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PHIL 126
Paradoxes Fall 2020
Division II Writing Skills

Class Details

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: Format: seminar; The format of this class is different this year. The instructor will record 2-3 lectures per week which will be made available online. We will also have small tutorial-style meetings each week for which some students will write papers and others will comment on these papers. These tutorial-style meetings will be in-person or via zoom. Finally, there will be synchronous weekly meetings of the class as a whole for discussion and review.
Limit: 15
Expected: 15
Class#: 2530
Grading: no pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: (i) Weekly small group papers (4-5 pages) or comments (1-2 pages) on papers of peers; (ii) Final term-paper (~10 pages) in multiple drafts; (iii) Active and informed participation in class discussions.
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: First and second year students. Prospective philosophy majors.
Unit Notes: Meets 100-level PHIL major requirement
Distributions: Division II Writing Skills
WS Notes: Students will write a number of short papers and responses to papers of their peers. Both the content and the writing will be evaluated. These papers will focus on clear and precise presentation and evaluation of arguments. Each student will also write a final term-paper in multiple drafts. For the final paper, each student will develop a topic in consultation with the instructor and will do independent research. They will submit a first draft and will then revise that draft.

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