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

Danny Frederick danny.frederick at tiscali.co.uk
Fri Mar 20 15:34:50 EDT 2009

Hi Bruce,

In case you had not guessed, my demarcation of empirical knowledge, on which
my demarcation of a priori knowledge is based, comes from Karl Popper. He
wanted to demarcate empirical science from everything else and offered
falsifiability, explained in terms of inter-subjective testability. This
excludes from science all autobiographical mentalese statements, since they
are not inter-subjectively testable. As Popper would put it, such statements
do not belong to objective knowledge; at best, they are mere subjective

It is worth noticing that this does not exclude ALL subjective reports of
experience from science. A psychologist or neuroscientist may well correlate
behaviour, bodily changes or brain states with psychological states by means
of subjects' reports of what they are experiencing under experimentally
produced circumstances. But such subject reports are essentially
inter-subjective in that the subject does duty for humankind in general: if
a repeat of the experiment with a different subject gave a different subject
report, this would debar the subject reports from science. So there can be a
science of psychological states; but it will recognise only those
psychological states that are generally reported by subjects in similar
situations (any idiosyncratic reports will be dismissed, or at least put on
one side for the time being, even though their truth may not be impugned).

So the big question here is should epistemology concern itself with
objective knowledge or subjective knowledge? We could say both. But if so, I
think we should acknowledge that the primary concern should be objective
knowledge, for that is the knowledge we are taught, which is discussed,
challenged, tested, etc. Merely subjective knowledge does exist; but it is
merely the personal property of those who have it. It is trivial from a
social or human point of view, no matter how important it may be to the
individual who possesses it.

Thus, while you are plainly at liberty to define empirical knowledge in
terms of individual experiences, I think this relegates your study to merely
subjective knowledge, which I do not regard as being very important. Like
Popper, I think that Knowledge (with a capital 'K') is social.

At this point, you are entitled to retort that, if that is so, then I should
also acknowledge that the category of the contingent a priori is
unimportant, since 'I think' and 'I am,' insofar as they are knowable a
priori, are mere items of subjective knowledge. I concede that point -
unless there are other items of contingent a priori knowledge that are not
merely subjective. Now I recall that Gareth Evans discussed contingent a
priori propositions of a sort different to the ones I have been discussing,
but I cannot for the moment remember what his examples were (they might, for
all I now know, have been instances of subjective knowledge).

I just read your criticism of Kripke's argument for the necessity of
origins. I agree with you that you defeat the arguments you present, but I
do not think this is sufficient to defeat the underlying intuition. In other
words, there may be better arguments for the same conclusion. This more or
less tallies with your own conclusion. I can say no more at the moment,
since I would have to re-learn some modal logic, and re-read Kripke's
relevant papers, before I could say anything more informative. (For
information, I left academe in 1987 but over the last couple of years I have
been re-learning some of what I used to know as well as learning some new

Best wishes,


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