In the article “Absolute provability and the safe knowledge of axioms” by Timothy Williams http://media.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/assets/pdf_file/0004/35338/provabilityfinal.pdf

The author notes “However, there could in principle be mathematicians, perhaps non-human ones, who believe A and could not easily have come to believe ~A or any other falsehood in a relevantly similar way. As a by-product of the evolutionary history of their kind, their brains have come to be wired so as strongly to predispose them to accept as obvious any formula which they interpret as we actually interpret A, when the formula is presented to them. As is sometimes said, they find such formulas ‘primitively compelling’.”

It relates to what is assumed a certainty in his environment, similar to the aliens’ evolutionary development. It would refer to Kant’s society’s cultural Christian upbringing.

I wonder now if this is (close to) what Immanuel Kant refers to as “a priori” knowledge in his Critique of pure reason?

  • No, not even close, psychological compulsion is of little consequence for Kant. A priori are supposed to reflect "objective" necessities for subjects with our type of reason and sensibility, not pre-wired psychological dispositions. We may not even be disposed to accept a priori truths initially. Newtonian mechanics, which is a priori, according to Kant, is counterintuitive in some ways, as the stories of accepting inertia or relativity of motion show. And conversely, psychological compulsion may well attach to falsehoods, as it does for many probabilistic intuitions.
    – Conifold
    Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 22:07

2 Answers 2


Kantian a priori basically is "if that was not the case, the empirical knowledge we have would not be possible". It is not a positively determined belief or proposition everybody shares.

As I wrote elsewhere, propositions a priori can be quite counter-intuitive. The a priori, ie. before all experience does bear a logical meaning in Kant. It means it is something that is logically prior to, a necessary condition of, experience.

Using your header, then, we can answer clearly: As soon as non-humans become cognisant of the necessary conditions of their experience, they can gain a priori knowledge. That is not the same as hard-wired, dogmatic beliefs, though.

  • It makes you think about the boundaries of such a deductive process, If a detective says "It was your gun's bullet we found on the crime scene. I therefore have a apriory knowledge saying you are the cullprit". Would that fit in? Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 23:42

In the Transcendental Analytic (the Meiklejohn translation), Kant at one point says:

It is quite possible that someone may propose a species of preformation-system of pure reason—a middle way between the two [abstracted-from-perception or essential-to-conception models]—to wit, that the categories are neither innate and first a priori principles of cognition, nor derived from experience, but are merely subjective aptitudes for thought implanted in us contemporaneously with our existence, which were so ordered and disposed by our Creator, that their exercise perfectly harmonizes with the laws of nature which regulate experience. Now, not to mention that with such an hypothesis it is impossible to say at what point we must stop in the employment of predetermined aptitudes, the fact that the categories would in this case entirely lose that character of necessity which is essentially involved in the very conception of them, is a conclusive objection to it. The conception of cause, for example, which expresses the necessity of an effect under a presupposed condition, would be false, if it rested only upon such an arbitrary subjective necessity of uniting certain empirical representations according to such a rule of relation. I could not then say—"The effect is connected with its cause in the object (that is, necessarily)," but only, "I am so constituted that I can think this representation as so connected, and not otherwise." Now this is just what the sceptic wants. For in this case, all our knowledge, depending on the supposed objective validity of our judgement, is nothing but mere illusion; nor would there be wanting people who would deny any such subjective necessity in respect to themselves, though they must feel it. At all events, we could not dispute with any one on that which merely depends on the manner in which his subject is organized.

So Kant has to do a lot more than come up with a plausible evolutionary/preformative basis for a priori categorizations; he has to show that the thesis of such evolution/preformation requires the categories to get off the ground itself. Hence his excruciatingly detailed architectonic of faculty psychology.

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