintelligible mess. Even giving a guide to the most...

    • 6 Radical empiricism
      (pp. 83-105)

      William James coined the term “radical empiricism” to mean a philosophy that includes as objects of experience particular things, relations and values. But I use the label to designate something quite different; it is the view that there are no a priori beliefs.

      In order to evaluate the theories of apriority that we are examining, I need to put them into context. We need, in particular, to see whether philosophy without the a priori is viable and what, if anything, one needs to relinquish in order to get rid of the a priori. In this chapter, we shall look briefly...

    • 7 Kantianism
      (pp. 106-122)

      In this chapter I discuss the epistemology of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and of a Kantian, Michael Friedman. Kant is a nativist. He holds that there are certain innate concepts, intuitions and beliefs that we use to organize our understanding of the world. According to Kant, these concepts, intuitions and beliefs are a priori in two senses. First, they are not learned. Second, the possibility of our having experience depends on our having these concepts, beliefs and intuitions. As we shall see, within Kant’s system his innate beliefs are not empirically defeasible. Moreover, they provide many of our other beliefs with...

    • 8 Aristotelianism
      (pp. 123-137)

      Aristotelianism holds that we gain some of our knowledge from the abstraction of concepts from our experience and reflection on these concepts. This may sound more like empirical knowledge than a priori knowledge, but the justification involved is remarkably similar to analytic justification. In analytic justification, we learn the meanings of words empirically. Then using these meanings together with only our reasoning abilities we determine if a particular sentence is true. According to Aristotelianism, we first abstract concepts from experience and then reason by reflecting on these concepts. We can characterize Aristotelian justification as the process of reasoning using concepts...

  6. Part III

    • 9 Moral knowledge
      (pp. 138-154)

      This is the first of four chapters on applications of theories of a priori knowledge. Moral knowledge is particularly interesting. There no consensus among philosophers about whether moral knowledge is possible and what an object of moral knowledge is. There is, however, widespread use of the method ofreflective equilibrium.¹The process of finding a reflective equilibrium consists of taking some putative moral principles and testing them against our moral judgements about particular situations. Those readers who have studied ethics will recognize this method. When a lecturer discusses some moral principle she will often bring up a counter-example then discuss...

    • 10 Logical knowledge
      (pp. 155-173)

      In this chapter we explore how we know the principles of deductive logic. We could also discuss the principles of induction and abduction, but these topics are extremely complicated and I do not want dedicate the rest of this book to discussion of the principles of reasoning.

      Systems of deductive logic - such as the ones most undergraduate philosophy students learn in their first or second year - typically have two sorts of principles. First, there are thelaws of the logical system.These laws are sometimes called “theorems” or, in the case standard propositional logic, “tautologies”. Laws are statements....

    • 11 Mathematical knowledge
      (pp. 174-188)

      As we have seen, Kant claims that we have innate intuitions of time and space, and that these produce in us knowledge about arithmetic and geometry. In Kant, there is no real distinction between geometry as a study of formal relations within a theory and the study of the structure of physical space. This distinction is more recent than Kant. It is, however, an important distinction. Pure mathematics is the study of abstract structures. The natural sciences apply mathematical theories to actual physical systems.

      In this chapter I discuss the epistemology of pure mathematics. However, I also look briefly at...

    • 12 Modality
      (pp. 189-204)

      The problem of justifying our beliefs about what is possible or necessary has been a recurring theme for us since Chapter 2. One the central reasons why people have postulated a priori knowledge is in order to deal with modal knowledge. In this chapter we face this problem directly using the resources that we developed earlier chapters.

      We have already briefly discussed the radical empiricists’ view about modal knowledge in Chapter 6. By and large, they reject modal knowledge. Mill, for example, says:

      Why are mathematics by almost all philosophers and, even those branches of natural philosophy which, through the...

    • 13 Scorecard
      (pp. 205-208)

      Now that we have finished our glimpse into applications of a priori reasoning, it is useful to look back and think about which theories a priori belief are best combined with which fields of enquiry. Clearly, one of the big winners of this investigation is the use of coherence methods. We use such methods to reason about every one of the fields that we have discussed. In what follows, we look the other theories of a priori belief and summarize their successes and failures.

      Rationalism is the doctrine that rational insight can give us true beliefs about the world. In...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 209-216)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 217-224)
  9. Index
    (pp. 225-229)