Where can I find a systematic review of the concept a priori and a posteriori and investigations on their proper distinction? Classical texts are prefered but Kant, Aristotle are excluded. Actually the main accomplishment of Kant was on the part that he saw space and time to be subjective whereas Locke deemed them to be objective; but they both saw them as a prori. So the exact meaning of "a priori" and the word experience itself is required.

  • This is an interesting question after a sort, but there's a couple oddities: (1) the distinction would not have been known to Aristotle -- at least not under those terms and any attempt to apply it to him would contemporary ... (2) the primary place in philosophy where the distinction is used in Kant, because Kant is the one who makes use of the distinction (thus, it's kind of weird to exclude him); it's impossibe to say the exact meaning of "a priori" and the word experience since people can use words differently and the general meaning of these terms in philosophy is Kant's ...
    – virmaior
    Jan 15, 2018 at 4:20
  • 2
    You can start with: A Priori and A Posteriori and A Priori Justification and Knowledge, both with biblio. Jan 15, 2018 at 6:59
  • to virmaior 2) Yes, he had defined it as "unabhangig von aller Erfahrungen" in his transsccendental Aesthetik, but actually gave a suspicion on the proper distinction between the concept a priori and a posteriori finishing his Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Also he constantly quite hesitates using the word a prori in a definite sense throughout his other two Kritik s, which could be shown by the preface of third Kritik where he concludes that apriority is "nur in Verstand". This reason, and the very fact that the question itself is induced by him, made me to exclude Kant.
    – 김세현
    Jan 16, 2018 at 3:52
  • 1) Some people understand a priori by its ^necessity^, and actually, historically, the main source of the concept of mathematic's apriority is from Aristotle's Logic. This sense of apriority I did not want, and this is why I have excluded Aristotle.
    – 김세현
    Jan 16, 2018 at 3:54
  • It would probably be easier to answer your question if it was clearer what you wanted... You seem to want an encyclopedic treatment of a distinct that excludes the main person who uses that distinction... / maybe to word that differently, to what purpose do you want to understand the distinction? (everyone who uses it in contemporary philosophy is referring to Kant so it's hard to grasp when it would be used without reference to Kant in contemporary writing)l.
    – virmaior
    Jan 16, 2018 at 4:38

1 Answer 1


If you want a brief characterisation, (a) the a priori and the a posteriori both concern knowledge. They are epistemological concepts. They also centre on propositional knowledge : knowledge that something is the case, knowing that a proposition is true.

A priori

And (c) what is generally meant by saying that we have a priori knowledge is that we know the truth of certain propositions without appealing to sense experience as evidence or grounds. We know is 'prior' to or independently of experience. An example might be my knowledge that if A > B, and B > C, then A > C. Of course, without knowing a language (in this case English) which I learn from experience, I cannot recognise this as an a priori proposition. But given my knowledge of English, I don't need to appeal to sense experience to recognise that if A > B, and B > C, then A > C.

A posteriori

In contrast (d) what is generally meant by saying that we have a posteriori knowledge is that we have it only following or dependently on experience. I know that Pu Yi was the last Emperor of China but I know this, not possibly a priori but only by appealing to sense experience as evidence or grounds.

The a priori/ a posteriori distinction has considerable historical significance but following the work of W.V.O. Quine and Saul Kripke it is not the sharp blade - the fixed, clear and incontrovertible distinction - it was thought to be.


David W. Benfield, 'The A Priori--A Posteriori Distinction', Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Dec., 1974), pp. 151-166.

W.V.O. Quine, 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism', From A Logical Point of View, 1954.

Saul A. Kripke, Naming and Necessity, 1960.

Paul K. Moser, A Priori Knowledge (Oxford Readings in Philosophy), ISBN 10: 0198750846 / ISBN 13: 9780198750840 Published by Oxford University Press, 1987. (Contains discussion of a posteriori knowledge as well.)

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