Kant and Kripke: Rethinking Necessity and the A Priori

In James Conant & Jonas Held (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of German Idealism and Analytic Philosophy. London, UK: Palgrave MacMillan (forthcoming)
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This essay reassesses the relation between Kant and Kripke on the relation between necessity and the a priori. Kripke famously argues against what he takes to be the traditional view that a statement is necessary only if it is a priori, where, very roughly, what it means for a statement to be necessary is that it is true and could not have been false and what it means for a statement to be a priori is that it is knowable independently of experience. Call such a view the Entailment Thesis. Along with many Kant scholars, Kripke thinks that Kant endorses the Entailment Thesis. Thus Kripke and many others take his arguments against the Entailment Thesis to tell against Kant and to mark an important point of disagreement with him. I will argue that this is a mistake. Kant does not endorse the Entailment Thesis that Kripke and many others attribute to him. He does endorse two quite different theses concerning the relation between necessity and the a priori, as he conceives them. One is a matter of definition and the other is a very substantial philosophical thesis indeed—to establish it is the aim of the entire Critique of Pure Reason. But Kripke’s arguments against the Entailment Thesis tell against neither of Kant’s theses, as they involve crucially different conceptions of necessity and the a priori. This superficial lack of disagreement masks deep disagreements, but these result from divergent views regarding matters such as realism, modal epistemology, and philosophical methodology; views which Kant does a lot, and Kripke very little, to argue for.

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Andrew Stephenson
University of Southampton


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