Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Kipper's Bombshell

In a recent post (and an article I am working on), I arrived at the view that if a proposition can be known to be necessary (i.e. necessarily true or false) then either it or its negation is in the deductive closure of a set of true propositions with a priori necessary character - i.e. propositions which are such that it can be known a priori that they are necessary.

There is a new article by Jens Kipper forthcoming in Analysis, 'On what is apriori about necessities', which seems to make serious trouble for this view (as well as its ancestors). Here is the problem in my own words:

Kipper zeroes in on the fact that with some terms, such as - plausibly - 'air' and 'water', it is not a priori whether they pick out a natural kind or not. It turns out that 'air' doesn't pick out a natural kind, and that 'water' does. Now, let 'airy' be a predicate that applies to a stuff when it exhibits the superficial characteristics that air has in our world, and similarly for 'watery'.

Kipper's bombshell is to point out that 'Air is airy' is plausibly necessary (since air doesn't have some underlying nature which makes it air - rather its being air is basically just a matter of its being airy) but 'Water is watery' is plausibly not necessary (since something with water's underlying nature, i.e. being comprised mainly of H20, could have existed in quite different conditions where it isn't watery). And it definitely seems like these things could not have been known a priori.

I have mixed feelings realising this. I was really happy with my proposed link between necessity and apriority. I still feel inclined to suppose that there is something in the idea. But I cannot deny the simplicity and insightfulness of Kipper's bombshell.

Kipper considers and casts serious doubt on a view that tries to escape the bombshell by claiming that meaning change occurs when we discover whether a term like 'air' doesn't pick out a natural kind. I am pretty sympathetic to Kipper's rebuttal of this, and am inclined to look elsewhere for a way of saving, or repairing, my link. Could I perhaps figure out a way of getting propositions which clearly do have a priori necessary character and which imply propositions like 'Air is airy'?

I will post again on this matter once I get a better view of the situation.

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