Skip to main content
×
×
Home

Denial of the Synthetic A Priori1

  • Oliver A. Johnson (a1)
Extract

In his essay “Logical Empiricism”, in the anthology Twentieth Century Philosophy, Professor Feigl writes: “All forms of empiricism agree in repudiating the existence of synthetic a priori knowledge.” 2 Schlick makes the same point even more forcibly: “The empiricism which I represent believes itself to be clear on the point that, as a matter of principle, all propositions are either synthetic a posteriori or tautologous; synthetic a priori propositions seem to it to be a logical impossibility.”3 The denial of synthetic a prioris is a major thesis of the logical empiricist position, being found in the writings of most of the leaders of the movement.4 The reason for its importance is fairly clear. It provides a formula on which the empiricists can base their critique of traditional philosophy. To use Ayer's phrase, denial of the synthetic a priori results in “the elimination of metaphysics”. The philosophical tradition to which the empiricists are opposed and whose “metaphysics” they wish to eliminate can be called, somewhat loosely, rationalism.

Copyright
References
Hide All

page 255 note 2 Feigl H., “Logical Empiricism’, in Twentieth Century Philosophy, ed. Runes D. D. (New York, 1947), p. 387.

page 255 note 3 Schlick M., ‘Is There a Factual A Priori?” in Readings in Philosophical Analysis, eds. Feigl H. and Sellars W. (New York, 1949), p. 281.

page 255 note 4 Cf., for example, Ayer A. J., Language, Truth and Logic, 2d. ed. (London, 1948), pp. 38, 72, 86–7;Carnap R., Philosophy and Logical Syntax (London, 1935), P. 75;Reichenbach H., The Rise of Scientific Philosophy (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1951), pp. 38–9.

page 255 note 5 For the remainder of the paper I shall use the term “empiricist” to refer to one who denies synthetic a prioris and “rationalist” to refer to one who affirms them. This usage is, I think, compatible with the traditional meanings of these terms.

page 257 note 1 Cf., for example, Langford C. H., “A Proof that Synthetic A Priori Propositions Exist”, The Journal of Philosophy, 46 (1949), 20–4 and Ewing A. C.The Linguistic Theory of a priori Propositions”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series XL (1939–1940), 239 ff.

page 260 note 1 To the objection that I have begged the question by assuming propositions rather than sentences, I should reply that the argument applies as well to sentences as types (which are abstract) in contrast to concrete tokens.

1 This paper was read before the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association at the University of Oregon on December 30, 1958. I wish to thank Paul Bredenberg and David Harrah for their very helpful criticisms of the manuscript.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Philosophy
  • ISSN: 0031-8191
  • EISSN: 1469-817X
  • URL: /core/journals/philosophy
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 9 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 116 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd January 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.