Strawson on Kant’s Synthetic A Priori

‘Kant nowhere gives an even moderately satisfactory account of the dichotomy between analytic and synthetic a priori propositions; nor can any be gleaned from his casually scattered examples. Among propositions generally counted as a priori there are, of course, many distinguishable subclasses; and in the history of controversy surrounding such propositions, many philosophers have followed Kant at least to the extent of wishing to restrict the title “analytic” to the members of one or more of these subclasses. But it is very doubtful indeed whether any clearly presentable general restriction of this kind would release into a contrasted class of synthetic a priori  propositions just those types of propositions Kant’s epitomizing question was meant to be about. We can enumerate, as belonging to this intended class, truths of geometry and arithmetic and supposed a priori presuppositions of empirical science. But we can really form no general conception of the intended class except in terms of Kant’s answer to his epitomizing question. What Kant means in general by synthetic  a priori propositions is really just that class of propositions our knowledge of the necessity of which could, he supposed, be explained only by mobilizing the entire Copernican resources of the Critique, by appealing to the model of “objects conforming to our models of representation”, i.e. to our sensibility’s constitiution and understanding’s rules. Since, as I have already argued, nothing whatever really is, or could be, explained by this model – for it is incoherent – it must be concluded that Kant really has no clear and general conception of the synthetic a priori at all.’ (P.F. Strawson, ‘The Bounds of Sense’, p. 43)


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