Is apriority context-sensitive?

Research paper by Nenad Miščević

Indexed on: 01 Mar '05Published on: 01 Mar '05Published in: Acta Analytica


The paper argues that the use of epistemic terms, prominently “… knows” and even “… knows a priori/a posteriori” is context-sensitive along several dimensions. Besides the best known dimension of quality of evidence (lower quality for less demanding context, and higher one for more demanding), there is a dimension of depth (shallow justification for superficial evaluation, and deeper justification for deeper probing evaluation contexts). This claim is illustrated by context-dependent ascription of apriority and aposteriority. The argument proposed here focuses upon the status of propositions that are analytic in empirical concepts (like “Whales are animals”). It is a commonplace in epistemology that any analytic proposition (including e-analytic ones) is a priori.The paper claims that propositions analyzing empirical concepts are an interesting counterexample. It develops the following argument: Many such propositions have empirical counterparts that are expressed by the same form-of-words. (E.g., the form of words “Whales are mammals” can express both an e-analytic proposition and an empirical statement.) They normally derive from their empirical counterparts. Beliefs in such propositions, can be explicitly justified either a priori, by pointing out their conceptual, analytic status, or by reverting to their empirical counterparts. In contexts of very superficial evaluation, one may justify such an analytic belief in the first, conceptual way. In most contexts a belief in a proposition analyzing an empirical concept is being justified by appeal to its empirical counterparts. The empirical justification is normally taken as being ultimate. Empirical counterparts are derivationally deeper than the corresponding analytic propositions, and empirical justification is deeper than a priori one as well. Therefore, propositions analyzing empirical concepts are deeply a posteriori and superficially a priori.