Tuesday, September 3, 2019

What Anti-Individualists Cannot Know A Priori :: Philosophy Philosophical Essays

What Anti-Individualists Cannot Know A Priori ABSTRACT: The attempt to hold both anti-individualism and privileged self-knowledge may have the absurd consequence that someone could know a priori propositions that are knowable only empirically. This would be so if such an attempt entailed that one could know a priori both the contents of one’s own thoughts and the anti-individualistic entailments from those thought-contents to the world. For then one could also come to know a priori (by simple deduction) the empirical conditions entailed by one’s thoughts. But I argue that there is no construal of a priori knowledge that could be used to raise an incompatibility problem of this sort. First, I suggest that the incompatibilist a priori must be a stipulative one, since in none of the main philosophical traditions does knowledge of the contents of one’s thoughts count as a priori. Then, I show that under various possible construals of a priori, the incompatibilist argument would be invalid: either a fallacy of eq uivocation or an argument without a plausible closure principle guaranteeing transmission of epistemic status from premises to conclusion. Finally, I maintain that the only possible construal of the property of being knowable a priori that avoids invalidity is one that fails to generate the intended reductio. I Compatibilism, or the attempt to hold both Burgean anti-individualism and common intuitions about privileged self-knowledge, appears to entail that a person (say, Oscar) could come to know a priori the premises of arguments of this sort: B 1. If I am now thinking that water is wet, then water exists. 2. I am now thinking that water is wet. Therefore, 3. Water exists. Naturally, from such premises Oscar could come to know a priori that water exists (i.e., by simple deduction) — yet nobody can know that a priori! Some take this to be a reductio of compatibilism (call them "incompatibilists"). But I shall suggest how anti-individualists could retain common intuitions about self-knowledge, without fearing that their views would entail unacceptable claims about the epistemic status of empirical propositions. First I shall ask why incompatibilists hold that, given both anti-individualism and privileged self-knowledge, each premise of inferences such as (B) are knowable a priori. I shall then argue that there is no plausible construal of "a priori" that could be used to generate the alleged reductio. II First, consider (B)'s second premise: could Oscar come to know a priori the proposition that he is thinking that water is wet, according to the criteria for "a priori" knowledge in the main philosophical traditions that invoke knowledge of this sort?

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