• Clarky
    9.1k
    What do we know without knowing anything? Without justification. My first answer is “nothing.” This type of knowledge is described many ways, among them a priori, self-evident, intuitive, obvious, and common sense.

    My second answer is that they are assumptions or perhaps presuppositions. Here are some definitions of “assumption” from the web:

    • A fact or statement (such as a proposition, axiom, postulate, or notion) taken for granted
    • An axiom, postulate, or assumption that is taken to be true, to serve as a premise or starting point for further reasoning and arguments.
    • Something taken for granted or accepted as true without proof; a supposition
    • An unexamined belief
    • A philosophical assumption is the theoretical framework used to collect, analyze and interpret the data.

    For the purposes of this discussion, I think the important difference between these definitions is that some imply that the assumptions are made intentionally and self-consciously and some do not.

    A priori

    Here are some definitions of “a priori” from the web:

    • Independent from current experience. Examples include mathematics, tautologies, and deduction from pure reason.
    • Deductive
    • Relating to or derived by reasoning from self-evident propositions
    • Presupposed by experience
    • Being without examination or analysis. Presumptive.
    • Formed or conceived beforehand

    A wise man once defined a priori truth as “An assertion I want to be true but that can’t be proven, that I can’t prove, or that I’m too lazy to prove.”

    Self-evident
    Here are some definitions of “self-evident” from the web:

    • Evident without proof or reasoning
    • Requiring no proof or explanation.
    • So obvious that there is no need for proof or explanation.
    • Known to be true by understanding its meaning without proof and/or by ordinary human reason.

    Intuition
    Here are some definitions of “intuition” from the web:

    • The faculty of knowing or understanding something without reasoning or proof. An impression or insight gained by the use of this faculty.
    • A fundamental capacity of human reason to comprehend the true nature of reality.[Plato]
    • A form of knowledge that appears in consciousness without obvious deliberation.
    • The ability to acquire knowledge without recourse to conscious reasoning.
    • Pre-existing knowledge gained through rational reasoning or discovering truth through contemplation [Descartes]

    One question about intuition is whether or not it is based on experience or reason. My strong opinion, based on introspection, is that it is mostly, maybe completely, based on experience.

    My preference would be that we focus on the general question of what can we know without empirical knowledge rather than spending all our time on arguing the definitions of particular words. That’s probably an unrealistic desire, so I won’t complain however it goes.
  • Haglund
    802
    The baby already has knowledge of the world without ever having walked in it. How can that be? The knowledge must have evolved already in the womb, with closed eyes. In a sense the baby is in the world 9 months. Structures in the brain, without halt, running around during evolving from nothing to baby size. Baby eyes sending patterns, brain reacting, balance, body sending formal information, baby brain reacting. Knowledge forming. No tabula rasa. Then we are thrown in. The world showing itself. The world projected in the fertile soil of the baby brain. Innumerous unconscious, instinctive natural experiments. How does the baby dog know to go to mamma's nipples? The dog image or dog knowledge is already there a priori, contrary to the a priori knowledge of the goose. Smaller brain.
  • emancipate
    415
    How does the baby dog know to go to mamma's nipples?Haglund

    Seems plausible to me that instinct is empirical knowledge. Genetic knowledge evolves through world interaction.
  • SpaceDweller
    417
    first humans had no knowledge other than that driven by instinct and the need to survive, to feed, need for shelter etc.

    fundamental or core knowledge comes from needs to survive.
    all the knowledge is based around survival, either of an individual or group of people.
  • Haglund
    802
    My preference would be that we focus on the general question of what can we know without empirical knowledgeT Clark

    Knowledge of god can't be empirical, although you can see them all around. Somehow this knowledge resides in us. During education and participating in modern society this knowledge is delegated to the back seat or thrown out of the car altogether.
  • javi2541997
    1.5k


    Sorry to disagree with you but I think that's only the basic principle of primary qualities as John Locke already written about. We all act with some survival instincts but, fortunately, our knowledge is not limited to this. We even have some doubts about what we consider survival at all... I guess this is why empiricism is key to debate about A priori or common sense knowledge.
    I quote a brilliant critique from Locke to Descartes in terms of basic knowledge, what it is called as tabula rasa: Locke then spoils his own excellent argument against Descartes

    We know certainly by Experience, that we sometimes think, and thence draw this infallible Consequence, that there is something in us, that has a power to think: But whether that substance perpetually thinks, or no, we can be no farther assured, than experience informs us. For to say, that actual thinking is essential to the soul, and inseparable from it, is to beg, what is in question, and not to prove it by reason; which is necessary to be done, if it be not a self-evident proposition. But whether this, that the Soul always thinks, be a self-evidence proposition, that every body assents to a first hearing, I appeal to mankind. [ibid., Book II, Chapter I, §10]
  • javi2541997
    1.5k


    Knowledge of god can't be empirical.

    Yep, I am an atheist but I am agree that John Locke's empirical arguments towards God are so poor...

    §3 "He knows also, that Nothing cannot produce a Being." In the next place, Man knows by an intuitive Certainty, that bare nothing can no more produce any real Being, than it can be equal to two right Angles. If a Man knows not that Non-entity, or the Absence of all Being cannot be equal to two right Angles, it is impossible he should know any demonstration in Euclid. If therefore we know there is some real Being, and that Non-entity cannot produce any real Being, it is an evident demonstration, that from Eternity there has been something; Since what was not from Eternity, had a Beginning; and what had a Beginning, must be produced by something else.
    §4 "That eternal Being must be most powerful." Next, it is evident, that what had its Being and Beginning from another, must also have all that which is in, and belongs to its Being from another also. All the Powers it has, must be owing to, and received from the same Source. This eternal Source then of all being must also be the Source and Original of all Power; and so this eternal Being must be also the most powerful. [ibid., Book IV, Chapter X]


    If we accept from the argument of the first paragraph that "from Eternity there has been something," it is a little surprising to learn in the second paragraph that Locke believes he has established the existence of a single eternal thing, i.e. God. The problem is an ambiguity in the word "something," which in the first paragraph need merely mean "something or other," i.e. "there must have always been something or other," to produce the objects that eventually are that ones we now see. In the second paragraph, however, Locke supposes that this can only have been a single, eternal object. That does not follow, and the ambiguity in the term makes the whole argument look like a kind of Sophistry.

    Link: If Locke thinks that we can prove the existence of God, he manages to demonstrate it in a way that would seem to do the impossible: produce an argument for God even worse that that of Descartes.
  • Harry Hindu
    4.8k
    One question about intuition is whether or not it is based on experience or reason. My strong opinion, based on introspection, is that it is mostly, maybe completely, based on experience.

    My preference would be that we focus on the general question of what can we know without empirical knowledge
    T Clark
    Nothing. Knowledge takes the form of sensory data.

    How do you know that you are reasoning if not by experience? Separating empiricism and rationalism into two separate camps is one of the failures of philosophy.
  • Clarky
    9.1k
    The baby already has knowledge of the world without ever having walked in it. How can that be? The knowledge must have evolved already in the womb, with closed eyes. In a sense the baby is in the world 9 months. Structures in the brain, without halt, running around during evolving from nothing to baby size. Baby eyes sending patterns, brain reacting, balance, body sending formal information, baby brain reacting. Knowledge forming. No tabula rasa. Then we are thrown in. The world showing itself. The world projected in the fertile soil of the baby brain.Haglund

    This makes sense to me, although I don't know if there are studies about experiences babies pick up in the womb.

    How does the baby dog know to go to mamma's nipples? The dog image or dog knowledge is already there a priori, contrary to the a priori knowledge of the goose. Smaller brain.Haglund

    It seems like you are making a distinction between baby humans and animals. It is my understanding that some of the baby's first reactions such as sucking are built-in, instinctual, unlearned, much as the animals are. I'm not even sure it makes sense to call it knowledge.
  • Clarky
    9.1k
    Knowledge of god can't be empirical, although you can see them all around.Haglund

    I'm not a follower of any religion, so I may not be the right person to have an opinion on this. It has always seemed to be that religious faith is based on a human experience of something, something believers think of as God. I think introspection is a valid form of empirical knowledge.
  • Clarky
    9.1k
    Nothing. Knowledge takes the form of sensory data.Harry Hindu

    I agree, but many people don't.
  • Haglund
    802
    This makes sense to me, although I don't know if there are studies about experiences babies pick up in the womb.T Clark

    I can remember reading about the baby's retina aleady stimulating the brain with shapes. Don't ask me how they found out... Maybe you have seen it with your eyes closed. Concentric rings flowing in and outwards. Surely the bodily baby shape somehow projects in the baby brain.
  • noAxioms
    979
    Intuition is often not about knowledge. As my handle implies, I attempt to question everything that most find 'obvious', and it turns out that most obvious truths lead to self contradictions. Our intuitions are not there for the purpose of truth. That's a pretty easy one to figure out if you think about it.

    One question about intuition is whether or not it is based on experience or reason. My strong opinion, based on introspection, is that it is mostly, maybe completely, based on experience.T Clark
    Agree. I find that intuitions are almost never based on reason, but rather instinct or experience. Many of those intuitions are not true, but don't confuse truth with beneficial.
  • Haglund
    802
    On what else than instinct is reason and knowledge based. Any attempt to enclose knowledge in a rational system is doomed.
  • 180 Proof
    8.4k
    Our intuitions are not there for the purpose of truth ... Many of those intuitions are not true, but don't confuse truth with beneficial.noAxioms
    :100:

    I think introspection is a valid form of empirical knowledge.T Clark
    But introspection illusions, no? :chin:
  • Tom Storm
    4k
    Nothing substantive to say other than you've set out the OP very well. :wink:

    Personally I don't value intuitions highly - I have known too many people who get to positions of 'burn the witch' based on intuition. But there may be different categories of intuition, some based on competent readings of experience. In other words, I agree with your point below -

    My strong opinion, based on introspection, is that it is mostly, maybe completely, based on experience.T Clark

    I would be interested to hear what others have to say about a priori - and synthetic a priori. There may be space in this discussion to explore the idea of properly basic beliefs. These are all part of a foundationalist view of reality.
  • Clarky
    9.1k
    I can remember reading about the baby's retina aleady stimulating the brain with shapes. Don't ask me how they found out... Maybe you have seen it with your eyes closed. Concentric rings flowing in and outwards. Surely the bodily baby shape somehow projects in the baby brain.Haglund

    As I said, this makes sense to me.
  • Haglund
    802
    But introspection illusions, no?180 Proof

    Einstein based his theory on thought experiments, for a large part.
  • Clarky
    9.1k
    Our intuitions are not there for the purpose of truth. That's a pretty easy one to figure out if you think about it.noAxioms

    Babies have to build their own worlds. They have to take in all the sensory information they gather and process it through neurological and mental mechanisms of their minds and use it to construct a model of how the world works. As we grow, the model increases in complexity and scope. This is my understanding based on introspection and reading authors such as Stephen Pinker, Lisa Feldman Barrett, and Karen Wynn.

    In my experience, most of what I know in the world is rapped up in that model. Most of what I know I know by intuition.
  • Clarky
    9.1k
    I think introspection is a valid form of empirical knowledge.
    — T Clark
    But introspection illusions, no?
    180 Proof

    Can intuition be wrong? Of course it can. Does that mean it isn't valuable. Of course it doesn't. One thing intuition is very good for is setting off alarms when you hear something that doesn't fit. That happens to me all the time. When I go to check, I'm usually right. How good is intuition as justification for action? It depends on the consequences of failure. I'll bet a buck I'm right. Sure. Seems like a good idea, I'll put my lifesavings on it. Probably not.
  • Clarky
    9.1k
    I would be interested to hear what others have to say about a priori - and synthetic a priori. There may be space in this discussion to explore the idea of properly basic beliefs. These are all part of a foundationalist view of reality.Tom Storm

    Let me see if I have this straight - synthetic a priori means "makes sense, but I'd better check." That's fine, but it's not usually how people use the term in philosophy. At least not on the forum. It's generally used to mean that it's so obvious that it doesn't need to be justified. Sometimes even more than that - that it is somehow woven into the very structure of reality. Which is what this whole thread is about.

    What is the value of knowing that all bachelors are unmarried?
  • Tom Storm
    4k
    Sometimes even more than that - that it is somehow woven into the very structure of reality. Which is what this whole thread is about.T Clark

    :up:
  • Hanover
    8.1k
    What is the value of knowing that all bachelors are unmarried?T Clark

    That's an example of an analytic truth, not synthetic. The value is that it is definitional. It tells you what a bachelor is.

    Geometrical truths are submitted by Kant to be synthetic a priori in that they tell you something substantive about the world without necessarily having to be experienced.

    Quine disputes the analytic/synthetic distinction. You can look that up if interested.
  • Gregory
    4.2k


    The difference between analytical and synthetic is that there is no new knowledge produced in the former. Of course if someone didn't know the language well they could learn a new word. But 2 plus 2 is four and there is a process there which is more than finding new words. So there are linguistic skills learned analytically and processes learn synthetically, both being different in *how* humans learn them. Physics is about taking two phenomena of say motion and uniting them to find something that is greater than the sum of each (a law). That's far different from learning definitions and absorbing synonyms. So I think Quine is wrong
  • apokrisis
    5.9k
    My preference would be that we focus on the general question of what can we know without empirical knowledge rather than spending all our time on arguing the definitions of particular words.T Clark

    One quick point. How much does your question change when it is placed in time rather than regarded as an essentially timeless issue?

    So speaking of "knowledge", or "truth", or "facts", has this unfortunate tendency to push it all into some Platonic realm of surety quite separate from the uncertain world. The truth "exists" in some eternal present. And yet knowledge is pragmatically a matter of experience. We develop habits of future expectation based on a history of past events.

    Actual useable knowledge is thus tensed. There is the history that constrains what is to be believed or expected in terms of what in future could be the likely case.

    Sure, it is useful also to take this kind of deductive approach to knowledge/truth/facts. We can abduct to make some general guess about what could be the past, and thus possibly be the future. From this hypothesis, we can then deduce the observable consequences.

    That is, we can deduce the counterfactuals. We can figure out what we ought to see in the future if our guess is indeed right ... and thus also discover if what we guessed instead seems more like a wrong hypothesis.

    The last bit - the checking of the predictions to confirm/deny the deductive argument - is the inductive confirmation. The more times the theory works, the more justified becomes our belief that it must be true.

    This rational structure - abduction => deduction => induction - is simply the scientific method. And the deduction bit is the formal step, the application of a logical syntax or calculus - which allows us humans to step outside of our immediate experience and indeed formulate guess-based theories that have measurably-defined consequences.

    Again, if you focus all your attention of the deductive apparatus, you tend to view "knowledge", "truth", and "facts", as Platonic entities - the inhabitants of some eternal present.

    But if you step back to see how we came to add this formal step to our usual "experience based" habits of future forecasting, then you can see how there is a larger temporal arc at work.

    Deduction - as abstract syntax - works when firmly anchored in the pragmatism of learning from the world so as to be able to live in that world. But knowledge, truth and facts aren't literally the objects of some other world.
  • Clarky
    9.1k
    That's an example of an analytic truth, not synthetic. The value is that it is definitional. It tells you what a bachelor is.Hanover

    Sorry. That sentence was a non-sequitur. I was talking about synthetic a priori knowledge and then switched to analytic. I didn't know the distinction between the two types of knowledge when I read @Tom Storm's post, so I looked it up. It seems useless. Synthetic knowledge is nothing but regular old empirical knowledge and analytic knowledge is trivial. People wave a priori knowledge around like it's a magic wand, but it's just fancy words for regular old stuff.
  • Haglund
    802
    Synthetic a priori knowledge. For example. If I consider all experimental scientific knowledge, non-natural knowledge, a step away from true natural knowledge, that knowledge is synthetic a priori knowledge. A kind of meta-knowledge guiding knowledge.
  • Clarky
    9.1k
    But 2 plus 2 is four and there is a process there which is more than finding new words.Gregory

    I thought that all mathematics is considered analytic a priori knowledge. That might make a certain amount of sense. There are studies showing that babies have a sense of number at a very early age.

    So there are linguistic skills learned analytically and processes learn synthetically, both being different in *how* humans learn them.Gregory

    Are you saying that language is analytic a priori knowledge. It is pretty well established that very young children have an apparently hardwired ability to learn language. I guess we could call that analytic, although I'm not sure it makes sense to call a capacity knowledge. It's also true that children who are never exposed to language at a young age will never develop it, even if they are exposed at a latter time.
  • apokrisis
    5.9k
    Babies have to build their own worlds.T Clark

    This is far truer of humans than other creatures. In what may have been a happy accident, we first became bipedal apes, but that new pelvis restricted the ultimate size of the birth canal. For hominids to keep increasing their brain size, our recent ancestors had to start giving birth to kids with the same sized skull who then had an extra massive burst of brain growth immediately after being born.

    That is why human babies are so helpless for so long. A newborn is producing a ridiculous number of new synapses - so many that its cortex, its higher grey matter, is essentially not connected up. The circuits aren't even created at that level.

    So newborn humans are vastly more plastic. That makes them helpless, which means humans have to be far more socially organised for parenting. And that works well for the highly plastic newborns as they then have the unstructured capacity to soak up the culture and language that underpins that kind of ultra-organised sociality.

    It all makes a nice feedback loop that transformed Homo erectus into Homo sapiens over the course of a million years or so.

    Being useless at birth is a neural investment in being useful as a socialised adult.

    Homo erectus doesn't even seem to have had an adolescent phase as we know it. Only humans have a teenage stage where the highest parts of the cortex - the impulse regulating and socially calculating frontal lobes - don't become fully myelinated, or insulated and thus fixed in place, until 20 or so.

    Being risk taking and error prone is part of the Darwinian plan. It takes time to learn how to be fully adapted human. Nine months gestation doesn't get a baby much past the lower brain instinctual stage. It takes some months for a child to realise it has hands, or even to begin sorting the visual world into colours, shapes and movements with any crisp organisation.
  • Gregory
    4.2k


    When children learn mathematics they learn a synthetic skill, not an analytic one. Sure they start out counting the numbers but even this is not analytic forr them since ultimately they are to develope a synthetic skill (as Kant pointed out). Synthetic ability is dum da dum creative intelligence! We use this in many areas of our lives as we go outwards to knowledge and combine ideas to create ideas greater than the sum of their parts. This thread is an example of the creative mentality while analytic thought is usually defined as finding meanings to language instead of combining words to form a new synthesis
  • Clarky
    9.1k
    And yet knowledge is pragmatically a matter of experience. We develop habits of future expectation based on a history of past events.apokrisis

    That is how I see it.

    So speaking of "knowledge", or "truth", or "facts", has this unfortunate tendency to push it all into some Platonic realm of surety quite separate from the uncertain world. The truth "exists" in some eternal present.apokrisis

    This is what I think of when I hear "a priori." It is how it is often used.

    Sure, it is useful also to take this kind of deductive approach to knowledge/truth/facts. We can abduct to make some general guess about what could be the past, and thus possibly be the future. From this hypothesis, we can then deduce the observable consequences.

    That is, we can deduce the counterfactuals. We can figure out what we ought to see in the future if our guess is indeed right ... and thus also discover if what we guessed instead seems more like a wrong hypothesis.

    The last bit - the checking of the predictions to confirm/deny the deductive argument - is the inductive confirmation. The more times the theory works, the more justified becomes our belief that it must be true.
    apokrisis

    I think I see what you're saying, but that seems like an odd use of the term "a priori." If I think A will happen based on my experience with the world, then I know if B happens, that I was wrong. It seems like people use the term to mean they don't have to perform the confirmation step.

    Deduction - as abstract syntax - works when firmly anchored in the pragmatism of learning from the world so as to be able to live in that world. But knowledge, truth and facts aren't literally the objects of some other world.apokrisis

    As I said, some people at least use "a priori" to mean that there are things we can know about the world without justification. The recent example I think of is from our discussion about causation. Many people would say that the fact that everything has a cause is obvious.
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