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A Priori vs A Posteriori Knowledge of God

  1. Nov 6, 2003 #1
    Before I begin, I found a great web site, The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,http://www.utm.edu/research/iep. I've been doing some reading to gett a better handle on some philosophy terms.

    This is both a question and a topic for discussion if anyone is interested.

    Now I will define the terms that I have been reading up on.

    A Priori knowlege - Knowledge or a proposition that is knowable independant of experience.

    A Posteriori Knowledge - Knowable on the basis of experience.

    Emperical Knowledge - That which can be measured and/or tested.

    Non- emperical knowledge - That knowledge which can not be measured or tested.

    Now the question/topic:
    I and others have said that we have had personal esperiences which leads us to knowledge that God exists. This experience is usually via meditation but not exclusively so. This experience is therefore subjective, of that I have no doubt; but, as it is based on experience is it then a posteriori knowledge or because it is subjective experience does that make it a priori knowledge?

    (I don't dispute that it is not emperical but nonemperical; however does that make it any less valid. In a strict scientific sense nonemperical knowledge is moot and not addressed. Yet such things as string theory is for the most part a non-emperical mathematical model
    and strictly speaking is not a theory at all. Are you begining to see what a mess this topic can quickly become?)
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2003
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 6, 2003 #2


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    I would consider belief in God as a priori, and non-empirical idea. (Though whether we can say something as knowable without experience is another very very large can of worms, which I'm sure we want to avoid.)

    Why priori? Because I think experience here refers to the idea of measurement, and so the capacity of meditation as posteriori source depends on the idea that consciousness acts as a receptacle for information that cannot be taken in with any form through the senses - which is a priori claim. Therefore, neccessarily the proposition of God coming from the mind must be founded on a priori and non-empirical statement. (And I guess some will say this is true of all knowledge. Maybe. But the case is definitely more direct here.)

    From my understanding, the defense of string theory usually comes in the direction that it is incomplete. If it turns out that strings allow no capacity for verification/falsification, then the theory would have to be abandoned as useless.
  4. Nov 6, 2003 #3


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    It's a complicated question since you use the term "knowledge" in conjunction with "existence of God." I don't know if it should be called knowledge anyway-- I have had one of those experiences, but I would classify it more as a 'God feeling' than absolute knowledge of the existence of God. (Of course, it depends also on how we define 'God,' but I don't want to get too deep into this.)

    In any case, I think the term "belief" is more appropriate here than your term "knowledge." If we accept this, then this is a straightforward example of an a posteriori belief-- the belief has been predicated upon the experience.

    We can keep the "knowledge" term if we simplify the initial claim to be knowledge of a profound and ineffible spiritual feeling rather than knowledge of the existence of God. The latter is a little dodgey, but no one will deny that the former constitutes truly valid knowledge, albeit of a subjective kind. So here too we have an a posteriori, in this case a posteriori knowledge of the spiritual experience. No one knows what the spiritual experience truly is until one experiences it-- a clear cut example of a posteriori knowledge.
  5. Nov 7, 2003 #4
    The porpose of this thread is not about the existence or non existence of God but about how we know and the proper terms. The example of "knowing" God exist is possibly a loaded topic but fits directly the question asked; "is such knowledge a priori or a posteriori?"

    Two responses and to different opinions so I think this is a good topic for discussion.

    The article I read used the word proposition rather than knowledge so I think that beliefs and well as knowledge will apply.

    The ability to measure and/or test a proposition determins whether it is emperical or non-emperical. The article that I read in the mentioned site said that the idea of a priopr - aposteriori should not be confused with and was seperate from empericism.
    The examples used for a priori were that we can know a priori that 7+5=12 or that a cube has 6 sides without having to experience this ourselves but by mental or subjective means alone.
    On string theory, in the program on PBS, NOVA, The Elegant Universe a number of the speakers said that as string theory can not yet be tested or falsifiable it was philosophy not science.

    As I said above the word used was proposition and I should have stuck with it instead of calling it knowledge so I think our believes would apply. As I see it if we believe in God strictly on faith alone then it would be a priori; but, if we base our belief/knowledge on a "religious" experience then it would be a posteriori. This, I think, is where the dicussion is going to be most contentious if it developes any more interest.
    Thank both of you for your responses. As you can see it is not a simple open and shut subject.
  6. Nov 7, 2003 #5


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    Let's talk about these experiences. Is it possible that, say, a Hindu could have an experience and attribute it to Krishna, while a Christian could have the very same inner experience and attribute it to Jesus? If that were so, then the empirical knowledge would be simply that you had an experience, and the interpretation would be based on your a priori knowledge (or belief!).

    By the way, I regard the experiences as real in themselves, since I have had them. It's the interpretation of them that I question.
  7. Nov 7, 2003 #6
    I would say that the experiences would be a posteriori but that the interpretation of them, the individuals perception of them would be influences by their a priori belief. If the experiences were the same in that they experienced the presence of a higher being but one thought it was Jesus while the other thought it was Krishna then it is only the interpretation or perception that would be different. We could in a case like this go on to say that these are just different aspects or manifistations of the same being.

    Again since it is an experience then it would be a posteriori.
  8. Nov 7, 2003 #7


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    What I suggested what that such things are in fact not known, but derived by inductive logic presenting us with something that objectively speaking is only a stronger form of assumption. This, I accept, is largely a matter of opinion, of course.

    What I would like to point out though is that if you establish metaphorical spiritual understanding, eg. via meditation to be a case of an experience, it seems similarly to make sense to say that mathematics is another example experience through thought, interpreted as mathematical law, and so we can find no clear example of priori knowledge.

    A cube is defined as a body that has a certain shape, 6 sides being a prerequisite.
  9. Nov 8, 2003 #8
    FZ+, I agree completely. I thought that the examples used were very weak. I have been trying to think of something, anything, that would be a good example of a priori knowledge or a proposition. I can't think of any that would not be based on or derived from prior knowledge experienced or learned.
    Maybe we are thinking of it in too strict of terms. It seems to me that such propositions would have to be instinctual, ie, that we were born knowing it. Even if it were a revelation or psychic experience it would still be experienced and come from an outside source.
    This is the main reason for this question/topic, to get a better understanding of just what a priori knowledge or propositions might be. I am begining to wonder if such a thing actually exists.
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