A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Defending Metaphysics, Part 2

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on October 22, 2006

In the previous post I was talking about relation between concrete experiences and universals. In this post I will add few comments on it, and then put attention on the issue of apriority.

I said that while universals are learned from(are noticed in) concrete experiences, once they are learned they are not connected to any concrete experience. Once you learn what HIGHER means, you really don’t  need to remember the example on which you learned what it means. You will be able to judge something being higher then something else even you haven’t ever seen things of that hight. Even more salient example is that of the notions of MORE and LESS. Once we learn those, we can use those on so much different things, that it is clear that while they are learned from experience, they are not connected to any particular experience. So we can say that what universals mean can a)be found in concrete experiences, but b)we learn the universal not by connecting it to particular experience, but by noticing it in the experience as an universal.  In principle one doesn’t need lot of examples to learn the universal, universals can be learned just from one example. But lot of examples can be given, so that they make salient the universal, by changing lot of different features, so that just what is pointed to stays the same. In one example it is hard for student to figure out what about the example the teacher is pointing to. Or said differently, the universals don’t need to be seen as some kind of synthesis based on lot of data. They are, on contrary – abstractions. This can be seen everywhere, in every concrete experience, where we put concrete under universal. We say for example “that is rabbit”, or “that is circle”, or “that apple is red”, and so on; and we know that the relation between subject and predicate is that of abstracting. The subject is always more then just the predicate tells. (Both dog and cat are mammals, but being a mammal is just one part of what they are. It is abstraction from their whole concrete being).

However because universals are abstractions, and because the concrete is always something more then the universals, a concrete thing can fall under multiple universals. What can be determined as universal A, can also be determined as universal B. Nothing magical in that. Now, in some cases that two universals can be found in a concrete situation, is merely contingent thing. They might have been there, or might not have been there. But what is interesting for possibility of metaphysics is that there are cases where if a situation is determined as A, then it will necessarily fall under (can be determined as) the universal B. Which gives possibility for a priori judgments.
One common idea which appears in this situation is that those apriori judgments must be analytical, and they are analytical only if the concepts (universals) are somehow described by other concepts (in ordinary language as definitions, list of necessary and sufficient features, or otherwise). If we imagine concepts in this way, and we put equation sign between apriority and analyticity, then it is hard to see what value those a priori judgments might have. One has in them nothing more then what has been put in them by definitions.
But when the student learned what “one” and “two” meant (in the previous post), or when she learned what “color” meant, were they supplied with definitions, with list of necessary and sufficient features? Not really. And still they figured out what the words mean – they learned the concept. Can we define what “red”, “orange” and “blue” means? Can we tell when the red stops being red, and starts being purple? But once I have those concepts of BLUE, RED and PURPLE, I can also figure out that purple is bluish and redish in same time. I can comprehend that truth, even I don’t have definitions. And really, if I want to make someone else aware of that truth, I won’t provide definitions. I would just show blue, red and purple to someone. The relation is there waiting to be comprehended.
Or put in the terms of universals as abstractions, we can say that after learning some universal, I can become aware that whenever some situation is determinable as universal A, it will be necessarily determinable as universal B. So, for example after I learn the notions of ONE, TWO and THREE, I can comprehend that when a situation is determinable as THREE, can be seen as THREE, but it also can be seen as TWO and ONE, and ONE and TWO, or ONE and ONE and ONE. I don’t know this truth analytically, I understand it by becoming aware of the necessity that when a situation is determined as THREE, it can also be determined as TWO and ONE. I haven’t learn those notions through some kind of definitions. If it was so children would be able to say that ONE AND ONE are TWO, because for them TWO would be ONE AND ONE. But they aren’t. They need additional education to learn that, and comprehend it (Of course they might merely memorize it also, but that is another story where there is no apriority at all). How does one defined RED, GREEN, PURPLE and SIMILAR, before saying that PURPLE is more SIMILAR to RED then to GREEN.
Anyway, this is not to say that a priori judgments can’t be in lot of cases formalized and made analytical in that way. But they not need be made such for their necessity to be comprehended. And why should we accept the formalism as right in first place? How does one account for validity of modus ponens?

So the point here is that, a priori judgments are possible by comprehending that if a situation is determinable as falling under universal A, it will necessarily fall under universal B. This is possible as it was said in last post because universals are not connected to concrete and specific experiences in which they are learned, but that they transcend them.

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