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Synthetic proposition

A synthetic proposition is a proposition that is capable of being true or untrue based on facts about the world - in contrast to an analytic proposition which is true by definition.

For example, "Mary had a little lamb" is a synthetic proposition - since its truth depends on whether or not she in fact had a little lamb.

The truth or falsity of synthetic propositions is contingent[?] - their truth depends on what the universe is like.

Are there synthetic propositions known a priori?

Whether or not it is possible for a synthetic proposition to be a priori is a matter of considerable controversy in philosophy.

The empiricists hold that there are no synthetic a priori truths.

The rationalists hold a contrary view - that there are synthetic truths that are also a priori.

In rationalist view, certain concepts are derived from experience - but once these concepts have been derived, they are seen as necessarily true.

For example, in this view, we derive the notion that 2 + 2 = 4 from experience - it would not have occurred to us had we not experienced two things, and another two things, becoming four things - but once we do experience it, we recognize it as a necessary truth.

The Kantian View

Immanuel Kant's view was more involved.

In his view, our knowledge of the world is limited to the phenomenal world - the world as it is known by the mind. The noumenal world - the world as it really is - is not knowable. The nature of the phenomenal world is constrained by the nature of the human mind.

So, certain fundamental truths about the world - for example, that if A precedes B and B precedes C, A must precede C - are truths about the phenomenal world only. They are not universal truths - and thus not analytic. However, they are a priori - in the sense that our minds could not possibly think otherwise.



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