Reason and Experience

AQA Phil one reason and experience topic for AS. Looking from the beginning: Epistomoly, Schools of thought (rationalism and empiricism) and key terms.

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  • Created by: meghan
  • Created on: 29-04-14 12:27



What is epistomology?

Epistomology is the branch of philosophy concerned with nature and limitations of knowledge

What does this mean?

It questions what knowledge actually is and how we can gain knowledge.

Talks of relevant or applicable knowledge and the extent of it

Also looks at how we know what we know i.e how do we know what we have knowledge of is true knowledge?

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Schools of thought part 1

How is knowledge acquired?

This has been a long questioned topic and has been debated between the 'rationalists' and 'the empiricists' (The two schools of thought that form the basis of reason and experience)

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Schools of thought part 2

About the schools

Rationalism in its most extreme form is the view that all knowledge is ultimately derived from or dependent upon truths obtained by the employment of unaided reason alone (A priori knowledge).

In its most basic form, empiricists claim that we are born knowing nothing and that everything we know must come from experience.  At birth, the mind is a Tabula Rasa (Latin for “blank slate”).

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Key terms Introduction

What are the key terms and which school of thought do they apply to?


  • A priori
  • Analytic
  • Necessary
  • Deductive
  • Tautology


  • A posteriori
  • Synthetic
  • Contingent
  • Inductive
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A priori and a posteriori

A posteriori and a priori knowledge

A priori knowledge:

Knowledge which can be recognised prior to or independent of experience. Knowledge that can only be gained via reason. 
I don’t need to check whether triangles have 3 sides by first finding a triangle and then counting the sides.  I can tell what the answer will be before (i.e. prior  to conducting any experiments).
Ergo some examples of a priori knowledge include mathematics and geometry.

A posteriori knowledge:

Knowledge which can only be gained via the senses. 
For example, if the front door of your house is purple then you know a posteriori’ that it is purple, for you need to go and look at it to find this out.  

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Analytic and Synthetic

Analytic and synthetic propositions

Analytic Propositions:

Propositions that are true because of the meanings of the terms alone. The opposite in these cases would be contradictory. (also termed tautology)
For example 
‘All bachelors are unmarried men’ is true based on the words alone. We do not need evidence for this but is by definition true and cannot be otherwise. Saying something different to this statement e.g 'bachelors are married men' this would be a contradiction.

Synthetic Propositions:

Propositions that are not true because of the meanings of the terms alone. The opposite implies no contradiction. 
An example of this would be 'All bachelors are miserable'. This statement may or may not be true, could be otherwise, and needs further evidence to be true.
John, a 43 year old bachelor, is miserable. John might not have been miserable if he had won the lottery the night before. This is conceivable since there is no contradiction 

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Necessary and Contingent

Necessary and contingent truths

Necessary truths:

Propositions that are true everywhere (universal) The opposite in this case would be impossible.  Necessary truths HAVE to be true in all possible worlds.
For example 'water is H20' or '2+2=4'
'2+2' cannot equal anything other than 4 and always has been this way, always will be. Necessary truths usually refer to maths and geometry. 

Contingent truths:

Propositions that are only true in this world but not all. The opposite could be possible. The event could have been otherwise.  
For example 'the sun will rise tomorrow' is a contingent truth due to the fact we have observed it in the past, this morning even, but it may or may not happen in the future. 

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Deductive and Inductive

Deducitve and Inductive Arguments

Deducitve arguments:

If you accept the premises to be true then the conclusion naturally is also true. It would be illogical not to see the conclusion as fact. The conclusion of these types of arguments logically follow on from the premise and can be agreed upon without further evidence.
 All men are mortal
Socrates was a man
Therefore, Socrates was mortal 

Inductive arguments:

Even though the premises may be deemed to be true, the conclusion may not always be factual. The conclusion of these arguments are not assumed from the premises, or the conclusion itself needs further evidence to be deemed true.
Socrates was a Greek
Most Greeks eat fish
Therefore, Socrates ate fish 

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