Culture Magazine

The High Priori Road

By Praymont

Let others creep by timid steps, and slow,

On plain experience lay foundations low,

By common sense to common knowledge bred,

And last, to Nature's Cause through Nature led.

All-seeing in thy mists, we want no guide,

Mother of Arrogance, and Source of Pride!

We nobly take the high Priori Road,*

And reason downward, till we doubt of God

Alexander Pope ("The Dunciad" 1742, IV, lines 465-72)

In a footnote, Pope refers to Hobbes, Spinoza, and Descartes.

"Allow me to congratulate you upon the felicity with which you have thus 'taken the high priori road,' and endeavoured to depreciate an anonymous letter, by declaring the correspondent to be drunk." John Cam Hobhouse (A defence of the people, in reply to Lord Erskine's "Two defences of the Whigs", 1819)

"The second, or physical part of science, embracing all those inductive studies respecting unliving or unorganized bodies, which proceed mainly through out ward observation or experiment, and can as yet make little progress in 'the high priori road'." Sir William Hamilton ("Inaugural Address," Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 1838)

"With the economists who take the 'high priori road,' and anticipate the results of science by assuming the facts from which their principles are deduced, I presume not to contend." Robert Torrens ("A letter to the Right Honourable Lord John Russell on the ministerial measure forestablishing poor laws in Ireland...,"1838)

"He promised to lead us up to the great truth of all religion by a new path, -- to 'nobly take the high priori road, and reason downwards'; but, after a little digression, he conducts us back again to the old traveled way, where alone we can obtain firm footing." (anon, Review of On Natural Theology by Thomas ChalmersThe North American Review, 1842)

"I am unable to see why we should be forbidden to take the shortest cut from these sufficient premises to the conclusion, and constrained to travel the 'high priori road,' by the arbitrary fiat of logicians." John Stuart Mill (A System of Logic, 1843)

"Those who have been led to regard the method of empirical psychology as the only method which preserves the reality of things, by preventing the thinker from overriding and destroying the facts of life, minister to their own self-satisfaction by taunting the speculative thinker with going along the 'high priori road' he has constructed for himself above and beyond the real world. The charge can only provoke a smile in those who know how wide of the mark it really is. Speculative philosophy makes no pretensions to the 'construction' of reality in the ordinary sense of the word, but only to such an explanation of reality as shall account for the facts in their completeness." John Watson (Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 1878)

The "scientific claims [of Spencer's method] are plainly declared in chapter v., on 'Ways of judging Conduct'; from which we learn that Mr. [Herbert] Spencer's way of judging it is to be a high priori road." Henry Sidgwick (Mind, 1880) (Spencer's reply)

"A good many evolutionists have been floored by a serious interruption to the continuity of their 'high priori' road, and not a few of them do not yet know just what has hurt them. That such an evanescent and unsubstantial condition as consciousness should have the gravity necessary to throw a triumphant army of advance into confusion, could hardly be suspected." A. S. Packard, Jr. and E. D. Cope (The American Naturalist, 1882)

"If, now and again, frequenters of 'the high priori road' have been less vocal in [Mind's] pages, it is only because they have not chosen to make use of the opportunity of utterance here afforded." George Croom Robertson (Mind, 1891)

"In view of these facts it seems advisable to travel the 'high priori road' as far as it will take us, and for the rest, to rely on our best experience and judgment." Archibald Lamont Daniels ("The Measurement of Saw Logs and Round Timber," Journal of Forestry, 1905) (Daniels was a math professor at the University of Vermont, see pp. 43-44 of this pdf published by his dept.)

"Ryle's extraordinary confidence that he knows what is a 'howler' and what isn't contrasts very oddly with the delicacy of a philologist's discussion of synonyms. The 'high priori road' is not yet dead in Oxford, after all." John Passmore ("Professor Ryle's Use of 'Use' and 'Usage'," Philosophical Review, 1954)

"We cannot then take a 'high priori road' out of our dilemma, by defining 'free' in terms of paradigm cases." A. C. MacIntyre (Mind, 1957)

Also, in 1967, R. S. Crane titled a book chapter "Criticism as Inquiry; or, The Perils of the 'High Priori Road'" (in The idea of the humanities, and other essays critical and historical)

"In literature, as in other subjects, the best students are those who respond to intellectual honesty, who distrust the high priori road, and who sense that there may be some connection between limited claims and unlimited rewards." Northrop Frye (Contemporary Literature, 1968)


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