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Bryan Pickel

They're clearly a posteriori. Hartry Field, I believe, has a discussion of the contrary view in some of the essays in Truth and the Absence of Fact. He thinks that they're analytic. I'm not sure whether Field explicitly discusses whether they are a priori. Also, he doesn't believe that they express propositions. However, he does give an account of the semantics of propositional attitude ascriptions. So, he probably does believe that what is said by utterances these sentences are analytic/a priori.

Jonathan Ichikawa

On a first glance, they look pretty a posteriori to me. These are contingent facts about English; it'd be surprising if we knew contingent facts about English a priori.

Then again, they do seem to have something in common with Kripke's contingent a priori -- the meter stick is one meter long, etc. If Kripke's right about that, then maybe we shouldn't be quite so quick about your (a) and (b).

In a 2D semantics framework, the diagonal of (a) and (b) is always true.

Aidan McGlynn

There's some discussion of the epistemic status of sentences like (a) in the Davidsonic-boom literature, naturally enough. McDowell's 'On the Sense and Reference of a Proper Name', Evans and McDowell's intro to 'Truth and Meaning' and more recently Mark's RWR spring immediately to mind. They all push something like the line Jonathan mentions in his first paragraph - that these are contingent things which one only knows in virtue of one's mastery of the particular language in question. Like the previous commentators, my first inclination is to agree.

Dan Korman

Thanks all. Kripke's meter-stick case is definitely what I have in mind here: for if these propositions about reference are a posteriori, and if Kripke's baptizer's knowledge of the meter proposition is based partly on his knowledge of some such proposition about reference, then the meter proposition isn't a priori.

Are those of you who say that these propositions are a posteriori also inclined to deny that I can know a priori that I am here now? It looks like this knowledge is going to be based at least in part on semantic knowledge about the relevant indexical expressions (though there's wiggle room worth exploring here).


While the fact that they express contingent propositions does make it hard to swallow the idea that they're a priori, it's also odd to think of them as expressing things you can only know on the basis of experience or introspection, which is how I understand "a posteriori". I know that (a) and (b) are true just by understanding them -- or, as I think Kripke says of the reference-fixing cases, I know them "automatically, without further investigation". It's not as if I have to gather any empirical evidence to determine whether they're true. (Sure, I have to have had certain kinds of experiences to understand them and hence know them, but it's not clear that makes them a posteriori.)

This -- and the meter stick case, and "contingent analytic" examples like 'I am here now' -- might be cases where the a priori/a posteriori distinction breaks down, or isn't very useful. What would turn on these sentences being (or not being) a priori?

Dan Korman

Hi Geoff,

I'm pretty sympathetic with what you're saying, and I join you in doubting that much turns on whether we classify these as a priori. What got me interested is that Soames thinks that similar examples (e.g., that p iff @p) *are* a priori. I'm brewing an argument that these examples stand and fall together. The short version: Soames says the rabbit sentences can't be a priori because non-English speakers can't know them by reflection alone. This suggests a kind of a publicity principle: if it's a priori for anyone, it's a priori for everyone. (This will have to be charitably tweaked in various ways.) But (I argue) there will be possible individuals who can understand the proposition that p iff @p, but can't know it a priori. So if Soames is right about why Kripke's examples fail, then his own example fails too.

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