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A priori statements about biology

In Discussion on April 26, 2010 by Pete Abram

What kind of a priori statement about biology (or even physics) could be remotely interesting? Like Strawson said, an a priori statement is one which you can know is true from your couch, you don’t have to do any science. But if we’re not doing science, then it seems like the statement isn’t going to be biological in any interesting way.

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5 Responses to “A priori statements about biology”

  1. Since all correct models are tautologies, and considering how much evolutionary biology relies on models, that would be…. almost all of biology. Granted, whether or not a model applies to a given target system is an empirical question, and it does seem likely that there isn’t a single model that will apply in all cases.

  2. I am skeptical whether we can construct any meaning full any priori statement about sciences like physics, chemistry, and biology. A law is supposed to be able to be confirmed by empirical data, and if we don’t have data, I don’t think scientists can discover any laws just by sitting in their couch. In this respect, philosophy is different, for analysis is supposed to be conceptual, which doesn’t need empirical confirmation.

    Models only can be applicable or inapplicable, so they seem like laws. But are models laws? It seems to me that laws are much more meaningful than models.

  3. I’ll agree that if it’s a priori, it ain’t science. But we can discover analytically true conditionals by empirical means. Also, figuring out if a model applies in a given situation is an a posteriori question which would have to settled by empirical means. Scientific anarchism doesn’t mean that scientists are out of a job!

  4. Also, using synthetic generalizations to explain things might not be as explanatory as using an analytic generalization – it leaves open the question of why the synthetic generalization is the case. With a correct model, you *know* why the model is the case – the prerequisites of the model are fulfilled in the target system.

  5. Dan,

    Now I think of it, maybe there is ambiguity in what we mean by ’empirical’. When we contemplate what’s the necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge, we consult our intuitions about what is considered as knowledge. But is that empirical confirmation? If what we mean by empirical is broad enough, it seems so. But in the sense of not doing any scientific experiment, not measuring any data, and thinking of the term, etc., it does seem to me that we are not using empirical means.

    I don’t mean to say that scientists have no job at all. I shouldn’t have brought up analytical truth when the topic is a priori truth. I should have said that science is not relevant to a priori truth, but is relevant to analytical truth. Just like water is H2O, this is analytically true, but not a piori true. I hope I made it right this time.

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