ROBERT HANNA | Cognition, Content, and the A Priori. A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge | Oxford University Press 2015


 

By Robert Hanna

A more overtly challenging, edgy, provocative, and unorthodox, but also entirely accurate, alternative title for Cognition, Content, and the A Priori (henceforth, CCAP) would have been Good-Bye To Analytic Philosophy And All That (henceforth, GBTAP). By re-christening CCAP in this way, as GBTAP, of course I would be echoing the title of Robert Graves’s brilliant, edgy memoir of The Great War and England in the 1920s, Good-Bye to All That, and his bitter rejection of the late Victorian, fin de siècle, and early 20th century sociocultural and political system that relentlessly led up to the senseless, tragic slaughter of 9 million combatants from England, France, Germany, Britain’s colonial Empire (especially Canada and Australia), and the USA, not to mention the even more senseless, tragic killing of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, and its laying-waste to large swaths of the European countryside, between 1914 and 1918.

It also happened, although infinitely less violently and somewhat more slowly, that the leading philosophers of the combatant nations of the Great War and England in the 1920s, managed to lay waste to large swaths of Kantian and idealistic post-Kantian philosophical thinking, in the eight decades from 1870 to 1950.

At the turn of the 21st century—as it happened, coinciding with the death of Quine and the historical end of the anti-Kantian and anti-idealistic philosophical era I just described—in 2001, in Kant and the Foundations of Analytic Philosophy, I argued that the historical and conceptual foundations of the Analytic tradition in philosophy from Frege to Quine had two basic elements:

(1) the highly conflicted and in effect Oedipal rejection of Kant’s Critical philosophy, focused on idealism and the anaytic-synthetic distinction,

and

(2) the rise and fall of the theory of analyticity within Analytic philosophy.

Not being satisfied with criticising only the first half of the Analytic tradition, 1870 to 1950, I followed that up in 2006 with Kant, Science, and Human Nature, in which I argued that the two basic elements of the Analytic tradition after Quine, through Sellars, Putnam, and Kripke, and then into the first decade of the 21st century, were:

(1*) essentially the same anxiety-of-influence about Kant’s Critical philosophy, now focused on issues surrounding the necessary-contingent and a priori-a posteriori distinctions,

and

(2*) the rise and fall of scientism, modal epistemology, and modal metaphysics—as epitomised by scientific essentialism—within Analytic philosophy.

In both books, alongside my critical historical discussions of the Analytic tradition, I also developed a charitable reconstruction and defence of Kant’s Critical philosophy, in direct opposition to past and present Analytic philosophy alike.

Then, when it was published a decade later, in 2015, the aim of CCAP was to present and defend, in a fully systematic way, a contemporary Kantian approach to all these issues and more, especially including new solutions to outstanding problems in the theory of a priori knowledge.

—And in so doing, finally to send Analytic philosophy down into the ash-heap of the history of philosophy.

That being so, not altogether surprisingly, as Hume memorably said of the Treatise of Human Nature, CCAP too “fell dead-born from the press”, in that it has been avoided, ignored, uncriticised, unrefuted, and above all unread by most contemporary Kantians and by all contemporary Analytic philosophers.

Of course, as we all know, but few are ever courageous or foolhardy enough to say in print, refutation by neglect is by far-and-away the most effective way of dealing with edgy, challenging, provocative, unorthodox philosophy—and also the most sophistical.

In all of these connections, then, I am extremely grateful to Dennis Schulting (and also to David Landy, in his earlier set of critical comments on CCAP for this journal) for being both able and willing to read CCAP, and take it seriously, but above all for Schulting’s highly insightful and suggestive critical comments on chapter 4, ‘Truth in Virtue of Intentionality, Or, The Return of the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction’.

They provide me with an opportunity to develop the “goodbye to Analytic philosophy and all that” theme just a little more explicitly, and also a little further, than I did in CCAP itself. Bounded in a nutshell, then, what I think is that Analytic philosophy, like the doomed Titanic, has run headlong into a triple-decker iceberg

First, its failure to provide an adequate theory of the analytic-synthetic distinction, analyticity, logic, and a priori knowledge, in the wake of the breakdowns of Logicism and Logical Empiricism;

second, the falsity of strong and weak Conceptualism alike, one or the other of which is an all-but-universal commitment of Analytic philosophers, given the all-but-universal acceptance of neo-Fregean or neo-Russellian description-theoretic semantics, when it is taken together with Sellars’s attack on The Myth of the Given,

and

third, the destructive dilemma of indefensibly committing itself to

either (i) radical Empiricism and scientific naturalism on the one hand (the neo-Quinean horn),

or (ii) Leibnizian-Wolffian style noumenal modal metaphysics and scientific naturalism on the other hand (the neo-Kripkean, Lewisian horn),

even despite the fact that both horns of the dilemma are clearly philosophically inadequate.

Or so I claim. How do I prove these claims?

As to the first, in CCAP, Chapter 4, I roll out an exhaustive critique of Analytic philosophy’s attempt to provide an adequate theory of the analytic-synthetic distinction, and provide in its place a fully-detailed contemporary Kantian theory based on the categorically sharp distinction between conceptual content and essentially non-conceptual content; and then in Chapter 5, I also provide a fully-detailed contemporary Kantian theory of the nature and status of logic.

As to the second, in CCAP, Chapters 2–3, I roll out an exhaustive critique of the contemporary debate about Conceptualism and Non-Conceptualism, and provide in its place a fully-detailed theory of conceptual and essentially non-conceptual content, as well as a new contemporary Kantian theory of sense perception and perceptual knowledge, driven by the theory of essentially non-conceptual content worked out in Chapter 2.

And as to the third, in CCAP, Chapters 6–8, I roll out an exhaustive critique of the neo-Quinean and the neo-Kripkean attempts to explain the a priori–a posteriori distinction, as well as a decisive critique of scientific naturalism, and provide in their place a fully detailed theory of synthetic a priori knowledge together with a new positive solution to the Benacerraf Dilemma(s). So, if I am correct, then in a substantive philosophical sense, good-bye to Analytic philosophy and all that!

Now, what would I put in the place of Analytic philosophy? In its place, I would put the Kant-inspired “life-changing metaphysics” of rational anthropology, as worked out in this recent paper. So I am also saying, forward to Kant via rational anthropology!

Of course, even if I am completely right about my highly apocalyptic and (admittedly) highly controversial claim that Analytic philosophy is finished as a substantive philosophical enterprise, and should be replaced by Kant-inspired rational anthropology, it is nevertheless really possible that Analytic philosophy could still go on and on and on, until the crack of doom, as a highly practically effective, ideologically hegemonic, and utterly regressive social-institutional enterprise, forever dominating professional academic philosophy.

As to that tragic real possibility: I and some other like-minded radical philosophical critics have been trying our very best to undermine the foundations of that enterprise too—but that’s another long story for another day.

Objections and Replies

In this section, I’ll make brief replies to each of Schulting’s very philosophically charitable, suggestive, and therefore much-appreciated, objections.

I’ve reproduced the relevant passages from his essay in italics, and then my corresponding replies in plain text. Then I’ll finish up in the concluding section with some even briefer concluding remarks that tie together the introduction and the current section.

Schulting writes:

I personally believe Kantian nonconceptualism is now dead and buried, and the less said about it, the better. I say this with not a little irony, only very recently having edited myself an entire volume on the topic (Schulting 2016). I firmly believe though that whatever continues to be written about it can only be a repetition of past moves: it seems to me that every conceivable worthwhile position has been made sufficiently clear in the existing literature […].

I both agree and disagree. I agree that basically everything that can be said by way of defending Kantian Conceptualism against Kantian Non-Conceptualism has already been said.

But I also disagree, if we assume that Kantian Non-Conceptualism is actually correct.

First, there is still lots of work to be done exploring the implications of the unsoundness of the Transcendental Deduction of the Categories, along the lines of this recent paper, ‘Kantian Madness: Blind Intuitions, Essentially Rogue Objects, Nomological Deviance, and Categorial Anarchy‘.

Second, since Intellectualism about Kant’s theory of free will and practical agency presupposes Conceptualism, then it follows that Kantian Non-Intellectualism—which combines Affectivism about free will and practical agency, with Kantian Non-Conceptualism—is also correct and that there is still lots to be done exploring the implications of that, along the lines of my book MS, Deep Freedom and Real Persons, Sections 3.3 and 3.4.

Third, if Kantian Non-Conceptualism is correct and Kantian Non-Intellectualism is correct, then it follows that there is still lots to be done exploring the implications of a unified ‘Sensibility First’ approach to the Critical Philosophy, along the lines of my infinite-task critical commentary and philosophical reconstruction of the First CritiqueThe Limits of Sense and Reason.

Schulting further writes:

At the risk of seeming to lay it on rather thick, Hanna concludes that, «in effect, Quine’s Predicament is Quine’s committing cognitive suicide by logical self-stultification» […]. All in all, Quine’s Predicament is «philosophically dire» […]. With such an indictment of a famous philosopher’s legacy, one asks oneself why Quine was and still is ever so considered a major deity in the analytical pantheon.

I think Schulting has posed the question rhetorically, so I also think that both of us would agree that the answer is twofold.

First, Quine’s deification was simply what we were taught in graduate school, with “none of your smart-alecky back-talk now”, as my parents used to say.

Second, Quine’s students, then his students’ students, and now his students’ students’ students, in reverse apostolic succession, have all become major players in Anglo-American professional academic philosophy, thereby spreading The Word (and Object).

Schulting comments:

But the operative question is: what then does the notion of the synthetic a priori accomplish in terms of explaining analyticity that all those valiant efforts by  so many lights in logic and metaphysics couldn’t? Here I found Hanna less helpful. Hanna rightly relates Kant’s analytic-synthetic distinction to his content dualism, which holds that there are «two essentially distinct but complementary kinds of intentional content or mental content», namely conceptual content and intuitional content, whereby «analyticity is grounded on conceptual content and syntheticity is grounded on intuitional content» […]. But to present the analytic-synthetic distinction as neatly mapping onto the concept-intuition distinction is too easy, I think, and probably  incorrect.

What is meant by «conceptual content»? Sure, «analyticity is grounded on conceptual content», if by «conceptual content» is meant the relation between two or more concepts, whereby (1) that relation is ultimately one of subordination, in virtue of analytic unity, in a categorical judgement as the basic form of any logical relation (in Kant’s logic) and (2) analytical relations between concepts can be explained by conceptual content only, for any actual reference to objects, via intuitional content, is otiose.

But does that imply that syntheticity is not based, at least partly, on conceptual content in any sense at all? 

In fact, I don’t present the analytic-synthetic distinction as merely mapping onto the concept-intuition distinction, one-to-one. It’s more complex than that. My basic formulation in CCAP is as follows:

What is the analytic-synthetic distinction? According to the contemporary Kantian conception I am offering, it is the categorically sharp contrast between two fundamentally different kinds of truth, distinguished in terms of what each kind is “true-in-virtue-of”. That is, the analytic-synthetic distinction, as I am understanding it from a contemporary Kantian point of view, is the categorically sharp contrast between (i) necessary truth in virtue of conceptual content, such that this content is always taken together with some things in the manifestly real world beyond conceptual content, although its truth is never in virtue of those worldly things (analytic truth), and (ii) necessary or contingent truth in virtue of things in the manifestly real world beyond conceptual content, as represented by autonomous essentially nonconceptual content, such that this content is always taken together with some conceptual content, although its truth is never in virtue of conceptual content (synthetic truth). And as I will understand them, the phrase “in virtue of” means “essentially because of, although not exclusively because of”, and correspondingly the phrase “never in virtue of” means “never essentially because of, even if partially because of”. (p. 147)

In other words, according to my version of the analytic-synthetic distinction, the meaningfulness and truth of all analytic propositions requires some world-directed content as a cognitive-semantic necessary condition, which content in turn is the same as essentially non-conceptual content, yet analytic truth is never essentially because of, even if partially because of that essentially non-conceptual content, but rather essentially because of, although not exclusively because of the conceptual content of that proposition.

And correspondingly, the meaningfulness and truth of all synthetic propositions requires some conceptual content as a cognitive-semantic necessary condition, yet synthetic truth is never essentially because of, even if partially because of that conceptual content, but rather essentially because of, although not exclusively because of the essentially non-conceptual content of that proposition.

Schulting further comments:

There is another sense in which the analytic-synthetic distinction cannot be seen as simply mapping, one-to-one, onto the conceptual-intuition distinction: the synthetic a priori, which Hanna rightly associates with the analytic-synthetic distinction, is however not equivalent to that distinction. I think Hanna would concur with this, but it wasn’t clear to me how he does see them related. 

I do agree that the synthetic a priori adds something fundamentally new and irreducible to the analytic-synthetic distinction per se. That “something fundamentally new and irreducible” is both cognitive-semantic and also modal.

The cognitive-semantic part is what I call formal autonomous essentially non-conceptual content in CCAP, Chapters 2 and 4—a priori representations of the transcendentally ideal spatiotemporal structures that frame the manifest world of actual and possible human experience.

The modal part, in turn, has two parts: (i) semantic apriority, and (ii) the restricted class of experienceable worlds.

By semantic apriority I mean this:

A statement S is semantically a priori if and only if the meaning and truth-value of S are necessarily and constitutively underdetermined by any and all empirical facts. (p. 212)

And by the restricted class of experienceable worlds, I mean this:

[A] special class of possible worlds, membership in which is defined precisely by the members’ severally satisfying all the transcendental conditions necessary and jointly sufficient for the possibility of the human experience of objects. (Hanna 2001:244)

So I am saying that the “something fundamentally new and irreducible” added by the synthetic a priori is that, unlike any other kind of a proposition (or statement, etc.), it is

(i) true in virtue of formal autonomous essentially non-conceptual content,

(ii) semantically a priori,

and

(iii) restrictedly necessarily true, by special reference to the transcendental conditions for the possibility of human experience, that is, true in all and only the experienceable worlds.

Schulting asks:

How is the logical content of an analytic truth, e.g. a is not not-a, explained? Or is an analytic truth an unexplainable basic fact? In a sense it is; there is no determining reason or ground for the truth of the principle that a is not not-a. And this holds in general for all logical truths: all logical truths are explainable from basic analytic truths, in particular the principle of non-contradiction. There is no further basic fact from which these analytic truths can all be deductively derived, and they can’t be explained other than by means of pure analysis, reductively down to the principle of non-contradiction.

OK. This is a version of what Harry Sheffer (1926) called The Logocentric Predicament, aka The LP:

In order to justify or explain logic, logic must already be used; hence, it seems, logic is both unjustifiable and inexplicable.

And by general agreement amongst philosophers of logic, The LP is indeed a hard problem. But as I argued in Rationality and Logic, Chapter 3, The LP is just a striking way of formulating the hard problem, not by any means the end of the story.

So in that book, I also argued that according to what I call Logical Cognitivism, what grounds logic, in a way that is both rationally justifiable and philosophically explanatory, is our innate capacity for human rationality, including all its interconnected sub-capacities—especially our capacity for essentially non-conceptual cognition, aka sensibility, and our capacity for conceptualisation, aka understanding—as a primitive “transcendental fact”.

In CCAP, Chapter 5, I argue essentially the same thing, but also as necessarily presupposing a weak, counterfactual version of the thesis of transcendental idealism,[1] which I later spell out in more detail and defend in CCAP, Section 7.3.

So the primitive “transcendental fact” of the innate capacity for human rationality, especially including sensibility and understanding, also necessarily carries along with it weak or counterfactual transcendental idealism. Let’s call this compound “transcendental fact”, The Fact. My claim, then, is that The Fact explains every kind of logic.

Schulting subsequently says:

Thought, or more precisely, the principle that constrains thought, namely the original synthetic unity of apperception, is the a priori ground of logical and conceptual truths as well as non-logical truths, which are about objects in the world, or anything that is not logically or merely conceptually analysable.

I’m willing to agree with that, that is, I think it’s perfectly consistent with the general solution to The LP problem that I worked out in Rationality and Logic and again in CCAP, Chapter 5.

Schulting says:

The principle of transcendental apperception, the ‘I think’ proposition, states that I must be able to accompany all my representations, which implies […] that representations that are not my representations strictly speaking are not accompanied by my ‘I think’, for any instantiation of the ‘I think’. In other words, representations can only be called my representations if I so accompany them, by thinking them, for any instantiation of the ‘I think’. All other representations, which are not accompanied by my ‘I think’, if the ‘I think’ is instantiated, are eo ipso not my representations sensu stricto. That means that a representation cannot be mine if it does not belong to the set of «all my representations», which a representation is only when it is accompanied by my ‘I think’ jointly with all my other occurrent representations (representations that I take together as one in whatever complex thought I entertain). It is intrinsically contradictory to have a representation which is claimed to be mine, while not thinkingly accompanying that representation, jointly with all my other occurrent representations, thus claiming it to belong to me. This by no means reductively explains what the principle of non-contradiction is, nor, as I made it clear above, are contradictory statements ipso facto impossible thoughts, but at least it shows that thought itself fundamentally expresses the bindingness of the principle of non-contradiction, and in the sense that the transcendental logic of our discursive thought is a necessary condition of all thought, transcendental logic grounds even the principles of «sheer logic», such as the principle of non-contradiction.

Recently, Clinton Tolley (2012) has argued, in contrast to the orthodox interpretation that with respect to the unrestricted scope of general or «traditional» logic transcendental logic is a special logic with a restrictive scope, that transcendental logic is not «domain-subordinative», as traditionally  most commentators suggest or argue, but rather «domain-coincident» with general or formal (traditional) logic. Tolley’s views in this regard tie in with my view, represented in outline above, that transcendental logic grounds even the principles of «sheer logic» (Kant’s general or «traditional» logic, as Tolley refers to it). In the conclusion to an article that must be regarded as effecting an important shift in the understanding of the relation between Kant’s general or «traditional» logic and his transcendental logic, Tolley writes:

[T]ranscendental logic has been shown to deal with principles that govern all kinds of thinking and judging, no matter what sort of object is being thought about. This is because transcendental logic specifies a condition without which thinking would have absolutely no content whatsoever, because  there  simply is no other kind of content that is possible for thinking. To think at all is to cognize, to consciously represent an object, through concepts; to think at all is to think about an object. Yet because the generic concept of an object of  thought just is the subject-matter of transcendental logic, transcendental logic, no less than traditional logic, provides a conditio sine qua non for any instance of thinking and understanding. Both logics, therefore, are equally and unrestrictedly general in their scope, which implies that their domains must be viewed  instead as perfectly coincident. The contrast between the logics  is not to be understood in terms of the difference between kinds, or the difference between genus and species, but rather in terms of the difference between aspects of thinking or judgment that are at issue—namely, the difference between the form and the content of understanding.

I have a slightly different ‘take’ on the transcendental logic vs. pure general logic distinction, according to which transcendental logic is indeed less general than pure general logic. And I’ve also worked that out in CCAP, Section 5.1, pp. 235–8.

But that interpretation depends, in part, on a non-standard, and therefore somewhat controversial, account of what the generality of pure general logic actually consists in.

I interpret pure general logic’s generality in terms of a logical truth’s necessary underdetermination by every possible domain of truth-making objects, including empty domains as a limit case, along the lines of Tarski’s model-theoretic definition of logical truth, but not as abstracting logic away from objects.

Then transcendental logic requires, as its special domain of objects, all the objects of actual or possible human experience, that is, all the experienceable worlds.

Hence transcendental logic also specifically presupposes all the transcendental conditions for the possibility of human experience—the pure forms of sensibility, the schematised categories, the transcendental schemata of the imagination, and the original synthetic unity of apperception—whereas pure general logic does not.

But in any case, I hold that The Fact is metaphysically prior to all logic, whether pure general logic, transcendental logic, or any other kind, and grounds them all.

Schulting further writes:

Clearly, they are non-reducible kinds of truth, but given the paramount importance of the synthetic a priori as the quintessential middle term that is sorely missing in analytic philosophy, one would assume that, as I believe, the distinction between the analytic and the synthetic, necessary though it is, can’t be absolute, but is relative, just because both rely on the synthetic a priori as their enabling ground (without thereby dissolving or conflating in any way the distinction between transcendental and general, or more precisely, formal logic; that hard border in fact first enables us to understand the synthetic a priori as the middle term between the analytic and the synthetic).

As per the above, I’d want to claim that “the middle term” is not the synthetic a priori per se, but instead The Fact. Now, to be sure, if that claim is a truth, then it’s a synthetic a priori truth.

Nevertheless, as I mentioned above, I think that synthetic a priori truth, as such, is to be explained in terms of The Fact, and not the converse.

Schulting concludes:

One might want to argue that here in the Leitfaden Kant says nothing about analytic truths, and technically speaking that’s right. But recall Kant’s remark in that earlier quoted footnote to the B-Deduction, in which Kant makes the sideways observation that original apperception is a condition even on the whole of logic. As I said above, this could be interpreted in such a way that analytic statements, which are prima facie governed merely by the rules of what Kant calls general or formal logic (B79; B170), are also constrained by the necessary rules of transcendental logic, in that they are as  much thoughts with semantic content as  judgements about objects are, even though the analysis of their purely conceptual content does not require reference to the functions of thought as metaphysical categories, let alone to actual objects. To put this differently, analytic truths are not in any way reducible to synthetic a priori truths (which would result in an inverse kind of ‘schmanalyticity’), but clearly the distinction between the analytic and the synthetic cannot be a «categorically sharp» one, as Hanna believes, lest one dismiss this idea of transcendental logic being a condition on logic itself—but then, if he were to do so, Hanna would contradict his own attempts to reintroduce or reappraise the analytic-synthetic distinction, and a fortiori, the synthetic a priori, as a means of explaining the very possibility of analyticity or the principles of sheer logic, and its distinction from syntheticity.

Here’s my picture of the relevant explanatory and ontological dependency-relationships:

The analytic-synthetic distinction, including the “something fundamentally unique and irreducible” that is added by the synthetic a priori, presupposes the categorically sharp distinction between two kinds of content, conceptual and essentially non-conceptual; and this essential difference, in turn, I claim, is explained by The Fact; but that very claim turns out to be synthetic a priori true, if it is true at all.

In this picture, I don’t see that there’s any problem with my taking the distinction between conceptual and non-conceptual content to be “categorically sharp”, i.e. an essential difference, since that difference, in turn, is grounded on a compound transcendental fact, i.e. The Fact, that is explanatorily and ontologically basic, hence metaphysically prior to that difference.

Moreover, the mere cognitive-semantic fact that my claim about The Fact is synthetic a priori, is no more self-undermining than the mere cognitive-semantic fact that the very idea of essentially non-conceptual content is, after all, a concept, proves that Kantian Non-Conceptualism is self-undermining and that Conceptualism is true.

Similarly, just because, in order for me to assert the true claim that not everything is language, it is true that I have to use language, it doesn’t follow that I’ve contradicted myself or that everything really is language.

GTAP and the Synthetic A Priori

What ties the previous two sections together, then, is the very idea of the synthetic a priori. Here is what I say about the very idea of the synthetic a priori in CCAP, Section 4.7:

The basic notion of synthetically necessary truth […] is that it is truth about the kind of necessity that flows from the immanent structures of things in the manifestly real world, as represented by formal autonomous essentially non-conceptual content. And the primary implication of this basic notion is that synthetic necessity is knowable a priori by rational human minded animals. Now, formal autonomous essentially non-conceptual content connects us directly and veridically to the immanent structures—the orientable spatial properties, the irreversible temporal properties, the asymmetric thermodynamic  properties, and, more generally, the specifically mathematical properties—of all causally efficacious macroscopic material things in the manifestly real world. So synthetic necessity is necessary truth in virtue of non-empirical/pure/a priori formal autonomous essentially non-conceptual content, and this is knowable a priori by means of the rational intuitional capacities of human knowers […]. (pp. 213–14)

In any case, here is the content-based definition of synthetically necessary truth according to The Content-and-Rationality Theory of the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction and Modal Dualism:

A statement S is synthetically necessarily true if and only if S is necessarily true in virtue of the formal autonomous essentially non-conceptual contents contained in the content of S, regardless of the other semantic constituents of S, and regardless of the logical form of S.

Corresponding to the content-based definition of synthetic necessity is the criterion of synthetically necessary truth:

A statement S is synthetically necessarily true if and only if S is such that (i) S’s denial is intensionally consistent and logically consistent, and (ii) S is necessarily true.

And here is the possible-worlds-based definition of synthetically necessary truth, according to The Content-and-Rationality Theory:

A statement S is synthetically necessarily true if and only if (i) S is true in all the logically possible worlds that contain the same basic spacetime structure, the same basic causal-dynamic structure and also the same basic mathematical structure as our actual manifestly real world, (ii) S is truth-valueless in every other logically possible world.

In turn, S is truth-valueless in all and only the logically possible worlds that lack the basic spacetime structure of the actual manifestly real world, lack the basic causal-dynamic structure of the actual manifestly real world, or lack the basic mathematical structure of the actual manifestly real world.

In a closely related way, but on the contrary, I call any logically possible world that lacks none of these structures, and thus contains the same basic spacetime structure, the same basic causal-dynamic structure, and also the same basic mathematical structure, as our actual manifestly real world, a synthetically possible world [aka an experienceable world]. Thus a statement S is synthetically necessarily true if and only if S is true in all and only the synthetically possible worlds, and a ‘truth-value gap’ otherwise. This definition can also be reformulated, mutatis mutandis, for synthetically necessary falsehoods.

In view of the distinctions I spelled out earlier between semantic apriority and aposteriority, and epistemic apriority and aposteriority, we can now also formulate The Apriority of Synthetically Necessary Truth Principle:

If a statement S is synthetically necessarily true, then S is both semantically a priori and also epistemically a priori.[2]

This principle can also be reformulated, mutatis mutandis, for the apriority of synthetically necessary falsehoods.

It is of course the case that ‘the very idea’ of a synthetically necessary a priori truth was vigorously challenged by the originators of Logical Empiricism, especially Carnap and Schlick. And it is also of course the case that in post-Empiricist [Analytic] philosophy, the unintelligibility and indefensibility of the very idea of a synthetically necessary a priori truth are often assumed without argument and without critical re-examination. Or more subtly, when the intelligibility and defensibility of the synthetic a priori are admitted by philosophers in the post-Empiricist [Analytic tradition], the kind of truth in question usually turns out to be only a disguised kind of conceptual truth—as it were, analyticity in sheep’s clothing—and therefore, in effect, it is nothing but the schmynthetic a priori.

I strongly believe, however, that these are fundamental mistakes, with far-reaching philosophical implications. That strong belief led me to work out a historical defence of the synthetic a priori in Kant and the Foundations of Analytic Philosophy, Chapters 4 and 5. I have also presented a brief, purely systematic defence of the synthetic a priori in relation to the mind-body problems in Embodied Minds in Action, Section 7.4. (pp. 213–14)

And now I have presented a fully-detailed systematic defence of the synthetic a priori in CCAP. Analytic philosophy has always rejected the intelligibility and defensibility of the synthetic a priori: indeed its rejection is the foundational cornerstone of the entire Analytic philosophical enterprise. Nevertheless, the ineliminable and irreducible presence of the synthetic a priori haunts Analytic philosophy like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, driving it finally to intellectual death and down into the ash-heap of the history of philosophy.

After the intellectual death and ash-heaping of Analytic philosophy, the post-Analytic philosophical project of resuscitating and renovating the analytic-synthetic distinction, and above all of demonstrating that the very idea of the synthetic a priori is not only perfectly intelligible but also fully defensible, requires a direct explanatory appeal to the categorically sharp distinction between conceptual content and essentially non-conceptual content, which in turn necessarily presupposes—and so do all forms of logic—The Fact.

In other words, the post-Analytic philosophical project—rational anthropology—is a contemporary Kantian philosophical project. So really and truly saying good-bye to Analytic philosophy and all that, is thereby also really and truly going forward to Kant via rational anthropology.

Notes:

[1] Weak or counterfactual transcendental idealism says: “Synthetically a priori necessarily, anything that belongs to the manifestly real world is such that if some rational human animals were to exist in that world, then they would veridically cognize that thing, at least to some extent, via either autonomous essentially non-conceptual content or conceptual  content” (CCAP, p. 338, italics added).

[2] By epistemically a priori I mean: “A statement S is epistemically a priori if and only if any sufficiently justified […] true belief in S is necessarily and constitutively underdetermined by any and all empirical facts” (CCAP, p. 213).


References:

Hanna, R. (2001), Kant and the Foundations of Analytic Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon Press).

Sheffer, H. (1926), ‘Review of Principia Mathematica, Volume I, second edition’, Isis 8: 226–331.

© Robert Hanna, 2017.


Robert Hanna is the Director of the CSKP & CKP projects. He received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1989, and has held research or teaching positions at the University of Cambridge, the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA, the University of Luxembourg, PUC-PR Brazil, Yale, and York University, Canada. His work has a broadly Kantian orientation, and he also has strong interests in the history of modern philosophy from Bacon/Hobbes/Descartes to contemporary philosophy, in the philosophy of nature and natural science, and in critical meta-philosophy. He has authored or co-authored six books and is currently working on a four-book series on the nature of human rationality, entitled The Rational Human Condition.

Website

 

Advertisements