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A Précis of Boghossian's What the Externalist Can Know a priori

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A brief précis of Boghossian's paper, What the Externalist Can Know a prioi.
  A PrŽcis of BoghossianÕs What the Externalist Can Know a prioi Nicholas Maurer In this paper I present BoghossianÕs reductio  argument against compatibilism , the view that externalism about mental content is compatible with the doctrine of privileged access.  Externalism is the view that oneÕs conceptual thought content depends not on internal facts alone, but also on facts about oneÕs external environment.  Privileged access  is the view that one can know the content of oneÕs own thoughts without appeal to empirical inquiry. His argument might thus be expressed in the following way: ( P 1 ) If compatibilism is true, then the following argument can be given a priori : ( i ) If I have the concept of a thing, then that thing exists; ( ii ) I have the concept of a thing; therefore ( iii ) that thing exists. ( P 2 ) If one can make that argument a  priori , then one can know things a priori that one cannot actually know a priori. ( P 3 ) Thus, If compatibilism is true, then one can know things a priori that one cannot actually   know a priori. ( P 4 ) But, it is a contradiction to claim that one can know things a priori that one cannot actually know a priori .   ( C ) Therefore, by reductio , compatibilism is false. We can now examine in turn BoghossianÕs motivations for each premise. The first premise provides us with the sort of argument compatibilism, if true, is in a  position to make given the beliefs that the view is committed to. In particular, the compatibilistÕs argument concerns certain a priori knowledge Ñ that is, knowledge obtained without any appeal to experience. Thus, we are justified in asking why one can reason a priori  in such a way as Boghossian says the compatibilist can. According to Boghossian, ( ii ) is just a statement of 1   privileged access, and is knowable a priori  as it consists in merely the knowledge of oneÕs own  particular introspective space. The first of the compatibilistÕs premises, the claim that possessing a concept of a thing implies its existence, has its basis in Putnam-style thought experiments. These kinds of thought experiments, says Boghossian, are constituted by three main ingredients, each themselves knowable a priori : a term that expresses an atomic concept  Ñ a concept that isnÕt further composed of other more basic concepts; that names a natural kind  Ñ a natural grouping or ÒcarvingÓ of nature, as opposed to an artificial one; and the userÕs ignorance of the kindÕs intrinsic nature . Since these are knowable a priori , Boghossian claims that the thought experiments themselves are thus a priori . From this   it follows that the claim is a priori as well. Finally, because the laws of logic themselves are a priori , it follows that a valid argument the  premises of which are knowable a priori entails a conclusion which is knowable a priori . The second premise builds on the logical entailment of apriority. The apriority of the conclusion of a valid argument is guaranteed by the apriority of its premises, and the conclusion of the compatibilistÕs argument is that a thing exists ; that is, that a thing exists  Ñ a proposition normally taken to be knowable a posteriori  Ñ can be known a priori . In english, what this means is that if one accepts the compatibilistÕs argument then one can know things without appeal to experience Ñ the same things knowledge of which depends on experience. Hence, by the hypothetical syllogism, we have in the third premise that the truth of compatibilism implies that we can know things a priori  that we cannot actually know a priori . To illustrate this point, suppose the thing weÕre interested in is a cat. Surely, to know that a cat exists one must have had some experience of the cat. Thus, if compatibilism is true, then we can 2  know independently of experience that a cat exists Ñ something that we cannot know without having some sort of cat-experience. This, however, is absurd. In fact, it is a contradiction to claim that one can simultaneously know two contradictory things! This is equivalent to saying that I can know that the grass is green  and that the grass is not green . Thus, in the fourth premise Boghossian rejects the consequent contained in the third.Therefore, the reductio is complete Ñ because the truth of compatibilism entails a contradiction, compatibilism must be rejected as false. 3
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