There are three grains of sand on my desk. This is unfortunate, but at least there isn’t a heap of sand on my desk. That would be really worrisome. On the other hand, there is a heap of sand in my backyard. I don’t know how exactly how many grains of sand are in this heap, but let’s say 100,000. My daughter removes one grain of sand. I don’t know why, she just does. It seems like there is still a heap of sand in my backyard. In fact, it seems like you can’t change a heap of sand into something that isn’t a heap of sand by removing one grain of sand. Right? But now we have a problem. By repeated application of the same reasoning, it seems that even after she removes 99,997 grains of sand–I don’t know what she wants with all this sand, but I’m starting to worry about that girl–there is still a heap of sand in my backyard. But three grains isn’t enough for a heap. So there is not a heap in my backyard. Now I’m confused. Where did my reasoning go wrong? What we have here is an example of the sorites paradox. It is a paradox, because I started with seemingly true statements and used valid reasoning to arrive at contradictory conclusions. We can learn a lot about logic, language, epistemology and metaphysics by thinking through and attempting to resolve paradoxes. In this class, we’ll work together to think through some ancient and contemporary paradoxes. We’ll also work on writing lucid prose that displays precisely the logical structure of arguments, engages in focused critique of these arguments, and forcefully presents arguments of our own. Other topics could include: Zeno’s paradoxes of motion and plurality, the liar’s paradox, the surprise exam paradox, paradoxes of material constitution, Newcomb’s Problem , and the Prisoner’s Dilemma.
The Class: Type: seminar
Requirements/Evaluation: several short writing assignments and a longer final paper
Enrollment Preference: first-years and sophomores
Department Notes: meets 100-level PHIL major requirement
Distributions: Division II; Writing-Intensive;