[hist-analytic] Frederick's conception of the A Priori

Roger Bishop Jones rbj at rbjones.com
Sun Apr 5 02:38:35 EDT 2009

On Thursday 02 April 2009 17:16:31 Danny Frederick wrote:
>Hi Roger,
>Of course, you can use the word 'justification' in any way you want. The
>members of a cult, for instance, may have a procedure for deciding on
>whether to accept particular mystical statements, and any statement that is
>accepted in that way they can call 'justified.'

This is a rhetorical device to suggest contrary to fact that my
conception of justification is too bizarre to be taken seriously.

>I maintain that that we are not
>in a position to ascertain whether our statements are true or likely to be
>true or even whether one of them is closer to the truth than another.

Whereas this position is one of radical (dogmatic) scepticism which is
out of line both with ordinary and scientific norms.

What is the point of philosophical discussion if we are not in a
position to ascertain which of two statements is more likely to
be true?

>So it seems to me misleading to use the word 'justified' in epistemology,
>though we can find uses for the word in other contexts in which truth
>is not in question (for example, when deciding to buy something
>we may say that the benefits justify the costs).

>A 'convincing demonstration that a conjecture is provable in ZFC' might
>justify accepting the conjecture as a move in a game, for instance; but it
>does not justify it epistemically, since a convincing demonstration may turn
>out to be invalid or unsound.

You are here assuming some absolute standard of justification.
I do not do that, nor do scientific professionals.
They have institutionally defined standards of justification,
which they apply to determine whether something has been
scientifically or mathematically "proven" and when something
has passed these standards they regard its assertion as

What purpose does it serve to use the term justification as
you are doing, for a standard which nothing will ever meet?

>As you say, 'we are free (as individuals or in
>groups such as professions) to decide what kind of justification we will
>demand before some conjecture is accepted by us or by some institution as
>accepted fact.' Of course we are. But unless we can show that conjectures
>accepted in this way are true, or probably true, or closer to the truth than
>conjectures accepted via some other rigmarole, then we have not shown that
>these conjectures are epistemically justified.

This is dogmatic scepticism.

>Yes, they are justified by
>our rules. But what bearing do these rules have on truth? We can invent any
>game we like for accepting propositions that we can then SAY are justified
>(religious sects and cults do this, don't they?); but that does not mean
>that they are epistemically justified.

What you are asking for is, as you know, unattainable.
What you are rejecting is, practically useful.
Your notion of epistemically justified is worthless and I contest
your presumption that it is the true meaning of the term.

>I am a bit puzzled why you are a bit puzzled about why I take a stand on the
>classification of propositions as a priori or empirical. Given the arguments
>I presented last time (which derive from Duhem), I do not see how we COULD
>distinguish empirical and a priori propositions.

Yes, I was lulled into a false sense of security by the
fact that we were discussing Popper's demarcation of empirical
science, and I forgot your radical holism.

Could you explain how Popper's demarcation seems to escape
being trashed by your holism?

>I think we can distinguish
>empirical and a priori KNOWLEDGE (using 'knowledge' here in a fallibilist
>sense, given my rejection of all justification).

Well that's an interesting move.
Since all I am talking about when I talk of "justification" is
"conditions which must be met before some claim can be counted
as knowledge", I would like to know what term you propose to
use for it, so that I can use that term instead of the word
justification (which you have rendered useless) and we might
possibly understand each other.

>If we know something, we
>should be able to say how, and that should (eventually at least) identify
>what we know as either empirical or a priori.

Well that's the kind of thing which in ordinary parlance
may be called its justification.

>But for all the propositions
>that we don't know, we obviously cannot say how we know them,

No, but we need to know what kind of thing would count
as justification in order to establish whether they are in
fact true,
And we do in fact usually have a pretty good idea.
That is why a mathematician rarely goes into the physics
lab to do an experiment when he want to establish a
mathematical conjecture,

>so the same
>style of demarcating a priori from empirical is not open to us.

But is in fact done all the time, with very high degree of success.

>I hope I am still around when you post your further reflections. And I will
>comment if I think I have anything worthwhile to say. But we come at this
>from such different angles that we may, as you say, 'fail to reach

Yes, its hard to see how we can come close enough for
a contructive discussion.

There are aspects of critical rationalism which I would
be interested to discuss, but your radical holism and
you stance on justification seem very great obstacles
to our having such a discussion.


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