Harvard University,  FAS
Fall 2000

Philosophy 253

A Priori Knowledge

Asst. Prof James Pryor
Dept. of Philosophy

Course Description

This seminar will survey recent work on a priori knowledge, focusing on what it is and whether we have any. We'll look at (i) the positivists' attempts to account for a priori knowledge in terms of analyticity; (ii) Quine's attacks on the notion of analyticity; and (iii) new forms of rationalism that appeared in the 1980s. We'll also look at (iv) objections to rationalism stemming from naturalist views in epistemology and the philosophy of mind. If time permits (which it probably won't) we will explore (v) the connections between Kripke's and Putnam's work on reference and the epistemic status of claims like "The standard meter is 1 meter long," and "I am not a brain in a vat."

This seminar is aimed at graduate students in philosophy. Others with an appropriate background may also be permitted to attend; please speak to me individually.

There will be only a few readings, but we will be scrutinizing them closely and at length. I want the seminar to be driven primarily by group discussion, so it is very important for you to have read and thought about these readings before our meetings. I will sometimes ask members of the seminar to give a brief presentation of the readings, to start off our discussion.


You should get yourself a copy of BonJour's recent book, In Defense of Pure Reason (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1998; paperback ISBN #0-521-59745-5). I've asked Harvard Bookstore to order a few copies. You can also get it from Amazon.com <http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0521597455>, or Barnes & Noble <http://shop.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?isbn=0521597455>, or any other bookseller. I'll also put a copy on the reserve shelf in Robbins Library, on the second floor of Emerson Hall.

Copies of the other readings will all be available on the reserve shelf in Robbins Library.

I. The Positivists' Notion of Analyticity
Ayer, from Language, Truth and Logic, 2nd ed. (1946), Ch. 4
BonJour, Ch. 1-2
II. Quine's Arguments against the Analytic/Synthetic Distinction and the Possibility of A Priori Knowledge
Quine, "Two dogmas of empiricism," orig. presented in 1950; reprinted in Quine's From a Logical Point of View, rev. ed. (Harvard Univ. Press, 1961)
Grice and Strawson, "In defense of a dogma," Philosophical Review 65 (1956); reprinted in Grice's Studies in the Way of Words (Harvard Univ. Press, 1989)
BonJour, Ch. 3
Optional: Quine, "Truth by convention," orig. published in 1936; reprinted in Quine's The Ways of Paradox and Other Essays (Random House, 1966)
Optional: Quine, "Carnap and logical truth," written in 1954; reprinted in Quine's The Ways of Paradox and Other Essays (Random House, 1966)
Optional: Quine, "Two dogmas in retrospect," Canadian Journal of Philosophy 21 (1991)
Optional: Paul Boghossian, "Analyticity," in Bob Hale and Crispin Wright, eds. A Companion to the Philosophy of Language (Blackwell, 1997)
Putnam, "The analytic and the synthetic," orig. published in 1962; reprinted in Putnam's Mind, Language and Reality, Philosophical Papers vol. 2 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1975)
Optional: Putnam, "'Two dogmas' revisited," orig. published in 1976; reprinted in Putnam's Realism and Reason, Philosophical Papers vol. 3 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1983)
Optional: Putnam, "There is at least one a priori truth," orig. published in 1978; reprinted in Putnam's Realism and Reason, Philosophical Papers vol. 3 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1983)
III. New Forms of Rationalism
Philip Kitcher, "A priori knowledge," Philosophical Review 89 (1980)
Aron Edidin, "A priori knowledge for fallibilists," Philosophical Studies 46 (1984)
Albert Casullo, "Revisability, reliabilism and a priori knowledge," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 49 (1988)
Optional: Albert Casullo, "Necessity, certainty, and the a priori," Canadian Journal of Philosophy 18 (1988)
Optional: Donna Summerfield, "Modest a priori knowledge," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 51 (1991)
Hartry Field, "The a prioricity of logic," Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 96 (1995/6)
BonJour, Ch. 4-5
IV. Naturalist Objections to Rationalism
Optional: Hilary Kornblith, "Naturalistic epistemology and its critics," Philosophical Topics 23 (1995)
Optional: Richard Foley, "Quine and naturalized epistemology" in P.A. French, T.E. Uehling and Howard Wettstein, eds. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 19 (1994)
Optional: Richard Feldman, "Methodological naturalism in epistemology," in John Greco and Ernest Sosa, eds. The Blackwell Guide to Epistemology (Blackwell, Malden, Mass., 1999)
Paul Benacerraf, "Mathematical truth," Journal of Philosophy 70 (1973)
Albert Casullo, "Causality, reliabilism, and mathematical knowledge," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 52 (1992)
BonJour, Ch. 6

Those taking the class for credit should write two substantial papers for the course. They should come speak to me early about which topics they wish to explore. Some ideas:

[Phil 253] [James Pryor] [Philosophy Dept.]

Created by: James Pryor
Last Modified: Mon, Sep 4, 2000 4:44 PM