Brains, Persons, and Society *** ABSTRACTS
Cervelli, Persone e Società ***ABSTRACTS
My argument is roughly the following. By showing that meanings alone do not make sentences true we are left with an epistemological notion of analyticity according to which a sentence is analytic if and only if mere grasp of its meaning suffices for us to be justified in holding it true. But now we need to explain how could the mere grasp of a sentence’s meaning suffice to justify us in holding it true. For semantic understanding to suffice for epistemic justification we need to show how is semantic understanding reliably linked to the truth of certain sentences (or to the validity of certain rules of inference), namely, the analytic ones. According to a common answer semantic understanding suffices for epistemic justification because it is constitutive of one’s understanding of the meaning of a certain word that one be disposed to accept its meaning-constitutive sentences and/or rules of inference. Given that such meaning-constitutive sentences and/or inferences are true or truth-preserving we have an explanation of how semantic understanding is reliably linked to truth.
The immediate consequence of such an explanation is that a priori knowledge is blind ¾ we are justified in believing that p not because we have some sort of awareness of the truth of p but because we are disposed to accept p (assuming that p is meaning-constitutive and entitling). However, to explain our epistemic entitlement via our blind disposition to follow certain rules of inferences or to hold certain sentences as true leaves rationality out of the picture of knowledge. We may have a disposition to use a certain rule of inference or to accept a certain sentence as true, but without some sort of rational reflection we cannot really say that the thinker is epistemically entitled to use that rule or inference or that she really knows that a certain sentence is true. I will claim that “irresponsible knowledge” is akin to “lucky knowledge”, cases in which a thinker just happens to hit the truth. I will also claim that this way of explaining the sufficiency condition of the epistemic notion of analyticity lacks generality because it cannot explain all cases of a priori knowledge. For instance, let us assume that modus ponens is a rule of inference that we are blindly entitled to use because it is written into the possession conditions for the concept of conditional. In this way we could explain our entitlement to use modus ponens. But then this leaves without explanation our entitlement to use modus tollens, or the hypothetical syllogism. Unless we claim that all the rules that are entitling are meaning-constitutive. But without further argument this move should be ruled out as ad hoc. Such an explanation also lacks uniformity, given that understanding is not uniformly taken as a source of epistemic justification. After all, it is not because we understand the meaning of a certain sentence that we are entitled in holding it true, but it is rather because we cannot coherently doubt certain sentences to be false or a certain inference to be invalid that we are entitled to hold them. In the end I will argue that the only way to explain how grasp of meanings suffices for a priori knowledge is either to assume that meanings make sentences true or to appeal to some sort of rational capacity. But meanings do not make sentences true, as I take Quine and Boghossian to have successfully shown. Therefore, we cannot explain the a priori with the analytic given that to make sense of the analytic we need to presuppose the a priori, that is, the existence of some sort of rational capacity as a reliable source of knowledge.
his “Analyticity” paper (Boghossian, P.