I'm working off of Kant's conception of analytic/synthetic and a prior/a posteriori judgements.

The definition of "thoughts" does not subsume their existence. That is, it is logically possible to talk about thoughts in a world where humans are not around to think them. Therefore, "thoughts exist" is not true by the definition of what a "thought" is, and hence not analytic, but rather synthetic.

However, the fact that I am here right now having thoughts means that their existence is necessarily true. I do not need to go outside and look at the sky to confirm this, nor go to the library and read a book to confirm this. The fact that I had a thought necessitates their existence.

  • 1
    No. Feeling pain also does not require looking, at the sky or elsewhere, and you are not having thoughts in dreamless sleep or when you are dead, so having them isn't necessary. Both observations are empirical, i.e. synthetic a posteriori in Kant's terms, like any introspection. That having thoughts implies their existence may well be an analytic a priori conditional, but the fact itself of having thoughts (the premise) isn't a priori, analytic or synthetic. – Conifold Jul 22 '20 at 4:03

As in Kant existence is not a property of individuals, "thoughts exist" is not a well formed judgement. "I am thinking" or "I am having thoughts" results from an introspective experience and is thus a posteriori (and hence synthetic).

  • Interesting way of explaining it. Would you personally hold that there is no such thing as a synthetic a priori statement? – Mark Jul 21 '20 at 16:48
  • Wait...didn't he try to show that such synthetic a priori statements are possible? – Mark Jul 21 '20 at 16:52
  • Personally, I go with Quine when it comes to the analytic-synthetic-distinction. – Mr. White Jul 21 '20 at 17:00
  • Thanks for your suggestion! I am currently working through it all from the ground up...I have Quine on the horizon :) – Mark Jul 21 '20 at 17:02

I think that it is true that a 'thoughts exist' is synthetic, but not that it is a priori. Introspection (such as being aware that you are thinking) is a kind of experience.

You are right that, once had, the thought cannot be false - but that isn't the definition of a priori.

  • Thanks for your reply. Isn't an a priori statement one whose truth can be arrived out by logical deduction alone, and not reliant on our contact with the world? – Mark Jul 21 '20 at 16:49
  • Yeah but you cannot actually derive this statement ('thoughts exist') by logical deduction (in the way that you can derive 2+2=4 or equivalent). Your knowledge that you exist and are thinking is a type of de se knowledge ('of oneself;'); de se knowledge is very interesting, but it is surely a species of a posteriori knowledge not a priori. – Rollo Burgess Jul 24 '20 at 8:17

It's analytical or, more properly, not a judgment at all.

In refuting the ontological proof of God, Kant famously says that "existence is not a predicate." One adds nothing to a subject by also stating that it "exists." Like cutting the Gordian knot, that was his way out of a lot of unproductive metaphysical tangles.

However, as I recall, Kant is a bit murky about the status of the self, and I'm not sure what he says about the Cartesian cogito, which might have some bearing on this "purified" version of it.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.