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The A Priori in Philosophy$
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Albert Casullo and Joshua C. Thurow

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199695331

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199695331.001.0001

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The Prospects for an Experimentalist Rationalism, or Why It’s OK if the A Priori Is Only 99.44 Percent Empirically Pure

The Prospects for an Experimentalist Rationalism, or Why It’s OK if the A Priori Is Only 99.44 Percent Empirically Pure

Chapter:
(p.92) 4 The Prospects for an Experimentalist Rationalism, or Why It’s OK if the A Priori Is Only 99.44 Percent Empirically Pure
Source:
The A Priori in Philosophy
Author(s):

Jonathan M. Weinberg

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199695331.003.0005

The implications of experimental philosophy, even in its most positive forms, for the a priori status of philosophical knowledge can seem bleak. How could it be possible for philosophical knowledge still to be a priori even when it is gained in part through experiments? This chapter offers a way in which this might indeed be possible. First, two modest ways in which experimental philosophy may aid philosophy without jeopardizing its a priori status are considered, by serving in extra-evidential ways that need not be seen as providing empirical premises to our philosophical deliberations. But it is argued further that even more substantive and direct evidential appeals to experimental philosophy could be consistent with philosophical knowledge being a priori. If we understand apriority less on the negative criterion of not relying on any empirical premises, and more in terms of a positive criterion of relying crucially on our faculty for modal cognition, then we can see how experimental philosophy can offer a form of philosophical knowledge that is still recognizably a priori. The main reason to be interested in the negative criterion in the first place is a fear of “modal enervation”: allowing contingent premises into our evidence set seems to entail that we cannot arrive at robustly modal conclusions based on such premises. But once modal skepticism is rejected, then we can embrace the idea that modal reality will be mirrored in contingent structures in the world—namely, those that underlie our capacity for modal knowledge. Studying those structures experimentally still allows for conclusions that are “modally invigorated.”

Keywords:   a priori, a posteriori, experimental philosophy, necessity, contingency, philosophical methodology, modality, modal enervation, modal invigoration

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