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Does All Knowledge Come From Experience? I F Not Where Does It Come From? If So, How Do You Explain Our Knowledge Of Necessary Truths?

1532 words - 7 pages

Knowledge is defined as being justified true belief. There is little consensus in the philosophical world as to whether, as it is typical for Empiricists to believe, knowledge comes purely experience or, as is the typical Rationalist line of thought, some of the knowledge we have is gained a priori. In this essay I will first establish that our knowledge of analytic truths is known a priori, which most Empiricists and Rationalists alike agree upon. I shall then argue that all synthetic knowledge is gained a posteriori, through experience. I will then finally show how this idea is consistent with our knowledge of necessary truths.

Analytic Knowledge
Analytic knowledge have their truth contained in the meaning of the words themselves for example the statement all vixens are females is true because of the meaning of the word vixen; female fox. Knowledge of the analytic does not come from experience unlike synthetic knowledge as it instead comes from the words themselves not their relation to the outside world; vixens and females could not exist in the outside world yet the above statement would still be true.

However some philosophers, most notably Quine, disagree about the analytic/synthetic distinction. Instead Quine argues that many beliefs that are considered to be analytic beliefs actually rely on the specific situation and therefore the outside world, hence are actually synthetic not analytic. Specifically we can construct counterexamples for which the analytic truth can be shown to be false. For example the analytic statement frozen water is ice is true because of the definition of ice however frozen water vapour in the atmosphere though it fits this definition of ice arguably is not not ice as it is not solid, it instead depends on the specific circumstances and therefore is reliant on experience and hence is synthetic not analytic knowledge. This argument, however, can be shown to be invalid as it stems from an incomplete definition of the word ice; if we include in the definition that ice must be solid to be considered such then the truth of the above counterexample no longer is valid. Therefore the analytic/synthetic distinction is valid and analytic truths can be known a priori.

Synthetic Knowledge
Synthetic knowledge is said to be knowledge which is knowable not solely by knowing the meaning of words (as it is with analytic knowledge). In general Rationalists believe that some of this knowledge can be known a priori; independent of evidence from the outside world, Empiricists on the other hand say that experience is the only way in which we can gain this type of knowledge.

David Hume, a prominent Empiricist figure of the eighteenth century, subscribed to this line of thought. Hume formed much of his ideas on the subject during the Scottish Enlightenment, during this time there was a great intellectual influx; it seemed as if the capacity of the human mind had little bounds. It therefore is unsurprising that Hume...

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