For a time, following Plato’s repetitious holding out of the possibility of all knowledge of every lower form flowing from knowledge of the higher forms men kept the hope of integrated systemic derivation of real world knowledge alive. Plato kept pointing at geometry as an ideal form of the organization of knowledge of the forms that organized the appearances in this world. As anomaly after anomaly built up, after system was traded for system, after men grew tired of mere approximation, the apriori status was relegated to ideas and denied relation to this world at all. It was Kant who restored the idea that the apriori was a realm in which work could be done, discoveries made, insight gained. Kant gave us synthetic apriori.
But those who wanted to relegate the fixedness and absoluteness of the apriori into the corner or irrelevance were not finished. Indeed with the rise of modern science it has become more and more dogmatically accepted that the important knowledge is through experience and observation. The apriori is a kind of toolbox of choosable or not choosable tools that can be applied to the realm of this world at will.
There are some good reasons to be wary of claims to apriori status. There are also some irrational hatreds of the apriori. Let us examine both for they apply to mathematics as much as apriori analysis of action…coming soon.
Apriori status given to knowledge claims is a status reserved for that which is not susceptible to confirmation or falsification by experience. Such status carries with it a kind of authority that dismisses the entire animal sphere of experience. For generations such status has been permitted in the area of ideas and mathematics. It is allowed, by those with a dislike for the misuse of authority, or those with a dislike of authority, that if we define in a certain way, then other things follow. It is allowed, by those with a dislike for the misuse of authority, or those with a dislike of authority, that if we we accept the principles of arithmetic or geometry, then certain other things follow. What follows in either case is taken to be what follows necessarily from the principles independent of experience.
But, say those wary of authority abuse or authority itself, this is all in the ideal realm and has little implication down here on this ole’ clod. Down here we are the choosers, and we decide what of the ideal realm to permit. So, definition is taken to be conventional (a matter of choice), and just recently (in the big scheme of things) there are claims that the principles of Euclidean geometry may not apply to this ole’ clod (non-Euclidean geometry and theory of relativity). I too quickly get in over my head.
I reject the ultimate-chooser status of the human. It is too god-like. I reject freedom without its partner, reason. I reject will without its partner, intellect. Practically I affirm the importance of freedom. I even have claims about the apriori status of its rather extensive right. But I do not think that freedom is absolute in the sense that everything is up for grabs. And, the notion of the apriori plays the role of ultimate non-negotiable knowledge in epistemology.
The haters of the apriori are the haters of fixed limit. They are those who repel at running up against that which is insurmountable. There is a kind of idolatry that rages against the god, the absolute, the shaper of the human. My sympathies with this crew. Anyone who rages is deserving of a cheap kind of sympathy. To live with rage is to live with a lion inside that can only be quieted through the satisfaction of that which it wants. To want to be the god, the ultimate chooser, the underminer of everything, he who find the whole in any system and reduces all to smoldering rubble, is to want more than is possible. So, it is to want the unsatisfiable.
The rightfully wary of claims to apriori status are those I would call friends. It has been misused. The difference between unmerited dogma and apriori status is not always clear. Similarly, Kierkegaard says that it is difficult to distinguish between faith and sin. This is of course the truth in the progress of Abraham up the hill with son, sticks and knife.
It is safer if the apriori status is reserved for the ideal realm of numbers and definitions. It is riskier to say that the apriori matters for the panting human animal down here. I submit that to the degree the panting human animal is understandable he is understandable through apriori knowledge. I leave you with a choice.
You may choose between the human as an atom and the human as a self-directed acting being. The choice is fundamental. I submit to you that the costs of choosing human as atom are the loss of everything understandable about the human. The choice is easy for me. The human is not a reduction to a combination of atoms moved by other atoms (negating the actions of those who claim otherwise).
Those who have acted, asserted, written, argued that the human is only an atom have made a significant and contradictory error. For if they assert they act. If they are merely being pressed by the rest of the universe such that the effect of their being pressed is such unmeaning and undirected effects (called expression), then I leave them with it and care not to consider such effects. They are no different then waves washing up on sand.
I want to understand what they say. But we should not claim to both rejected understanding ourselves as acting and act at the same time. It is silly.
What comes next is a criticism of the thesis that all knowledge is empirical. Then, suitably oriented to appreciate the apriori status of at least some of what we know, we will move forward to an apriori analysis of action that can suitable shed light on action anywhere.