The Philosopher’s Lexicon: A Priori and A Posteriori Knowledge

Stories & Soliloquies

Welcome back to The Philosopher’s Lexicon. My primary goal in this series is to explore common philosophical vocabulary, hopefully transforming these words from useless jargon into meaningful terms. My secondary goal is to highlight how contentious some of these terms can be – especially those which seem obvious. These definitions will not be comprehensive by any means, so please feel free to add your own understanding of each term as we go. 

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This week’s entry into the lexicon will be the last of a string of distinctions. I began some weeks ago by discussing the de dicto/de re distinction, then moved onto the distinction between ontology and epistemology, after which I tackled logical and causal possibly, and most recently I covered the difference between analytic and synthetic reasoning. To these, I add the distinction between a priori and a posteriori knowledge.

In its weaker sense, a…

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When to give up on a story

I've been reading a lot of science fiction short stories lately.  Many have been excellent.  But some have not been my cup of tea.  I've run into a fair amount of melancholic ambiance pieces where nothing much happens.  But the stories I tend to enjoy have action, dialog, or at least a steady stream of concrete information. As I've been … Continue reading When to give up on a story

The utter relativism of definitions

I'm always surprised how contentious definitions, can be.  How opinions about what are essentially sounds in language become matters of intense debate. When the IAU (International Astronomical Union) redefined the word "planet" to exclude Pluto, which came about due to the discovery of Eris, a similarly sized body, many people reacted with intense emotion, igniting … Continue reading The utter relativism of definitions

Robot masters new skills through trial and error

Related to our various AI discussions, I noticed this news: Robot masters new skills through trial and error -- ScienceDaily. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed algorithms that enable robots to learn motor tasks through trial and error using a process that more closely approximates the way humans learn, marking a major milestone in … Continue reading Robot masters new skills through trial and error

A Democrat in a two party system

John Scalzi, as he periodically does, is responding to reader questions, and one was on his attitude toward Republicans.  If you're familiar with Scalzi, then you can probably guess that his attitude toward Republican politicians isn't generally positive.  I found a lot to agree with in his post, notably on his social positions such as being pro-choice … Continue reading A Democrat in a two party system

Freedom regained

Scientia Salon

81lyH-va9ELby Julian Baggini

[This is an edited extract from Freedom Regained: The Possibility of Free Will, University of Chicago Press. Not to be reproduced without permission of the publisher.]

We’ve heard a lot in recent years about how scientists — neuroscientists in particular — have “discovered” that actions in the body and thoughts in the mind can be traced back to events in the brain. In many ways it is puzzling why so many are worried by this. Given what we believe about the brain’s role in consciousness, wouldn’t it be more surprising if nothing was going on in your brain before you made a decision? As the scientist Colin Blakemore asks, “What else could it be that’s making our muscles move if it’s not our brains?” And what else could be making thoughts possible other than neurons firing? No one should pretend that we understand exactly how it…

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Emotional versus intellectual attributions of consciousness

Click through for full sized version and the red button caption. via Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. This SMBC reminds me of a concept that I've been debating on ways to express, but a brief comment here seems like the opportunity to do so.  We've had a lot of discussions about exactly when we might start to … Continue reading Emotional versus intellectual attributions of consciousness

NASA has never accidentally sent a probe into the Sun.

Last week, I was having lunch with some friends, which included a number of programmers.  One of them mentioned an old urban myth, that I hadn't heard in several years, which claims that, due to a programming bug (involving a misplaced semicolon), NASA once accidentally sent a probe into the Sun.  I pointed out to my friend how implausible this was. … Continue reading NASA has never accidentally sent a probe into the Sun.