[hist-analytic] Frrom AUNE: Analytic and A Priori

Danny Frederick danny.frederick at tiscali.co.uk
Thu Mar 19 15:18:43 EDT 2009

Hi Steve,

When I said that 'I think' expresses a contingent a priori truth, I was
operating with the following concept of the a priori. A proposition is a
priori if and only if it can be known independently of any particular
experience. Experience comprises sensory impressions, most which have an
outer and an inner aspect, but some of which (like pains) have only an inner
aspect. Thinking is not a sensory experience. Therefore what I can know from
mere reflection about my thinking is a priori knowledge. Similarly, willing
is not a sensory experience, so if I can know what I will independently of
sensory experience (which I think I can), then that knowledge of my willing
is a priori.

Why was I working with that concept of the a priori? Because, mistakenly or
otherwise, I thought that was the conception of the a priori that the
rationalist philosophers operated with. I am no longer sure that they did

Do I now propose that conception of the a priori as my own? No, I don't,
because I think talk of sense-impressions is nonsense. What I might propose
instead, though, is a restatement of that account in terms of 'basic
statements,' that is, singular statements about what is happening in a
particular region of space-time. A priori knowledge would then be what we
can know (in a suitably fallibilist sense of 'know') independently of the
truth or falsity of any basic statements. On that conception, 'I think'
would not come out as a priori if 'I' is interpreted as referring to a
spatio-temporal particular, since it would then be itself a basic statement.
But if 'I' is taken to refer to the speaker/thinker and we leave it an open
question whether he is really a spatio-temporal particular (he might be
merely a temporal one), then 'I think' ceases to be a basic statement; and
as it is knowable independently of the truth or falsity of any basic
statement, then it comes out as a priori (contingent a priori).

How's that?


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