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Join us for a pre-read & virtual discussion with Rotman visiting fellow Arthur Sullivan. Please register below if you plan to attend. The reading for this event will be distributed to registered attendees a week before the event date. A link to the Zoom event will be shared the day before the event.


My point of departure is the following cryptic passage from Coffa’s (1991) classic The Semantic Tradition from Kant to Carnap:

Wittgenstein’s and Carnap’s insights on the a prioribelong in the same family as Kant’s. One could, in fact, mimic Kant’s famous “Copernican” pronouncement to state the point: If our a prioriknowledge must conform to the constitution of meanings, I do not see how we could know anything of them a priori; but if meanings must conform to the a priori, I have no difficulty in conceiving such a possibility. What we witness circa 1930 is a Copernican turn that, like Kant’s, bears the closest connection to the a priori; but its topic is meaning rather than experience. (p. 263)

Primarily, my goals in this talk are exegetical: What exactly does Coffa mean? How plausible, or helpful, is it?

Section 1 discusses Kant’s Copernican pronouncement. Section 2 is focused on various moments from Wittgenstein’s work on the a priori. Section 3 builds up to Carnap’s theoretical frameworks, via stops at Poincaré, Reichenbach, and Pap. Finally, section 4 draws out some morals. In the end, Coffa’s remark comes out as insightful and significantly illuminating in relation to a variety of questions, issues, and dynamic historical trends.


Arthur Sullivan is a Professor of Philosophy at Memorial University. He works primarily in the philosophy of language; his research also overlaps into cognitive science, the philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and epistemology.

Read more about Arthur Sullivan.



Image credit: reflection… by Theophilos Papadopoulos (license)

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