[hist-analytic] sticks, circles and the contingent a priori

Bruce Aune aune at philos.umass.edu
Tue Jun 1 06:49:44 EDT 2010


Steve says, "It is not a priori that the meter stick is the length it is." But he is trivially wrong about this, and the considerations he offers do not support this claim.  If the claim is meaningful, "the meter stick" has a referent, a certain stick, and that stick has the length it possesses. It might have had a different length, all right, but this only means that its having the particular length it has is a contingent matter. But assuming the meaningfulness of Steve's claim (and the fact that "the meter stick" refers to a certain stick) we can know a priori that that stick has the length it has, whatever that length may be. Of course, we will not know how long (in inches or feet) that length is unless we have knowledge of what stick the term refers to and are able to measure it (in inches or feet). But we can nevertheless know a priori that the length in meters of the meter stick = 1, as Kripke claimed.  The point is a little subtle, but its sound as a dollar (as people used to say).

Bruce Aune
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