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Reason and Experience 15 mark questions
Jun 09: Explain and illustrate two ways in which it is possible to have a priori knowledge
1. Tautologies, insignificant/empty truths, e.g. law of non-contradiction; "it's either raining or it isn't raining."
We know this a priori because we don't need experience to know that something cannot both be and not be
at the same time.
2. Analytic truths, e.g. "triangles have three sides". I know this is true a priori because I understand that a
triangle is a three sided shape, so the statement reads `three sided shapes have three sides'. Because I
understand the definitions of the words, I know that this statement is true.
Jan 10: Explain what is meant by the claim that the human mind starts as a tabula rasa and give one reason for
holding this view.
1. Tabula rasa = blank slate. Empiricists hold the belief that when we are born, we have no knowledge or ideas.
These only start to form when we experience the world around us.
2. Congenital blindness (Hume). If someone is born blind they have no concept of the colour red, because they
have never experienced colour. We need to experience visually before we can have any visual knowledge.
So someone with no sense of sight, smell, taste, touch or hearing could have no sensory experiences and
thus no knowledge of the outside world.
Jun 10: Illustrating your answer, explain the difference between contingent and necessary truths.
1. Contingent truth = a truth which I could imagine being false the world could be different. Necessary truth = a
truth which must be true, and couldn't ever be false. So the main difference is that one depends on the state
of the world for its truth, and the other is true regardless of how the world is.
2. Examples contingent truth "Barack Obama is president"; we can imagine a world in which someone else is
president. It is true but this is because of how the world is. Necessary truth "20 3 = 17". If I take 3 away
from 20, the answer will always be 17; it could never be anything else.
Jan 11: Explain and illustrate why there is a problem concerning conclusions reached through inductive
1. An inductive argument the truth of the premises IMPLIES the truth of the conclusion, but does not
guarantee it. Because I have experienced something in the past, I infer that the same thing will happen in the
same circumstances. But I cannot be certain that this is the case my past experienced lead me to believe it
will be the case but there is no 100% guarantee that it will.
2. Example I receive a letter from my friend, with a French stamp on it. From this I infer that the letter was
posted in France, because I know that in France the stamps are French. However, the problem with my
conclusion is that I cannot be certain that the letter was posted in France what if my friend had posted it in
Germany using a French stamp? There would most likely be problems with the mail service which would make
this more difficult to believe, but there is no guarantee that this is not the case.
Jun 11: Illustrating your answer, explain the difference between analytic and synthetic propositions.
1. Analytic propositions are true because of the words they contain. They are true by definition.
Synthetic propositions are true because of the way the world is, and not because of what the words mean.
2. Examples analytic proposition "That bachelor is unmarried", "A sphere has no corners". Synthetic
proposition "Leaves are green", "I live in England".
Jan 12: Outline and Illustrate the view that certainty is confined to introspection and the tautological.
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Certainty = Indubitability, cannot be doubted. Most things can be doubted see Descartes' evil demon
example. We could be being tricked so that nothing we experience is representative of how the world
actually is. So what can we be certain of? Tautologies empty truths could never be false, because their
truth doesn't depend on the way the world works. E.g. "I either have a cat or I don't have a cat" this
statement is true, because of the law of non-contradiction.…read more