[hist-analytic] A Priori/A Posteriori -- Revisited

Jlsperanza at aol.com Jlsperanza at aol.com
Mon Nov 16 20:00:05 EST 2009

The apriori/a posteriori: the history of a distinction
Thanks to R. B. Jones and S. R. Bayne for their comments on my defense of a 
 third dogma, the a priori/a posteriori distinction.
Jones mentioned the idea of 'proof' and 'justification' (as NOT used by D.  
Frederick), etc. And the distinction as NOT being 'temporal' in nature.
I am reminded of 'nihil est in intellectu quod prior non fuerit in sensu',  
a good use of 'prior' (if  not 'priori'). Of course the obvious  
continuation is "a posteriori _empereia" (to combine pigLatin with pigGreek) and  "a 
priori empereia". 
--- I am also reminded of Dummett, and Jones may like to elaborate on that! 
 For the intuitionists, a proof (or justification) is something that _TAKES 
 time_: it's a step by step process. So, I guess they would go on to say 
that all  proof (or justification) is _a posteriori_. Yes, we have had rounds 
of  discussion discussing the a posteriori of mathematical truths, but the  
Dummettians take it _pretty_ seriously. 
-- I wonder if by merely analysing the 'proposition' one should determine,  
by the mere lights of one's intellect -- cfr. Enlightenment -- where the  
proposition 'p' requires an a priori or a posteriori justification. I would  
think so, but examples do not come out easily.
     "Computers can't think"
strikes me as 'analytic' (true or false) rather than in need of a  
posteriori justification. On the  other hand, Noel Coward was possibly  being 
jocular when he wrote in his re-write of Cole Porter's "Let's do it"
     "Probably we'll live to see machines do it" (Let's  do it, let's fall 
in love).
--   If I understand Jones aright, he is saying that Kripke makes  a 
distinction (between a priori/a posteriori) that conflates with the  
'necessary/contingent', if not the 'analytic/synthetic'. Wasn't Kripke's idea  that while 
the apriori/aposteriori distinction is epistemic (or doxastic), the  
necessary/contingent is 'metaphysical', or ontic, and the analytic/synthetic  
logical? God knows!
Back to propositions, I was amused (in a good way) by Jones's pragmatism.  
Surely he doesn't need to _specify_ what a 'proposition' is, and he is ready 
to  have the notion as 'language specific' and 'contextual' in nature. I 
was  reminded of a similar 'pragmatist' (but he'd call it transcendental) 
approach to  'propositions' by Grice in "Prejudices and Predilections" (aka 
"Reply to  Richards"). 
Drawing on conversations with Geo. Myro (the Russian emigre from Ukrania  
that Grice befriended since he settled in Berkeley in 1967 -- Myro had 
studied  in Oxford, but I'm unaware if they had met back then), Grice mentions that
    what a proposition is
may well depend on the theoretical role it may play in different  
approaches. A proposition, I hold, is what a theory of "propositional attitudes"  
needs. We need propositions to have the propositional attitudes (so-called,  
Grice prefered, 'psychological attitude') hooked onto something.
                ----  believes that ----
(For a psychological attitude like 'belief' holds between the 'arguments'  
of the believer and what is believed -- and beliefs and psychological 
attitudes  are, contra Quine, compositional and relational, no?)
A metaphysician may need propositions for other reasons, i.e. to fulfil  
other theoretical metiers. Myro's point was that there is NOT just one answer 
as  to what a proposition is, but many (or none).
--- Grice played for years -- as evidenced in Reply to Richards -- with the 
 idea of a COMPLEX (or propositional complex) as being more basic than  
proposition! A propositional complex (I think I've seen the same idiom in  
writings by Peacocke) is just the schematism of the _content_ of a belief, say,  
into its minimal components (the belief that SOME cat, Tibbles, is on some 
old  rug in SOME kitchen, say -- rather than talk, in abstracto and out of 
context,  of the proposition that the cat sat on the mat).
JL Speranza
   ps. PCA was paradigm-case argument
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