Sorensen here offers a unified solution to a large family of philosophical puzzles and paradoxes through a study of "blindspots": consistent propositions that cannot be rationally accepted by certain individuals even though they might by true.
Sorensen presents a general theory of thought experiments: what they are, how they work, what are their virtues and vices. On Sorensen's view, philosophy differs from science in degree, but not in kind. For this reason, he claims, it is possible to understand philosophical thought experiments by concentrating on their resemblance to scientific relatives. Lessons learned about scientific experimentation carry over to thought experiment, and vice versa. Sorensen also assesses the hazards and pseudo-hazards of thought experiments. Although he grants that (...) there are interesting ways in which the method leads us astray, he attacks most scepticism about thought experiments as arbitrary. They should be used, he says, as they generally are used--as part of a diversified portfolio of techniques. All of these devices are individually susceptible to abuse, fallacy, and error. Collectively, however, they provide a network of cross-checks that make for impressive reliability. (shrink)
Roy Sorenson offers a unique exploration of an ancient problem: vagueness. Did Buddha become a fat man in one second? Is there a tallest short giraffe? According to Sorenson's epistemicist approach, the answers are yes! Although vagueness abounds in the way the world is divided, Sorenson argues that the divisions are sharp; yet we often do not know where they are. Written in Sorenson'e usual inventive and amusing style, this book offers original insight on language and logic, the way world (...) is, and our understanding of it. (shrink)
The eclipse riddle -- Seeing surfaces -- The disappearing act -- Spinning shadows -- Berkeley's shadow -- Para-reflections -- Para-refractions : shadowgrams and the black drop -- Goethe's colored shadows -- Filtows -- Holes in the light -- Black and blue -- Seeing in black and white -- We see in the dark -- Hearing silence.
In this book, Sorensen presents the first general theory of the thought experiment. He analyses a wide variety of thought experiments, ranging from aesthetics to zoology, and explores what thought experiments are, how they work, and what their positive and negative aspects are. Sorensen also sets his theory within an evolutionary framework and integrates recent advances in experimental psychology and the history of science.
Surprisingly, the fact that the speaker is lying is sometimes common knowledge between everyone involved. Strangely, we condemn these bald-faced lies more severely than disguised lies. The wrongness of lying springs from the intent to deceive – just the feature missing in the case of bald-faced lies. These puzzling lies arise systematically when assertions are forced. Intellectual duress helps to explain another type of non-deceptive false assertion : lying to yourself. In the end, I conclude that the apparent intensity of (...) our disapproval of non-deceptive lies is a rhetorical illusion. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to show how thought experiments help us learn about laws. After providing examples of this kind of nomic illumination in the first section, I canvass explanations of our modal knowledge and opt for an evolutionary account. The basic application is that the laws of nature have led us to develop rough and ready intuitions of physical possibility which are then exploited by thought experimenters to reveal some of the very laws responsible for those intuitions. (...) The good news is that natural selection ensures a degree of reliability for the intuitions. The bad news is that the evolutionary account seems to limit the range of reliable thought experiment to highly practical and concrete contexts. In the fifth section, I provide reasons for thinking that we are not as slavishly limited as a pessimistic construal of natural selection suggests. Nevertheless, I promote the idea that biology is a promising source of predictions and diagnoses of thought experiment failures. (shrink)
Can God create a stone too heavy for him to lift? Can time have a beginning? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Riddles, paradoxes, conundrums--for millennia the human mind has found such knotty logical problems both perplexing and irresistible. Now Roy Sorensen offers the first narrative history of paradoxes, a fascinating and eye-opening account that extends from the ancient Greeks, through the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, and into the twentieth century. When Augustine asked what God was doing before (...) He made the world, he was told: "Preparing hell for people who ask questions like that." A Brief History of the Paradox takes a close look at "questions like that" and the philosophers who have asked them, beginning with the folk riddles that inspired Anaximander to erect the first metaphysical system and ending with such thinkers as Lewis Carroll, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and W.V. Quine. Organized chronologically, the book is divided into twenty-four chapters, each of which pairs a philosopher with a major paradox, allowing for extended consideration and putting a human face on the strategies that have been taken toward these puzzles. Readers get to follow the minds of Zeno, Socrates, Aquinas, Ockham, Pascal, Kant, Hegel, and many other major philosophers deep inside the tangles of paradox, looking for, and sometimes finding, a way out. Filled with illuminating anecdotes and vividly written, A Brief History of the Paradox will appeal to anyone who finds trying to answer unanswerable questions a paradoxically pleasant endeavor. (shrink)
This is a defense and extension of Stephen Yablo's claim that self-reference is completely inessential to the liar paradox. An infinite sequence of sentences of the form 'None of these subsequent sentences are true' generates the same instability in assigning truth values. I argue Yablo's technique of substituting infinity for self-reference applies to all so-called 'self-referential' paradoxes. A representative sample is provided which includes counterparts of the preface paradox, Pseudo-Scotus's validity paradox, the Knower, and other enigmas of the genre. I (...) rebut objections that Yablo's paradox is not a genuine liar by constructing a sequence of liars that blend into Yablo's paradox. I rebut objections that Yablo's liar has hidden self-reference with a distinction between attributive and referential self-reference and appeals to Gregory Chaitin's algorithmic information theory. The paper concludes with comments on the mystique of self-reference. (shrink)
The argument proceeds by exploiting the gradually decreasing vagueness of a certain sequence of predicates. the vagueness of 'vague' is then used to show that the thesis that all vague predicates are incoherent is self-defeating. a second casualty is the view that the probems of vagueness can be avoided by restricting the scope of logic to nonvague predicates.
You face two buttons. Pushing one will destroy Greensboro. Pushing the other will save it. There is no way for you to know which button saves and which destroys. What ought you to do? Answer: You ought to make the correct guess and push the button that saves Greensboro. Second question: Do you have an obligation to push the correct button?
Prize: One hundred dollars to the ﬁrst person who identiﬁes a picture of a logical impossibility. I may be willing to pay more for the painting itself. This ﬁnder’s fee is simply for pointing out the picture. Let me explain more precisely what I seek.
In ‘Epistemic Modals’ (2007), Seth Yalcin proposes Stalnaker-style semantics for epistemic possibility. He is inspired by John MacFarlane’s ingenious defence of relativism, in which claims of epistemic possibility are made rigidly from the perspective of the assessor’s actual stock of information (rather than from the speaker’s knowledge base or that of his audience or community). The innovations of MacFarlane and Yalcin independently reinforce the modal collapse espoused by Jaakko Hintikka in his 1962 epistemic logic (which relied on the implausible KK (...) principle and heavy idealizations). I respond to this new challenge with fresh objections to the underlying S4 equivalence: p p . I also propose counter-analyses of the intriguing data which Yalcin cites in support of his new semantics. A key collateral motivation for this defence of irredundant iterations is to ward off a threat to higher order vagueness. (shrink)
A Brief History of the Paradox is the first narrative history of paradoxes. Sorenson draws us deep inside the tangles of riddles, paradoxes and conundrums by answering the questions which are seemingly unanswerable. Can God create a stone too heavy for him to lift? Can time have a beginning? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Filled with illuminating anecdotes, A Brief History of the Paradox is vividly written and will appeal to anyone who finds trying to answer unanswerable (...) questions a paradoxically pleasant endeavour. (shrink)
Do we need light to see? I argue that the black experience of a man in a perfectly dark cave is a representation of an absence of light, not an absence of representation. There is certainly a difference between his perceptual knowledge and that of his blind companion. Only the sighted man can tell whether the cave is dark just by looking. But perhaps he is merely inferring darkness from his failure to see. To get an unambiguous answer, I switch (...) the focus from perceptual knowledge to non-epistemic seeing. My conclusion is that we see even in the limiting case of absolute darkness - regardless of whether we believe we are seeing. We see little of pratical interest. But in terms of basic information, we see about as much as we do when the lights are on. Depending on what has gone before and after, we may even see ordinary objects. (shrink)
My thesis is that you can lie with ‘ P therefore Q ’ without P or Q being lies. For you can lie by virtue of not believing that P supports Q. My thesis is reconciled with the principle that all lies are assertions through H. P. Grice’s account of conventional implicatures. These semantic cousins of conversational implicatures are secondary assertions that clarify the speaker’s attitude toward his primary assertions. The meaning of ‘therefore’ commits the speaker to an entailment thesis (...) even though the speaker does not enter that commitment into the text. Insincere conventional implicatures are akin to insincerely asserted footnotes. An absence of lies in the text is compatible with the presence of lies in the meta-text. (shrink)
This is a reply to Casey O'Callaghan and Jonathan Westphal’s comments on Seeing Dark Things: The Philosophy of Shadows. Both attempt to soften the blow to intuition that comes from the most controversial thesis of the book: we see the backs of back-lit objects. Each characterizes the viewing of silhouettes as a kind of marginal seeing that only discloses shapes, sizes and location. In response, photographs are presented to show that silhouettes are typically three-dimensional and they often have internal structure. (...) Consider the silhouette of a bird fluttering inside a cage; we see more than the outline of the cage. Orbiting this main point are subsidiary points about the distinction between shade and shadows, the nature of occlusion, the color black, and peculiarities of absent absences. (shrink)
Suppose you have an infinite past. If you had banked the spare dollar you have always had, then the interest would have made you rich by now. Your procrastination is inexcusable. But what should you have done? At any time at which you invest the dollar you would regret not investing it earlier. Satisficers can solve prospective puzzles involving infinite choice but cannot solve this retrospective puzzle about regret. A moral version of the puzzle suggests that there can be inevitable (...) moral failure. It does so without appeal to moral luck, moral dilemmas or original sin. (shrink)
The vanishing point is a representational gap that organizes the visual field. Study of this singularity revolutionized art in the fifteenth century. Further reflection on the vanishing point invites the conjecture that the self is an absence. This paper opens with perceptual peculiarities of the vanishing point and closes with the metaphysics of personal identity.
Islamic building codes require mosques to face Mecca. The further Islam spreads, the more apt are believers to fall into a quandary. X faces Y only when the front of X is closer to Y than any other side of X. So the front of the mosque should be oriented along a shortest path to Mecca. Which way is that? Does the path to Mecca tunnel through the earth? Or does the path follow the surface of the earth?
Creationists believe that C. K. Chesterton created Father Brown in his detective stories. Since creating implies a creation, Father Brown exists. Atheists object that the same reasoning could prove the existence of God. But creationists such as Jonathan Schaffer insist atheists do believe that God exists. Serious metaphysics rarely concerns existence. The disagreement between the theist and the atheist is about the nature of God, not His existence. Schaffer underestimates the religious imagination. There could be a religion that explicitly regarded (...) God as a fictional character. The tenets of this, presently hypothetical, religion are developed in a dialogue. (shrink)
What do you get when you cross a fallacy with a good argument? A fugu, that is, a valid argument that tempts you to reach its conclusion invalidly. You have yielded to the temptation more than you realize. If you are a teacher, you may have served many fugus. They arise systematically through several mechanisms. Fugus are interesting intermediate cases that shed light on the following issues: bare evidentialism, false pleasure, philosophy of education, and the ethics of argument. Normally, a (...) fugu will not yield knowledge from known premises. But if the reasoning is only slightly fallacious, they do yield knowledge. These mild fugus show that we can gain knowledge by invalid reasoning. This is a conservative resource for historians. They want to credit discoveries to Euclid rather than those who made minor corrections to his proofs, such as David Hilbert. We also benefit from this practice of grandfathering in old standards of knowledge attribution. For we can compete spiritedly for priority. We do not need to worry that credit will instead go to future scholars who will make the minor amendments needed to raise present proofs to a future standard of demonstration. (shrink)
Kripshe treats ‘god’ as an empty natural kind term such as ‘unicorn’. She applies Saul Kripke's fresh views about empty natural kinds to ‘god’. Metaphysically, says Kripshe, there are no possible worlds in which there are gods. Gods could not have existed, given that they do not actually exist and never did. Epistemologically, godlessness is an a posteriori discovery. Kripshe dismisses the gods in the same breath that she dismisses mermaids. Semantically, the perspective Kripshe finds most perspicacious, no counterfactual situation (...) is properly describable as one in which there are gods. Perhaps it is not quite a necessary truth that there are no gods. According to Saul Kripke, failed natural kind terms are ill-defined. Incorporating ill-defined terms into declarative sentences yields only mock propositions. Just as the meteorologist has no professional interest in mock thunder, the logician has no professional interest in mock propositions. Kripshe disagrees with agnostics who assign a low probability to ‘There is at least one god’. The bearers of probabilities must be propositions. Despite this deference to science, Kripshe agrees with the a priori atheist that, necessarily, no future experience could constitute an encounter with a god. Divine revelation is impossible. Kripshe's a posteriori necessary atheism compares favorably to familiar forms of atheism and to non-cognitivists. It reveals interesting challenges to a coherent formulation of atheism. (shrink)
Positive thinkers love Watty Piper's The little engine that could. The story features a train laden with toys for deserving children on the other side of the mountain. After the locomotive breaks down, a sequence of snooty locomotives come up the track. Each engine refuses to pull the train up the mountain. They are followed by a weary old locomotive that declines, saying "I cannot. I cannot. I cannot." But then a bright blue engine comes up the track. He manages (...) to chug over the mountain by averring "I think I can. I think I can. I think can.". (shrink)