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

Danny Frederick danny.frederick at tiscali.co.uk
Fri Mar 20 10:50:30 EDT 2009

Hi Bruce,

You ask me: if you are asserting only that it is possible (in the sense you
call 'logical') that 'I' refers to something temporal but non-spatial,
shouldn't you conclude that it is just possible (and perhaps not true) that
'I think' (uttered by you) is a synthetic a priori truth?

I am not quite sure what lies behind your question. It seems to be a concern
with logical (or metaphysical) possibility as opposed to epistemic
possibility. So let me re-state my position by making explicit use of that

Is it logically possible that I am non-spatial? We don't know. It SEEMS so,
in that philosophers (such as Leibniz and Berkeley) have envisaged possible
worlds in which I am non-spatial. But we know from Kripke that if I am in
fact a thing that has developed from a particular egg and sperm, then I am
necessarily such a thing. And the 'necessarily' here is metaphysical or

For the sake of argument, let us suppose (what we do normally suppose) that
I am a human being (rather than a disembodied spirit that appears to be a
human being). Then I am necessarily embodied. Even so, it still SEEMS
POSSIBLE to me that I am not embodied. Thus I am logically-necessarily
embodied but epistemically-possibly not embodied. (Compare: Hesperus is
necessarily Phosphorus, but for years people thought they were different, so
it was epistemically possible that Hesperus was not identical to
Phosphorus.) So, whether I realise it or not, 'I' (when I use it) refers to
a spatio-temporal particular.

Even granting all that, I can know that I think merely by thinking and
attending to my thinking. Thus I can know a priori that I think, that is, I
can know it independently of the truth or falsity of any inter-subjectively
testable basic statement. When I add to this that my existence, and thus my
thinking, is contingent, it follows that I can know a priori a contingent
truth. All this follows even though we accept that I am necessarily a
particular physical thing.

If we accept that the proposition I express when I utter 'I think' is
contingent, then it is contingent a priori. This is because its truth can be
known by me independently of my knowledge of the truth or falsity of any
statement which I know to be about a spatio-temporal particular. For I may
doubt that 'I think' is about a spatio-temporal particular if I have been
reading Berkeley or Leibniz or others.

Is that clearer?


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