Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve heard me go on about a philosophy podcast I’m launching any moment now. Well, today’s the day. Concurrent with this post, I’m officially releasing episode one of Who Shaves the Barber? I’ll pretend you have questions and answer them:
It’s a weekly podcast – new episodes every Tuesday. Episodes will range anywhere from 40 – 90 mins (I’ll try to keep ’em short, but I’m a naturally long-winded fella). For some episodes (I’m aiming for about half-ish), I’ll interview philosophers. For the others, I’ll do my own presentation on a topic.
Oh, cool. Is there a more specific focus than just all philosophy?
The tagline is “Exploring paradoxes, thought experiments, and other pointless problems.” That doesn’t really answer your question, but it’s kinda relevant and I wanted to share it. (By the way, I don’t really think philosophy is pointless, I just like piss off people who take it very seriously [unless they’re my guests].)
The useless but most accurate answer is that I’ll be talking about whatever topics interest me. The more useful answer is that I’m most interested in paradoxes, philosophy of logic, philosophy of language, epistemology, skepticism, ontology, and metaphilosophy. In terms of focus and style, my presentation will tend to mesh most with the “analytic” tradition (although, as the scare quotes indicate, I’m skeptical of the premise behind the “split.” But that’s a topic for another day).
I’m not super knowledgeable. How much background knowledge are you assuming?
Logic is one of these things we all have intuitions about. Most of us think we know how to use it. But what actually IS it? When we say, “that’s not logical,” or, “logic dictates that x,” are we all referring to the same thing? Most of us would agree that logic is a fundamental aspect of how we reason – that, in fact, we can’t reason without it. But then, if there are disagreements about how logic works – and there are! – how can we decide which side is right without presupposing some type of logic?
Imagine we have 0 grains of sand. Do we have a heap of sand? Of course not! Well, what if we add one grain? We obviously still do not have a heap. Okay, what if we add one more? One more after that?
No matter how many grains of sand we have, adding just one more will never turn a non-heap into a heap. This is called the “tolerance principle,” and it is the defining feature of vague properties. It says that a small enough change can never alter the applicability of a vague property.
Say you have a red shirt. Change the frequency by an imperceptible amount. Obviously, the shirt is still red. Take someone who is sober. One ml of beer will not make that person drunk.
A problem appears when we compound these small increments. Here’s a version of the argument:
1) 0 grains of sand is not a heap (premise)
2) 1 grain of sand is not a heap (by #1 & tolerance principle)
3) 2 grains of sand is not a heap (by #2 & tolerance principle)
10001) 10000 grains of sand is not a heap (by #10000 & tolerance principle)
Welcome to the sorites paradox (“sorites” = “heap” in Greek), the argument that allows us to prove that a 90-year-old woman is a child, a blade of grass is red, and Danny DeVito is tall. It was invented by Eubilides sometime in the 4th century BCE, when he also invented the Liar and a few other paradoxes.…