Dialetheism: From Language to Reality

A physical contradiction?

I recently published a post in defense of dialetheism. I argued that in the case of statements about “man-made” states of affairs, it is obvious that some contradictions are true. For example, the law can easily contradict itself in such a way that a statement about what is legally mandated be a true contradiction. I invented “Timmy the Square Circle” to show that, similarly, there can be true contradictions about fictional characters. If this doesn’t seem intuitively obvious, read that post before this one.

The concluding paragraph included this teaser:

It is perhaps now tempting to draw a sharp line: the world of man-made ideas allows for true contradictions, reality doesn’t. However, this line is not so sharp.

If we grant that there are true contradictions about what is made up, does this tell us anything about whether there are true contradictions about objective reality? To say there are is a stronger, and intuitively harder to swallow, version of dialetheism. As we’ll see, however, there is no way to say anything about anything without talking, in part, about the man-made. This inescapable fact leaves open the possibility of true contradiction in claims about the physical world, even if it’s the case that the physical world itself, independent of our descriptions of it, cannot be contradictory.

Conceptual reality: Liar and Sorites paradoxes

We first need to establish that there are different “levels” of objective reality, and accepting a contradiction in one level may be much more counterintuitive than in another level.…

Continue Reading →

Timothy Williamson: Vagueness | Who Shaves the Barber? #33

Download this episode / Watch on YouTube / RSS Feed / iTunes


The problem of vagueness stems from the sorites paradox. A heap of sand cannot be turned into a non-heap by removing a single grain of sand. A short person cannot become tall by growing one millimeter. Someone who is sober cannot become drunk by ingesting one-tenth of a milliliter of alcohol. These conditionals hold regardless of what we take as our starting conditions. But if this is true, we can iterate the conditionals many times over, until we can prove that one grain of sand makes a heap, an 8-ft. tall man isn’t tall, and someone who’s just ingested a liter of alcohol is sober.

This ancient paradox has become one of the toughest puzzles in contemporary metaphysics and philosophical logic. During our conversation, Professor Timothy Williamson explains and rejects a few approaches, including supervaluationismfuzzy logic, nihilism, and contextualism. His preferred solution, known as epistemicism, is much simpler: all vague predicates have a precise cutoff point – we just can’t know where it is. Williamson supports this counterintuitive view with compelling accounts of meaning and knowledge. Meaning, he explains, is determined in part by aggregate use; since we cannot know all of the factors of aggregate use, we cannot know the exact meanings of vague terms. From this, we can infer that there are many cases in which we know something but do not know that we know it.

Interested in vagueness? Check out my interview with Graham Priest on the sorites paradox.…

Continue Reading →

Michael Huemer: Skepticism and Direct Realism | Who Shaves the Barber? #31

Download this episode / Watch on YouTube / RSS Feed / iTunes


Do we have any reason to doubt appearances? And does perception show us intermediary mental representations or real objects themselves?

Michael Huemer’s first book, Skepticism and the Veil of Perception, tackles both these questions at once. Huemer is a direct realist: he thinks that when we perceive, we’re perceiving reality directly. This contradicts the common philosophical position (“indirect realism”) that our perception is of mental objects which are images or representations of real objects to which we have no direct access. The usual challenges against direct realism involve an appeal to illusion and hallucination, though Huemer argues that these are less problematic than is often suggested. Huemer also argues that a direct realism (along with a correct general approach to epistemology) helps refute the famous skeptical arguments: the infinite regress of justification (the “Agrippan trilemma“), the “problem of the criterion“, the famous brain in the vat, and Hume’s argument against the possibility of induction.



Next week: Michael Huemer: Ethical Intuitionism

Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.
Click here for the full list of episodes!

Topics discussed

0:42 – Introduction to Michael Huemer
2:15 – Types of skepticism
7:10 – Skeptical arguments
9:27 – Direct realism and Hume’s induction argument
12:12 – Perception as foundational belief
17:25 – Inferences about experiences?
22:02 – Burden of proof
23:31 – Radical fallibilism?…

Continue Reading →