“A Priori Truths,” pages 37-50 in Central Issues in Philosophy, edited by John Shand, Blackwell, 2009.
Philosophers love a priori knowledge: we delight in truths that can be known from the comfort of our armchairs, without the need to venture out in the world for cofirmation. This is due not to laziness, but to two different considerations. First, it seems that many philosophical issues aren’t settled by our experience of the world – the nature of morality; the way concepts pick out objects; the structure of our experience of the world in which we find ourselves – these issues seem to be decided not on the basis of our experience, but in some manner by things prior to (or independently of) that experience. Second, even when we are deeply interested in how our experience lends credence to our claims about the world, the matter remains of the remainder: we learn more about how experience contributes to knowledge when we see what knowledge is available independent of that experience.
In this essay we will look at the topic of what can be known a priori.