Throughout its history philosophy has been thought to be a member of a community of intellectual
disciplines united by their common pursuit of knowledge. It has sometimes been thought to be the
queen of the sciences, at other times merely their under-labourer. But irrespective of its social status,
it was held to be a participant in the quest for knowledge – a cognitive discipline.
Cognitive disciplines may be a priori or empirical. The distinction between what is a priori
and what is empirical is epistemological. It turns, as Frege noted, on the ultimate justification for
holding something to be true.1
If the truths which a cognitive discipline attains are warranted neither
by observation nor by experiment (nor by inference therefrom), then they are a priori. Otherwise they
The natural and moral sciences (the Geisteswissenschaften) strive for and attain
The mathematical sciences are a priori.
Cognitive disciplines have a distinctive subject matter, concerning which they aim to add to
human knowledge. Physics deals with matter, motion, and energy, chemistry with the constitution of
stuffs out of elements, biology with the nature of living beings, history with ‘the crimes, follies and
misfortunes of mankind’ (Gibbon), and so forth