5 Reasons to Audit a Class

I’m auditing a grad level logic course at the CUNY Graduate Center. The class – taught by Graham Priest, whose work I’ve discussed previously – is called “Vagueness” and deals with the famous sorites paradox (aka “paradox of the heap”). Taking a full class on a single thought experiment is bonkers. I used to think I had a favored solution for the sorites. As will happen with philosophy, I’ve now studied the problem enough that I have no idea what to think about it. The hope is that this is an intermediate stage followed by increased clarity and understanding. Fingers crossed.

Enough introductions. Auditing a class is awesome. Here are five reasons:

1. It’s free


2. It’s easy

This is how it happened for me: I had it in mind to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy. Meanwhile, I was studying the liar paradox and kept coming across this guy, Graham Priest. His most recent and compellingly titled book sounded super interesting and relevant to what I was researching, so I bought it and read it. I found Priest’s e-mail on the CUNY GC Philosophy Department website and sent him a message, asking if I could chat about his book and get his advice on Ph.D. applications. Right away he said yes and invited me to have a chat with him during office hours.

We had a nice chat where I realized I really don’t know any philosophy. Shortly after, I decided to forget the Ph.D. thing – I just don’t have the disposition for an academic career.…

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The Münchhausen Trilemma

There are many forms of radical skepticism: skepticism of the external world, skepticism of other minds, and skepticism of rationality, to name just a few. They arrive at skepticism via different channels, some more successful than others.

Agrippan skepticism is an ancient Greek variety. It is perhaps the hardest-hitting attack on the possibility of knowledge in the history of philosophy. I don’t know of any satisfactory solution.

Epistemologists agree on this much: in order for a belief to count as knowledge, it needs to be at least a justified true belief. What does it mean for a belief to be justified? It means we have a reason for believing it. If this reason will work as justification, it must be a reason that we know.

Of course, if we know this reason, it must be a justified true belief. So what is its justification? It has to be some other reason that we know. And we’re off on a regress.

The problem can be put this way: justification can only happen in three ways:

  • Regress argument: belief A is justified by belief B, which is justified by belief C, which is justified by belief D, and so on.
  • Circular argument: belief A is justified by belief B, which is justified by belief A.
  • Dogmatic argument: belief A is axiomatic. It requires no justification.

None of these options succeed in justifying a belief. Regress arguments fail to justify because they never bottom out at some belief that is already justified.…

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Offensive Friend, Meet Gay Friend

Warning: unsavory words below.

It was five of us in the car. We were driving up to our annual debauchery cabin in rural Vermont, where nine others would join us for the weekend. Our driver – I’ll call him Carl – is a character. As we crossed the state line into Vermont, he yelled:

“Nigger faggot cunt purple piss shit faggot shitter fuck cunt faggot faggot faggot faggot!”

This wasn’t unexpected. Carl loves his expletives. He loves saying and doing what is forbidden. Not to piss anyone off. It’s just part of his shtick. His timing was celebratory: Vermont is our safe place to not give a fuck. For most of us, that means getting drunk, stoned, and playing mafia. For Carl, it’s that plus getting to yell “nigger faggot!”

But there was a difference this time around. Among the five of us in the car was Zach. Zach is a newish friend. This was his first time coming to the cabin and meeting most of the usual group, including Carl. Zach also happens to be gay.

It occurred to me that we really should have warned Zach. Too late for that. Here we were, in the car, and Carl was doing his thing. Should I interject? What could I say? “Hey, Carl, just so you know, uhh, Zach is gay.” Or, “Hey, Zach, umm, Carl is — well, you’ll see, he’s harmless really…”

You might wonder why it took me so long to address this. Why haven’t I talked to Carl about this before?…

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