The Foundations of Pragmatism: Reclaiming the Pragmatic A Priori Open Access

Traut, Matthew G. (2012)

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The Foundations of Pragmatism: Reclaiming the Pragmatic A Priori

In the wake of the Scientific Revolution, the legitimacy of knowledge derived from experience could hardly be doubted. Subsequent history has only reinforced its importance. However, there are certain domains of knowledge, particularly formal knowledge, that are not obviously based on experience. Traditionally, these domains of knowledge were understood as a priori. Developments in logic indicated the possibility of reducing all a priori knowledge to tautology. By the middle of the Twentieth Century, it became clear that this reduction failed. Subsequently, the focus of the philosophical community has largely shifted away from considerations of the a priori.

This dissertation considers one possible rehabilitation of a priori knowledge. The tradition that culminates in the Incompleteness Theorem begins in Kant's categorization of a priori knowledge as analytic or synthetic. As the tradition developed, the synthetic a priori was largely rejected in favor of the analytic a priori. The pragmatic epistemology of John Dewey offers an alternative to the tradition, without completely rejecting the Kantian structure.

Dewey's version of the a priori involves a radical reorientation of the Kantian understanding of a priori knowledge. The most dramatic aspect of this reorientation is the prominent place assigned to possibility in Dewey's view. In the traditional view, the a priori was most naturally associated with necessity. Additionally, his account is not foundational, in the traditional sense. Although a priori knowledge has a unique status in his system, it does not provide material to justify empirical propositions.

This demonstration has several critical components. First, some understanding of the Kantian a priori must be presented. This presentation will establish a critical background; against which Dewey's conception can be evaluated. Second, a general account of Dewey's epistemological position must be provided. Specifically, an account of Dewey's epistemology must include an account of the functional role of a priori knowledge. Finally, Dewey's writings on the traditionally a priori domains of logic and mathematics must be examined. The outcome is account of the a priori that illustrates both its continuity with and difference from the original Kantian conception.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


I. The Nature of the A Priori...2
II. The A Priori Since Kant...4
III. The Future of the A Priori...8
IV. Dewey...10
V. Plan of the Chapters...14

Chapter 1: Kant and the Synthetic A Priori...18

I. Introduction...18
II. Intuition...21

A. Charles Parsons...22
B. Jakko Hintikka...26

III. Geometry, Arithmetic, and Logic...30

A. Jakko Hintikka...31
B. Charles Parsons...40

III. Recent Interpretations...51

A. Michael Friedman...51
B. Lisa Shabel...63

IV. Conclusion...73

Chapter 2: Dewey's Early Work; Psychology, Meaning, and Organic Unity...76

I. Introduction...76
II. Dewey's Early Psychological Work...78
III. Psychology...95
IV. Dewey's Historical Work...98
V. "The Reflex-Arc Concept in Psychology"...107
VI. Conclusion...113

Chapter 3: Radical Empiricism...116

I. From Consciousness to Experience...116
II. Reformed Empiricism...126
III. Reformed Empiricism and Experimentation...145
IV. Conclusion...152

Chapter 4: Mathematics...159

I. Introduction...159
II. Psychology of Number...160
III. Is Arithmetic A Priori...183

Chapter 5: Knowledge and Experiment...191

I. Introduction...191
II. The Quest for Certainty...192
III. Logic: The Theory of Inquiry...221
IV. Conclusion...265


I. Beginning from Kant...272
II. The Importance of Possibility...278
III. Experience and Meaning...283
IV. Conclusion...290

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