Is a priori knowledge possible?

Discuss any topics related to metaphysics (the philosophical study of the principles of reality) or epistemology (the philosophical study of knowledge) in this forum.

Is a priori knowledge possible?

Post Number:#1  Postby Scott » June 29th, 2009, 10:46 pm

In this thread I want us to debate whether a priori knowledge is possible. Some philosophers argue that some knowledge is a priori (fully independent from experience). In contrast, radical empiricists argue that all knowledge is a posteriori (derived from experience). Immanuel Kant made the distinction between analytic a priori knowledge and synthetic a priori knowledge. (An analytic proposition is one whose predicate concept is contained in its subject concept, such as "All bachelors are unmarried." And a synthetic proposition is one whose predicate concept is NOT contained in its subject, such as "All bachelors are happy.")

What do you think? Do you think a priori knowledge is possible or not? Why?

I think the answer depends greatly on how we define knowledge and experience.

If knowledge refers to the act of knowing, which requires a conscious being to perform the act, then I believe all knowledge depends on experience in some ways simply because the conscious being itself cannot exist without experience-gained data. In regards to the claim that a conscious being cannot exist without experience-gained data, I believe a functioning conscious being, namely a human or similar animal, is created through experiences that hard-wire it with certain instincts, beliefs, etc. Even before birth, a human baby's brain is experiencing developments as a result of experiences that happened to its mother and evolutionarily-gained traits through experiences that happen to its ancestors over time. But of course all those statements rely on the definition of experience and what is and is not experience.

Anyway, what do you think?
Last edited by Scott on June 30th, 2009, 3:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Online Philosophy Club - Please tell me how to improve this website!

Check it out: Abortion - Not as diametrically divisive as often thought?
User avatar
Scott
Site Admin
 
Posts: 4197 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: January 20th, 2007, 6:24 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Diogenes the Cynic

Is a priori knowledge possible?



Become a member for less ads

Already a member? Login
 

Post Number:#2  Postby Nick_A » June 30th, 2009, 12:41 am

Hi Scott

"Learning consists of adding to ones knowledge day by day; the way of the Tao consists of subtracting day by day until one experiences reality as it is, not as it is named." Lao-Tzu


Is the way of the Tao seeking to experience something new or that which is already known but must be "re-membered, or made whole?

Since I believe that man on earth is a result of an act of involution or devolution into parts, it is possible for our "being" to evolve or return to the wholeness of our origin.

I cannot see why what was known before this act of devolution shouldn't be remembered in the seed of the human soul. What is remembered by the soul would be a priori knowledge in contrast to what is learned as a posteriori knowledge and forms our personality.

Plato described it well in his comparison between inner and external morality. Plato's contention was that inner morality is soul knowledge. In that case it is a priori knowledge.

The question becomes how to become open to it?

Perhaps Lao-Tzu is right and it would require forgetting our reliance on conditioned thought and not allow its habitual dominance
Man would like to be an egoist and cannot. This is the most striking characteristic of his wretchedness and the source of his greatness." Simone Weil....Gravity and Grace
Nick_A
 
Posts: 2391 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: April 19th, 2009, 11:45 pm

Post Number:#3  Postby Belinda » June 30th, 2009, 5:29 am

Scott, not only can a conscious being not exist without experience-gained data but also some unconscious beings cannot exist without experience gained data. For instance, one of the trees in my garden survived the looming closeness of a huge conifer hedge by leaning its main stem and branches towards the light, but the apple tree wasn't conscious, it didn't know what it was doing.I take your point that 'knowing' implies consciousness.(I think by 'experience' you intend 'conscious experience'?)

I think the answer depends greatly on how we define knowledge and experience.


I guess that part of some trees' DNA instructs the individual tree to respond to some environmental changes with specific responses.The DNA of a human individual is similar, you need only look at maturational changes, plus the skewing effects of environment, in the growing child to see that the child responds both to a priori maturational changes and also to environment in both conscious and unconscious ways.

This is where I think that what is confusingly called a priori knowledge lies. It isn't knowledge at all, as you said,
If knowledge refers to the act of knowing, which requires a conscious being to perform the act, then I believe all knowledge depends on experience in some ways simply because the conscious being itself cannot exist without experience-gained data
but innate responses to environmental change which may be unconscious in the case of the tree, or conscious in the case of the human child who knows that her body/mind is changing, as you also imply in what follows in your post.

The famous 'language instinct'is there as a potential 'universal grammar' in humans as Chomski explained,and produced evidence for, but it needs environment to activate it. There is nothing other -worldly-Platonic about inbuilt language ability, it's an evolved synthetic a priori of humans.
Belinda
Contributor
 
Posts: 13760 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: July 10th, 2008, 7:02 pm
Location: UK

Post Number:#4  Postby Woody » June 30th, 2009, 6:52 am

Let's take the example you offered, which is the statement: "All bachelors are not married." Just for formality's sake let's work through it. "Bachelor" is defined as "a single person." In turn, "single" is defined as "not married." So it is possible to construct the following argument:

1. A bachelor is a single person.
2. A single person is not married.
Therefore, a bachelor is not married.

I don't think anyone would particularly quarrel with the validity and soundness of this argument. The question is whether it constitutes true knowledge.

The premisses are true by definition. "Bachelor" is _defined_ as someone who is single, and "single" is defined as someone who is not married. Since definitions have to do with words, all this synthetic argument tells us is about the implications of how we define words. Words are a sometimes self-consistent system, but a self-consistent system does not necessarily say anything about reality. Take mathematics, which is a self-consistent system, but does not always correspond to anything real. We can do the mathematical operation -5 + -2 = -7, but those negative values don't really correspond to anything. So math can be _overlaid_ on reality sometimes, but I would argue that the rules of math only tell us about the nature of math, not about the nature of the world. Similarly for the rules of formal logic. Similarly, I would argue, for synthetic a priori arguments, which tell us only about the consistency of certain thoughts without necessarily conveying knowledge.

To illustrate what I mean, take the following synthetic a priori argument:

1. Dragons have fire in their belly.
2. Fire is hot.
Therefore, dragons have something hot in their belly.

This argument is logically so similar to the above bachelor argument that it might as well be the same. There is, however, a significant difference. We know from experience that bachelors exist; so, when we draw conclusions about bachelors, we can refer to certain basic facts about real things. We do not, however, know that dragons exist, and many would argue that dragons _don't_ exist. Accepting that dragons are imaginary, what this second argument tells us is about the nature of dragons. Yet, if the dragon is imaginary, then the fire in the dragon's belly is also imaginary. The second premiss deals with what we know about real fire; except that there is nothing to say that imaginary fire must be like real fire. The imaginary fire in a dragon's belly might very well be cold! Because it doesn't exist, there are no restrictions to the properties we can assign to it.

Based on my limited discussion here, I would conclude that a priori arguments by themselves do not convey any real knowledge. Real knowledge must be buttressed by empirical observation.

Comments?

Woody
Woody
 
Posts: 52 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: June 26th, 2009, 6:59 am

Re: Is a priori knowledge possible?

Post Number:#5  Postby ape » June 30th, 2009, 8:53 am

Scott wrote:In this thread I want us to debate whether a priori knowledge is possible. Some philosophers argue that some knowledge is a priori (fully independent from experience). In contrast, radical empiricists argue that all knowledge is a posteriori (derived from experience). Immanuel Kant made the distinction between analytic a priori knowledge and synthetic a priori knowledge.

What do you think? Do you think a priori knowledge is possible or not? Why?

The answer is both.
All brains are hardwired for a priori---so we don't know we know or don't know.
Words make all brains capable of a posti--so we know we know and don't know.
ape
 
Posts: 3323 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: April 6th, 2009, 9:55 pm

Post Number:#6  Postby Nick_A » July 1st, 2009, 1:04 am

Does intuition exist? If it does and if it is not just subconscious stored information, can it be other than an expression of a priori knowledge?
Man would like to be an egoist and cannot. This is the most striking characteristic of his wretchedness and the source of his greatness." Simone Weil....Gravity and Grace
Nick_A
 
Posts: 2391 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: April 19th, 2009, 11:45 pm

Post Number:#7  Postby Belinda » July 1st, 2009, 4:56 am

:) That one about dragons is fun, Woody. What I think is that the general consensus about fictitious dragons(there actually are real ones in Komodo) is that they having fire in their bellies defines them. This consensus is endorsed by the literary custom of voluntary suspension of disbelief so that the story can proceed.Therefore I think that both the bachelor example and the dragon example is each an illustration of the same truth of formal logic.One can substitute p's and q's and the functional connections the same way in each case.

If the dragon example is queried, I think that the query may be permitting an intrusion of synthetic reasoning, which is about the truth of the premises not the validity of the argument.

I agree that
Real knowledge must be buttressed by empirical observation.
.

Formal logic is not real knowledge. Like mathematics, it's a simplification and abstraction from natural language.
Belinda
Contributor
 
Posts: 13760 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: July 10th, 2008, 7:02 pm
Location: UK

Post Number:#8  Postby Woody » July 1st, 2009, 11:47 am

Hi, Belinda :)

Belinda wrote:If the dragon example is queried, I think that the query may be permitting an intrusion of synthetic reasoning, which is about the truth of the premises not the validity of the argument.


Well, no, the argument isn't logically valid, either. The "fire" referred to in the first premiss is the imaginary fire in the dragon's belly. The "fire" referred to in the second premiss is the real fire we see at camps. This is why arguments about imaginary things don't convey real knowledge.

Formal logic is not real knowledge. Like mathematics, it's a simplification and abstraction from natural language.


What is "natural language?"

Woody
durwoodie@hushmail.com
Woody
 
Posts: 52 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: June 26th, 2009, 6:59 am

Post Number:#9  Postby Juice » July 1st, 2009, 5:38 pm

This is a topic of great importance to me and seeing that all the great philosophers have touched on this line of thought from greater to lesser degrees I would really like to see some new ideas.

Of course the safe answer here is both a priori and posteriori but the term that throws it off is “fully” or “is”. The complete justification applied by; “is” dependent on experience, vs. “is” independent of experience, as defined does not allow for very much of a centrist view, if at all. Therefore, analytically, and from a reasoning product I would have to say that knowledge is “a priori”.

Knowledge is just information gathering. Like a computer, input.

Or, is knowledge then the ability to correlate the input into something meaningful?

Or, is knowledge the ability to express something meaningfully?

I believe that Kant, although illuminating, does a slight disservice by endorsing the division of knowledge so dichotomously when one may consider knowledge a more linear procedure, or system or like a brick wall which has a foundation on which layers are added vertically and each brick layered off center to allow support to the whole structure.

The foundation is comprised of the senses; hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch. The senses allow for the discovery of objects in reality.

I recently gave my daughter driving lessons. I was surprised that as far as road rules were concerned she favored extremely well but also as a result of her knowledge of the rules she was driving reasonably well within short order. The same went for my niece when she started driving. I was never given a driving lesson in my life and have been driving since the age of eleven. I also never had a swimming lesson and have been swimming like a fish since I was eight.

One can deduce from this example that the seeming innate ability to drive a car is derived from gathering bits of information over time which then correlated together to allow an ability which can be seen as reflexive to the need. I am sure that many can attest that over time and experience there is almost no active thought involved to the actual operating of the car when behind the wheel as if by instinct. An ability attained before even considering getting behind the wheel.

More later.
User avatar
Juice
 
Posts: 1997 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: May 8th, 2009, 10:24 pm

Post Number:#10  Postby ape » July 1st, 2009, 9:34 pm

Belinda wrote:Formal logic is not real knowledge. Like mathematics, it's a simplification and abstraction from natural language.

ape:
There is no difference between
the natural language of
two plus two are four by addition and multiplication,
and
the natural language in integers of 2+2=2=2 and 2x2.

There is a difference but with no distinction.
There is a distinction without any difference.
ape
 
Posts: 3323 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: April 6th, 2009, 9:55 pm

Post Number:#11  Postby Belinda » July 4th, 2009, 4:41 am

1. Dragons have fire in their belly.
2. Fire is hot.
Therefore, dragons have something hot in their belly.


Yes,I see that you are right, Woody. If you substitute 'all hot things are fire' for 'Fire is hot' would it be a proper syllogism?
Belinda
Contributor
 
Posts: 13760 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: July 10th, 2008, 7:02 pm
Location: UK

Post Number:#12  Postby Woody » July 5th, 2009, 12:16 pm

Belinda wrote:
1. Dragons have fire in their belly.
2. Fire is hot.
Therefore, dragons have something hot in their belly.


Yes,I see that you are right, Woody. If you substitute 'all hot things are fire' for 'Fire is hot' would it be a proper syllogism?


Not sure. I gotta brush up on my formal logic a bit to figure that one out.

The real problem is that the fire in premiss 1 is not the same thing as the fire in premiss 2.

Woody
durwoodie@hushmail.com
Woody
 
Posts: 52 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: June 26th, 2009, 6:59 am

Post Number:#13  Postby wanabe » July 7th, 2009, 9:42 pm

the answer is both, and more.

Priori knowledge is convoluted, most examples of such can be followed by the assertion that: though a particular knowledge may have been independent on surface level, there are some set of circumstances that lead one to that knowledge indirectly. Ultimately it depends on where one draws the line for the independence.

Posteriori is some thing all people can relate to, and is how the majority of knowledge is gained in schools.

in some ways priori knowledge is not so much knowledge but a way of intaking posteriori knowledge. like how snow boarding helps one gain knowledge of how to skate board.

So where is a definite case of priori, perhaps none definite, as that is the nature of non-experience, very abstract. True priori knowledge, I think is mostly instinctual or perhaps better to say intuition, like when one knows they are sick some how by felling in their body. or when you get that feeling that some one is watching you and you turn to look and there they are.though it is possible to lump this in with posteriori, again its where one draws the line.

Everything is interconnected to you, but there is a degree of independence because you are connected to everything and can effect things to “move” how you like.


And more? There is a chance that posteriori and priori are not the limits of gaining knowledge. Thinking that these are the only ways to obtain knowledge "blinds" one from seeing other ways in which to gain knowledge, the more ways to gain knowledge the better.
Secret To Eternal Life: Live Life To The Fullest, Help All Others To Do So.Meaning of Life Is Choice. Increase choice through direct perception. Golden rule+universality principal+Promote benefits-harm+logical consistency=morality.BeTheChange.
User avatar
wanabe
Moderator
 
Posts: 3388 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: November 24th, 2008, 5:12 am
Location: UBIQUITY
Favorite Philosopher: Gandhi.

Post Number:#14  Postby Simon says... » July 10th, 2009, 4:12 am

Ultimately are we refering to knowledge or to certainty? Knowledge simply being a more significantly and rationally justified belief, whereas with certainty, you cannot be wrong. Also remind me again what are we asking, which one exists? i.e. both, or which one is better? Of which I have no idea. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, in terms of their induction and deduction.

The problem of induction is that no matter how many pigs you throw off the mountain, you still have not prooved that pigs do not fly. This is because of many reasons, perhaps the flying pigs where not included in your sample set, or maybe they just didn't want to fly. You can quote me on this "just because pigs can fly doesn't mean they will fly when you through them off a cliff!" But induction can make things extremely likely, which is why I don't actually agree with the idea that if a coin is tossed a hundred times and it lands head a hundred times it will still be 50/50 on the next toss...why? because the probability of it landing heads one hundred times in a row is so astronomically low that this very much implies that there is something very wrong with that coin (albeit I am not certain, just like I am not certain pigs don't fly, I just think it's very likely).

Deduction on the other hand can make things certain...at least I think they can I will explain in a minute. But for example when Decarte revealed that it was impossible to be wrong on the question of one's own existence. The fact that you are questioning it impliesw you exist, in fact no matter how you spin it, the mere act of thinking requires existence, and how do I know I'm thinking? Because I'm asking myself that, and how do I know I'm asking myself that? Because your thinking about it...in other words it is impossible to break out of that truth it being irrefutably true. I think, I guess the only possible way to possibly even make an attempt to refute that is by saying that while logic may be perfect, we are not, and indeed not everyone has a firm grasp of logic (else I would have got 100% on my logic exam) and if this is so, is there not the tiny possiblity that our understanding of logic is so catastrophically flawed that even arguments like this are invalid? I doubt it, but I always leave open alternative possiblities on principle.

In other words I think things are only certain when you have an objective claim that is either true or false and you can proove the paradox of one and thus the certainty of the other. As for whether these two ways of knowing are natural to humans, sure, Pavlovian inductive learning is seen right across the animal kingdom, and many animals have the capacity to put two and two togethar so humans are not unique in this.
Simon says...
 
Posts: 738 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: July 10th, 2009, 3:24 am

Post Number:#15  Postby Belinda » July 10th, 2009, 4:57 am

A priori knowledge:-

sameness and difference, existence, cause. (Aristotle) Who can doubt this? I cannot.
Belinda
Contributor
 
Posts: 13760 (View: All / In topic)

Joined: July 10th, 2008, 7:02 pm
Location: UK

Next

Return to Epistemology and Metaphysics

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 6 guests

Philosophy Trophies

Most Active Members
by posts made in lasts 30 days

Avatar Member Name Recent Posts
Greta 162
Fooloso4 116
Renee 107
Ormond 97
Felix 90

Last updated January 6, 2017, 6:28 pm EST

Most Active Book of the Month Participants
by book of the month posts

Avatar Member Name BOTM Posts
Scott 147
Spectrum 23
Belinda 23
whitetrshsoldier 20
Josefina1110 19
Last updated January 6, 2017, 6:28 pm EST