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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/4607/synthetic-apriori-truths-and-mind-structure-a-nominalist-perspective/

Synthetic Apriori Truths and Mind Structure: A Nominalist Perspective

January 27, 2006 by

I have been discussing the nature and truth of the proposition that humans act with a nominalist. I have not been able to respond to his criticism of the truth of synthetic a priori categories, ideas, concepts, etc. It seems to me to be perfectly valid criticism, but I am interested to hear what other people think.

Mises says, “The a priori categories are not innate ideas. What the … child inherits from his parents are not any categories, ideas, or concepts, but the human mind that has the capacity to learn and to conceive ideas, the capacity to make its bearer behave as a human being, i.e., to act.” How does Mises know this, and what does he mean by the mind?

Mises rightly criticised treating imaginary things (collectives, analogies, metaphors, etc.) as real and warns us to be very cautious when using fictitious auxiliary constructs to explain things, but has he not himself committed the fallacy of treating the mind as a real thing? The mind does not exist; it has no existence as a noun. We can “mind” our step, but this “mind” has no structure; it is a verb. Yet Mises talks of the structure of the mind repeatedly and it is central to his claim that the proposition that humans act is true a priori.

Is Mises not mistaken in talking about synthetic things being true a priori and is it not due to his incorrect use of the mind as a real thing? Comments appreciated.

{ 58 comments }

Michael A. Clem January 27, 2006 at 10:20 am

I don’t know if I can adequately answer your question, but consider this: I think, therefore, I am, and more importantly, I am aware and have consciousness. If that isn’t the “mind”, then we can at least talk about the mind and structures of the mind as an idea or concept in itself. Like other concepts, these concepts are useful when they correspond to actual things in reality (the brain and its functions), the closer the correspondence, the more useful they are.

Vache Folle January 27, 2006 at 10:56 am

Why not substutute “brain” for mind and posit a set of innate modules for constructing models of the world. These will not be “true” in the sense of capturing the essence of reality, but they will be “true” insofar as they have been found by natural selection to be “tried and true”.

Koen January 27, 2006 at 11:13 am

you may be interested in reading ‘Anti-psychologism in economics: Wittgenstein and Frege’ see here

Paul Edwards January 27, 2006 at 11:14 am

Benjamin,

“The mind does not exist”

I like to attack such statements from the Hoppean angle. What does argumentation presuppose? How does one come to any conclusion about anything and put into thoughts and words any arguments if the mind does not exist? We presuppose we have a mind with which to conceive and make any arguments. The statement “The mind does not exist” is a performative contradiction. One cannot apprehend or rationally justify, using one’s mind that the mind does not exist. Or in other words, if the statement were true, the statement itself could not be made. Since the statement was made, it cannot be true.

This stuff is just about as much fun as economics. And economics is a hoot.

Koen January 27, 2006 at 11:14 am

sorry, ‘Anti-psychologism in economics: Wittgenstein and Frege’ can be found here http://praxeology.net/antipsych.pdf

Geoffrey Plauche January 27, 2006 at 11:15 am

One can always argue against nominalism and Kantianism. Praxeology can be and, I think, is best thought of in (Neo-)Aristotelian terms.

Brian Moore January 27, 2006 at 11:31 am

I have only a limited knowledge of various philosphic beleifs but it seems to me that this is an argument over definitions more then any thing else. Just as Michael A. Clem posted above, “I think there for I am,” one must put a label on what the “I” in that statement refers too. It can’t the brain because Descarte was working from the position of radical doubt and had yet to prove such a thng could exist. Even working from a less radical perspective we know that the brain is also insuffisiant because we know that we can remove certain chunks of the brain and it can still function and in some cases even repair itself while the mind itself remains intact. All I know is that I am a thinking thing. That is generally labeled as the mind. If the critic of Mises is suggesting that the reason there is no “mind” is because there is nothing that can be labeled then he is just wrong, but if he mearly has never identified the “thinking thing” or ever associated it with the word “mind” then he this is all one big misunderstanding.

Dennis Sperduto January 27, 2006 at 11:49 am

Forgive me for my lack of knowledge on this issue, but can someone point to discussions that compare and contrast Mises’s Kantian, as opposed to Rothbard’s (Neo-) Aristotelian, foundations for praxeology.

Also, I believe that Professor Hülsmann has argued in his “Introduction” to Mises’s “Epistemological Problems of Economics” that Mises’s overall philosophical orientation is more accurately labeled as Aristotelian as opposed to Kantian. Has this thesis been addressed by others?

Paul Edwards January 27, 2006 at 12:32 pm

Dennis,

I hope Steven Yates doesn’t object to me pointing you to this excellent draft article: “DEKANTING MISES AND HOPPE: NOTES TO WARD AN AUSTRIAN-SCHOOL METAPHYSICS” located at http://www.hanshoppe.com/publications/others/yates_mises-hoppe.pdf

It is: “DRAFT Not for Quotation or Citation”

At the same time, i think it is excellent, so i’m pointing it out to you.

Brian Drum January 27, 2006 at 1:50 pm

Dennis,

I just took a look at the Yates paper that you mentioned and found it very interesting. How did you come across it? I could not find a link to it on Hoppe’s site.

Dennis Sperduto January 27, 2006 at 2:01 pm

Paul, thanks.

Paul Edwards January 27, 2006 at 2:10 pm

Brian,

When i find a topic i really like i latch on to it and google related words like crazy. For instance once i latched on to “identity” “contradiction” and “argumentation” and of course “hoppe” they would turn up lots of cool stuff. Steven Yates has another awesome article on economics and logic. Google his name with the words above and it should turn up.

Ashish Hanwadikar January 27, 2006 at 3:03 pm

How is the proposition that “humans act” is a priori? I mean, when I meet a live “animal” and it behaves, looks and “acts” like myself, it is then I decide it is infact a “human being”, a concept/abstraction that I have conjured up in mind to help me in my decision making and actions.

I know I can act. But this is not a priori proposition. It is something I have discovered through reflection at the time of the “act”. Thus, it is infact a synthetic proposition.

May I missing something.

Paul Edwards January 27, 2006 at 3:22 pm

Unisonus,

The terms I like to use are “performative contradiction”. If you say or write something like “I cannot convey a thought”, you have engaged in a performative contradiction. This isn’t to say you can’t just go ahead and say it anyways, you can. And it isn’t to say that people won’t believe you, some probably will, especially if you hold a PhD and publish in journals. The root of my argument is that despite all that you can do with that statement, the one thing you cannot do is rationally justify it. From a logical perspective, it therefore simply cannot be true. To assume it is true is to show that it is not true because it contradicts itself. It is self-refuting.

To deny that man acts is similar. No man can deny he acts *, without falling into contradiction by acting in the process of performing the denial. Since we apprehend this fact intellectually, a priori, without the need to go on an empirical polling mission, we know it is true. We use the performative contradiction to show that a proposition is necessarily and indisputably true. It’s how we all know all men act.

You make the point that “my being an actor does not support the proposition that “men act”". But knowing the nature of one’s self, the nature of action and of man in general, we know this: that no man can justify the statement that men do not act. Because you must act to justify the argument that men don’t act, you cannot justify the position that men don’t act. But furthermore, this applies to not just you, but to all men all the time, under every circumstance. No man can justify the position that men do not act. NO MAN can do it. This is indisputable and we know this at this moment as we speak.

Your bin Laden argument is of a different nature of fallacy. If you were to claim you are not a terrorist, you would not be falling into a performative contradiction by virtue of simply making the statement. No one would. Not even bin Laden would. That bin Laden is a terrorist is a specific empirical fact. It is not a general proposition that is of an indisputable nature.

* (not even in his own mind: “I don’t act! But I must, I just acted by thinking up the argument that I don’t act!)

Richard Pinnell January 27, 2006 at 3:23 pm

Truth is surprisingly difficult to define. Read wikipedia article “Tarski’s indefinability theorem” and also wikipedia article “Semantic theory of truth”.

C. Cathey January 27, 2006 at 3:31 pm

Ashish-

“Humans act” is an apriori statement. However, human isn’t meant to be a biologic statement but rather to indicate any sentient being. And whether or not a given being is sentient is not apriori. To my knowledge Mises left the question of what defines a sentient being to others, I think Hayek took a stab at it.

Or another way to look at this is: the statement is “humans act” which is apriori and not “only humans act” which is not apriori.

CC

Paul Edwards January 27, 2006 at 4:12 pm

Ashish ,

Let’s break it down according to your statements.

“I know I can act.”

Good start.

“But this is not a priori proposition.”

But it is. Just try refuting it; you will only prove you act in the process.

“It is something I have discovered through reflection at the time of the “act”. Thus, it is infact a synthetic proposition.”

It is a synthetic a priori proposition. Reflection and observation is how we arrive at synthetic a priori propositions.

Now think about all that you know applies to you, and think how it necessarily must also apply to all other humans, and more generally to all sentient beings that purposefully intervene in their environment to cause effects, or in other words, apply means to achieve ends.

Every act of discussion presupposes this very knowledge. All arguments to the contrary again are performative contradictions. You might ask us: “how do I know others are able to reason rationally and Act as I do?” but your question would presuppose such is the case, and logic concludes it is necessarily the case.

Benjamin Marks January 27, 2006 at 9:08 pm

Thanks for all your comments, but I am not yet convinced.

Michael A. Clem: For nominalists there is thinking (about x) but there are no “thoughts”. At best, “thought” is an abstract noun denoting a relationship between the act of thinking (i.e. talking to oneself or others) and the object of the thinking. At worst, “thought” is a reification (and when we turn abstract nouns into concrete nouns a host of errors and confusions result). So to talk of shaping thoughts, having thoughts etc. is to engage in metaphorical expression.

Vache Folle: I’m not sure what position you’re taking. Mises clearly said in the passage I quoted that “The a priori categories are not innate ideas”. And if they are “innate” then there cannot be synthetic apriori truths. For it is a contingent proposition, and may be true or false (because it is logically possible that we are conditioned to perceive patterns).

Paul Edwards: What is wrong with refusing to acknowledge that kind of talk, and claim that instead of it being true apriori it is innate? The nominalist does not understand this talk of “minds”.

Paul Edwards January 28, 2006 at 1:34 am

Benjamin,

If i’m following you correctly, the question boils down to what is wrong with the nominalist’s refusing to acknowledge the contradictory nature of the nominalist position regarding the existence of the human mind. What if they don’t understand that to argue “there are no thoughts” or “there is no mind” presupposes possession of the very mind and thoughts needed to conceive of such an absurdity in the first place?

I don’t know the answer to that. But i will say that if a person is interested in justifying their beliefs, they will necessarily have to be capable of and willing to engage in rational thought such that they can recognize a performative contradiction when they utter one. Baring that capability, i think the breakthrough will not be forthcoming.

One final thought: Dictionary.com enumerates ten uses of the term “mind” used as a noun, and only six as a verb. From what dictionary does one derive the conclusion that “The mind … has no existence as a noun.”?

Benjamin Marks January 28, 2006 at 4:03 am

Paul: Why can’t the nominalist say that the proposition that humans act is an innate idea (which therefore may be false, though they may think it true) rather than an apriori truth. This position is not contradictory; the nominalist can agree that humans act, but disagree that this is an apriori truth.

Yes, as I said, the mind is a noun, an abstract rather than concrete one.

Paul Edwards January 28, 2006 at 11:30 am

Benjamin,

Perhaps first i should ask how a proposition being innate necessarily means that it necessarily can therefore be disputed. The way i see it, if no one can dispute that humans act without themselves acting, it is an indisputably true proposition. To assert “I cannot act” is false. To apprehend that also no other human can make this statement without contradiction rules it out as anything other than indisputably false. If a thing is indisputable, it is an a priori truth.

A is A is abstract as well. Is it not necessarily true?

Benjamin Marks January 28, 2006 at 12:18 pm

Paul: Mises repeatedly said that we cannot know if our actions or movements are determined or conditioned by things unbeknown to us. Yet he also said that the proposition that humans act is true a priori. These two positions are incompatible. We are not all knowing, therefore there are no synthetic a priori truths.

To argue, as Hoppe does, that the proposition that humans act is the presupposition of argument as such and so cannot be disagreed with, does not counter the claim that the proposition that humans act is an innate (and therefore possibly false) idea. Just because it cannot be countered by argument or it is claimed as the basis of argument, does not mean that it is true a priori. One could say that it is true a priori as far as we know or even as far as we can possibly know, but that would be oxymoronic.

Mises says, “The a priori categories are not innate ideas. What the … child inherits from his parents are not any categories, ideas, or concepts, but the human mind that has the capacity to learn and to conceive ideas, the capacity to make its bearer behave as a human being, i.e., to act.” How does he know that what he thinks are “a priori categories are not innate ideas”? And what does he think “the human mind” is, if not “categories, ideas, or concepts”? How would one “learn and conceive ideas” if there were not already some innate backing of “categories, ideas, or concepts”?

You say, “If a thing is indisputable, it is an a priori truth” and “To assert ‘I cannot act’ is false”, but I could say that I cannot do other than move as I do, because I am determined by my surroundings. Is this not indisputable? And how is it false?

“A is A” is an analytic truth; it does not tell us anything about the world.

Brian Moore January 28, 2006 at 1:29 pm

From what I have read since my last post it seems that this is far more then a definitional argument. It seems there is debate on whether we can be certain of our ability to act, in the sence of word used by Mises in Human Action. The main criticism of Mises appears to be people who claim that we can always doubt the existance of our own actions. Well let me bring up Descarte once more and suggest we not only doubt action but take the radical doubt position and doubt everything. However, in doing so there is one thing we are inherently certain of, that we think and that we have made an action, that we thought at all.

While there might be some debate on what kind of truth “A is A” the mathmatical concept of A = B, B = C and therefor A = C, is an abstract truth and nevertheless does tell us truth about the real world.

Unisonus January 28, 2006 at 5:20 pm

I can easily figure out that “I act”. I can deduce from the proposition that anything which is like me acts too. But I cannot know that other men are like me (or that I am a man) a priori. Hence “all men act” is known a posteriori.

Paul Edwards January 28, 2006 at 8:20 pm

Benjamin,

I’m sincerely enjoying your arguments, they are cool. You say:

“but I could say that I cannot do other than move as I do, because I am determined by my surroundings. Is this not indisputable? And how is it false?”

I would respond by saying you are making such a statement with the purpose of persuading your audience. It is implicit in your making any statement at all. If you had no purpose in saying it, you wouldn’t have said it. So we know two things 1. you are acting i.e. you are using means to achieve an end. 2. You don’t believe your audience is strictly determined by their surroundings or you would not trouble to persuade them of anything other than what their surroundings have determined they will believe. You would realize that rational discourse, argumentation, logic and individual choice are not at the base of decisions we make on what we believe. You would know, as you claim to know, that surroundings, not argumentation, determines us.

So is it indisputable? It is a performative contradiction. It is not justifiable. It is therefore untrue.

Alan Dunn January 28, 2006 at 8:44 pm

Hi Paul,

Have you read any of William Whewell’s work? I’m guessing yes, but if not I think you would find it very interesting.

Whewell and J.S Mill ear bashed eachother for years on similar matters.

P.S This is a lot more interesting than economics :0)…not as good a M-Theory though lol :0)

Alan Dunn January 28, 2006 at 8:48 pm

Hi Paul,

Have you read any of William Whewell’s work? I’m guessing yes, but if not I think you would find it very interesting.

Whewell and J.S Mill ear bashed each other for years on similar matters.

P.S This is a lot more interesting than economics :0)…not as good as Quantum Mechanics though :0)

Paul Edwards January 28, 2006 at 9:38 pm

Alan,

I have not read any of Whewell’s work. In fact, i have read only four people explicitly on this topic: Steven Yates, Hoppe, Kinsella and Stolyarov II. I have a pile of papers by some of these authors that i have gone through either once or twice, and i intend to go through most of them again. Just like economics, I really did not have any clue that subjects as interesting as these existed until the last couple of years. If Whewell is in the same school of thinking as the authors i am reading, i am sure i would find him interesting as well.

Benjamin Marks January 28, 2006 at 11:48 pm

Brian Moore: You say, “there is one thing we are inherently certain of, that we think and that we have made an action, that we thought at all.” What do you mean by “inherently certain of”?

Paul: Why is it impossible that there are superior beings arguing or playing through us, and we are just puppets? To claim that we cannot know this and therefore as far as we know the proposition that humans act is a synthetic a priori truth is, as I said before, contradictory. These two positions are mutually exclusive, yet Mises, Hoppe, etc. hold both of them.

Unisonus: You say incorrectly that “‘all men act’ is known a posteriori”. We cannot observe action, only movement. The debate is over whether the proposition that humans act is a synthetic a priori truth or an innate idea.

Paul Edwards January 29, 2006 at 1:00 am

Benjamin,

“Why is it impossible that there are superior beings arguing or playing through us, and we are just puppets?”

First, who are these “us” and “we” who this question presupposes and whose reasoning does it presuppose will ponder it? The question itself presupposes that it is by our very own reasoning powers that we can attempt to validate the possibility that it is not we who will validate such a possibility.

It is the presupposition of the question itself that gives away the contradiction. After all, it is not the superior being asking if it is a superior being actually asking the question. It is us, the inferior, asking. So to ask such a question is to presuppose we ask, and no one else. The question again, is the contradiction.

If anyone told me I’d be discussing questions like this today, even six months ago, I’d have told him they had me mistaken with somebody else. But it is interesting.

Benjamin Marks January 29, 2006 at 7:50 am

Paul: Using “us” and “we” may well presuppose whose reasoning will ponder it. But I do not see how therefore it can be ruled out that we are living under the control of something incomprehensible to us, making us argue with things that are not what they seem. Since this cannot be ruled out, as Mises, Hoppe, et. al. agree, there are no synthetic a priori truths. Because, as Mises, Hoppe, et. al. admit, we cannot be certain that things are as they seem. Do you deny this? It is incorrect to respond that it is us rather than our determinants who are initiating the exchange, and therefore the determinants are irrelevant, for how do you know?

I am not saying that humans do not act; I am saying that it is an innate idea rather than an a priori truth. How is this contradictory?

Brian Moore January 29, 2006 at 10:43 am

When I made the claim that we are inherently certain that we think I am refering to the fact that one cannot logically deny this fact without contridicting oneself, because the very act of denial proves that one thinks.
Also, while I am not convinced that human action, in the sense used by Mises, is an innate idea, being an innate idea does not prevent it from being an a priori truth as well. An idea can at first be innate and later proved through logic alone that it is in fact true.

Paul Edwards January 30, 2006 at 1:26 am

Benjamin,

I’m on the very edge or beyond the edge of my competence to answer, so here is my last swing at it before i go back to study Hoppe further.

When i say a statement “presupposes” something, what i mean is it “implies” it. But i think to drive it home i would say “makes necessary by laws of logic”. So what i am saying is that the question implies already an inherent knowledge of the answer. It knows, or rather the asker knows, that it will be our own minds with our own reasoning and our own use of logic that will decide the question. The very asking of the question answers the question: you already know you aren’t being controlled by a superior being. The question makes no sense if you assume for a moment that we are controlled by another being. Who asked the question then, and who’s going to reason out the answer. The controlling being? Or the being who is about to reason out the answer.

Next, what is the nature of this statement: “we cannot be certain that [any] things are as they seem.” Is this proposition a universal a priori truth, or is it subject to future empirical testing and studies? If it is true a priori, we have a problem; it is a counter example to its own thesis. It says nothing is certain. Yet it makes this claim with certainty. It is a contradiction. So yes, I deny it as a universal truth. Some things are not as they seem yes, but some things must be as they seem.

Also, I am still with Brian that i don’t see how innate or not innate comes into the question of the validity of a proposition.

But like i say, you have stretched me to my limit. I have to retreat to the texts to try to solidify my grounding in argumentation and logic.

Benjamin Marks January 30, 2006 at 9:41 am

Brian and Paul: Being an innate idea does prevent it from being an a priori truth, because innate ideas may be wrong. To prove the truth of an innate idea solely through logic is not possible; we do not know why it is an innate idea.

Paul, you say, “It knows, or rather the asker knows, that it will be our own minds with our own reasoning and our own use of logic that will decide the question. The very asking of the question answers the question: you already know you aren’t being controlled by a superior being. The question makes no sense if you assume for a moment that we are controlled by another being. Who asked the question then, and who’s going to reason out the answer. The controlling being? Or the being who is about to reason out the answer.” Isn’t this based on empirical observations of previous encounters, in addition to the innate idea (or what you would call the synthetic a priori truth) that humans act? Why is it impossible that in the future the participants (or a participant) in the argument may be somehow effected by an outside force that does not leave them physically harmed, but somehow changes their “mind” or innate ideas?

Regarding when I said “we cannot be certain that things are as they seem”. I think it is a tautology, rather than an a priori truth, because “as they seem” does not mean “as they are”.

Benjamin Marks January 30, 2006 at 11:20 am

Correction to my last paragraph. It is an analytic, rather than a synthetic, a priori truth.

Paul Edwards January 30, 2006 at 4:30 pm

Benjamin,

I have uncovered a quote from Hoppe in respect to the question of the relavance of the innateness of ideas in respect to aprioristic knowledge:

“It seems to be of great importance to first rid oneself of the notion that aprioristic knowledge has anything to do with “innate ideas” or with “intuitive” knowledge which would not have to be discovered somehow or learned. Innate or not, intuitive or not: these are questions that concern the psychology of knowledge. In comparison, epistemology is concerned exclusively with the question of the validity of knowledge and of how to ascertain validity—and, to be sure, the problem of aprioristic knowledge is solely an epistemological one. Aprioristic knowledge can be, and in fact quite often is, very similar to empirical knowledge from a psychological point of view, in that both types of knowledge must be acquired, discovered, learned. The process of discovering aprioristic knowledge might and very often indeed seems to be even more difficult and painstaking than that of acquiring empirical knowledge, which frequently enough simply seems to press itself onto us without our having done much about it; and also, it might well be the case genetically that the acquisition of aprioristic knowledge requires one’s having previously had some sort of experience. But all this, it should be repeated, does not affect the question of the validation of knowledge, and it is precisely and exclusively in this regard that aprioristic and empirical knowledge differ categorically.”

http://www.hanshoppe.com/publications/Soc&Cap.pdf

Brian Moore January 30, 2006 at 7:19 pm

Well I think Hoppe’s quote is more clear then I have been and after reading it a few times I don’t think there is anything that I disagree with.

However, I am curious as to what the logic is behind the argument that innate ideas can never be proven true through logical means. It seems to me that being innate doesn’t prove whether or not a statement is true or false so to me it is irrelevant to the validity of a statement, but then I have never heard an argument to the contrary and would be interested in what Benjamin thinks.

Paul Edwards January 30, 2006 at 11:30 pm

I agree.

Benjamin Marks January 31, 2006 at 8:28 am

As we have already discussed, it does matter whether the ideas are innate or not when trying to justify synthetic a priori truths, for innate ideas may be false. If talking about analytic a priori truths I agree.

The logic behind the argument that innate ideas can never be proven true is that they are innate. An innate idea is a premise without foundation: a given. We cannot know what shapes our thoughts, because our thoughts are not yet there.

Brian Moore January 31, 2006 at 9:18 am

Benjamin,

I do not beleive you understand my confusion on the logic of your argument. In all the times you have stated that an innate idea is false, you always assume that being innate has something to do proving the validity of the idea. I am suggesting as has been suggested by Paul that although we might have an innate idea, we first dismiss it on the basis you have laid out, that we don’t know that it is true for sure. However, through a logical process that we would use to determine an a priori true we “re-discover,” if you will, that same idea and find that it is indeed correct. You seem to believe that this is an impossibility and I do not understand why. I hope that makes my confusion a bit more clear.

Benjamin Marks February 1, 2006 at 12:43 am

Yeah, maybe I have been a bit confused. I have had further discussion with my nominalist correspondent and he has helped me understand the Hoppe passage (I think). So maybe a further comment on the Hoppe excerpt above will help clarify my position.

Knowledge entails truth and only propositions are truth carriers. What then does it mean to say that we have a priori knowledge? Surely, it means that certain propositions are necessarily true by definition and empirical support for them is therefore unnecessary.

What then is the psychology of knowledge? It would seem to be concerned with how we acquire language, learn how to argue, employ deductive logic, etc. It is said by Hoppe that a priori and empirical knowledge are similar psychologically in that both are “acquired, discovered, learned.” If it is a priori it is not acquired. The view of a priori psychologists is that we are genetically predisposed to experience the world in certain ways but these predispositions need “triggering”. So, Chomsky argues, we do not learn language – we learn English. Language is innate but humans need an appropriate linguistic environment for the sophisticated use of language to develop. Chomsky then vacillates between the view that language is innate in the brain, or in the mind! But when we introduce “knowledge” we encounter difficulties because it is an abstract noun. We might say that we are born with the capacity for language, but it is incorrect to say that we know language a priori.

Also, I think it is important to remember, that nominalist’s try not to reify “knowledge” but prefer to talk about the act of knowing (that x is true).

Paul Edwards February 2, 2006 at 10:51 am

Benjamin,

To me, your comment “If it is a priori it is not acquired”, is certainly an a priori statement itself. It is also, not at all the sort of idea, proposition or concept that is not acquired. I personally, have had to study this subject quite intensely to come to the point where I can tell your statement is of an a priori nature, and I can tell you it is most certainly a concept that I have acquired. Your proposition is therefore also false. But to repeat the most important point about a priori propositions: they are a priori if argumentation implies it; meaning if it is necessarily presupposed in the act of argumentation. It is a priori true if it is impossible to argue it is false, without presupposing it in the first place in the act of arguing it is false.

Benjamin Marks February 3, 2006 at 4:35 am

Paul: “If it is a priori it is not acquired” is an analytic proposition, not a synthetic one. And you could not possibly have acquired it. A priori means prior to experience. Exactly where do you think you acquired it?

Argumentation ethics is not valid in defending synthetic a priori truths. Like Descartes, Hoppe fails to specify who the arguer is. Of course, it could be a human, as it seems now, but it may also be a being we are not aware of at the moment, but may become aware of later, or have our innate ideas changed (again?) by them. We cannot possible know. Mind and body have a contingent relationship, and that is as far as I’m willing to go. No other position can be defended, and absolutely not with the claim of apodictic certainty.

Paul Edwards February 3, 2006 at 10:25 am

Benjamin,

You said that “‘If it is a priori it is not acquired’ is an analytic proposition, not a synthetic one.”

You are saying this is true by definition, that it is a circular argument, a tautology. In other words, it is true a priori, but it doesn’t convey any practical information. But i disagree with your definition. Mine is “if a proposition is true a priori, it cannot be denied without executing a logical inconsistency such as a performative contradiction”. We start with a different definition, so i suppose it is natural that we can’t come to see eye to eye.

“And you could not possibly have acquired it. A priori means prior to experience. Exactly where do you think you acquired it?”

You are equating acquiring something with experiencing it physically. It is not necessary to do this. I once acquired the notion that if 2x+6=0, then x=-3. For a part of my life i had no idea of this, for the rest of my life, after I learned it, i knew it was true a priori. I do not recall ever experiencing algebra like this but on paper and in my mind. Yet i know it is true, a priori and i know i acquired this knowledge at a certain point in my life. It is also not a tautology because algebra is used in practical ways in engineering all the time.

So the synthetic a priori applies and is useful in engineering, praxeology, and now also i do believe, in ethics. Pretty exciting i’d say.

Benjamin Marks February 4, 2006 at 9:25 am

Paul: I agree that we can learn how to use a clock or a calculator or what various symbols represent, but the ideas of time and number are not acquired. We know them prior to experience or thought. But even if we cannot agree on this, what about the second part of my above statement: that we cannot know who/what exactly is controlling the “mind”. As far as I can tell this is a knock-down argument against synthetic a priori truths.

Paul Edwards February 5, 2006 at 3:11 am

Benjamin,

I don’t think i have properly grasped the implication you are seeing in the question of who it is exactly who might be controlling the mind.

If the point is that we cannot know if our reason and rational thought can be relied upon because the rug of logic and rational thought can or may be pulled out from under us by this hidden controller, then i’d respond then that A may not be A, and “A is not A” may be true.

However, if that were the case, we are living in chaos or delusion and it would be the height of futility and absurdity to think that you and I or anyone else could logically come to any realistic conclusion about anything. Since all human discussion presupposes the opposite, i consider the possibility ruled out. But perhaps my answer is on a tangent to what you are driving at.

Benjamin Marks February 5, 2006 at 3:57 am

Paul: Analytic truths are different from synthetic ones in that they are by definition true. Examples of analytic propositions are: parallel lines never meet, and a whole is the sum of its parts. Examples of synthetic propositions are: humans act, or man is a rational animal. My point is that the claim that there are synthetic a priori truths – i.e., synthetic propositions which must be true – is indefensible because we do not know the relationship of our mind to our body. We can do no better than claim a contingent (and therefore possibly false) relationship. What do you know about the relationship of your mind and body? To me this is the key question in the debate over whether there are synthetic a priori truths.

scineram February 5, 2006 at 5:05 am

My only problem is that this performative contradiction stuff does not prove things, at least it doesn’t prove the action axiom. There is empirical evidence. The action axiom is true not because of this but because of what it means.

Paul Edwards February 6, 2006 at 12:33 am

“…synthetic propositions which must be true – is indefensible because we do not know the relationship of our mind to our body. We can do no better than claim a contingent (and therefore possibly false) relationship. What do you know about the relationship of your mind and body?”

I find that the statement questioning our minds’ understanding of the body (and its environment), action, causation, means and ends is contradicted in the very act of casting it into doubt. We grasp intellectually, such things as cause and effect and know them to be true a priori. It is because we do that we can interpret our body and reality, and purposefully interfere with reality in order to improve our state. That we presuppose the categories of action in the act of casting them into doubt is to confirm them. In other words, you must necessarily employ the very propositions you doubt, in the act of casting them into doubt.

What do we know about the relationship between our minds and bodies? We know we can use our bodies to interfere with our environment to cause desired effects. We know we can use means to obtain ends. We grasp it intellectually. We know it a priori. And we confirm this a priori knowledge in the very act of argumentation in the pursuit of casting doubt on this knowledge.

Paul Edwards February 6, 2006 at 12:41 am

scineram,

What we call valid arguments are simply those arguments that are necessarily and indisputably true as determined by rational discussion. No statement about human behavior or experience can be true if when applied to itself is a contradiction. If i say this: “i cannot convey an idea”, you know it is false. No rational person can utter it without knowing it is false from the start. It is a performative contradiction. Now, you can say it, and you can believe it is true, and so can others. But, alas, this doesn’t change the fact that the statement remains irrational, unjustified, invalid, and false.

And we know all this a priori, because it is a performative contradiction. :)

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