Paradox Philosophy / パラドクスの哲学

Akita International University, winter term 2019
Basic Education, Arts and Humanities
Monday, February 10, 2020 -- Monday, February 17, 2020;

News: I have collated, augmented and corrected the handouts into one document. Please download it all in one document here. It may be useful to you when you write your essay papers.

Class times:

Course description. Why is it that some things are too big to exist? Why can't things not include themselves or be too big to be thought about? Does Achilles ever overtake the tortoise, is motion even possible? Does the liar who says ``I'm lying'' even say something; if so, is it true what he says? If everyone does what is best for him no matter what the others do - will then all be better off? if I were offered a blessed life in the Matrix, filled with only the experiences I cherish most, should I take the offer? is there anything valuable at all?

These are interesting, but also difficult question. In this beginners' course, students will become acquainted with some ways of asking them and be encouraged to think about answers.

We will encounter five different paradoxes, hitherto unsolved, from different areas of philosophy. Attending students will get brief presentations beforehand, will learn about the background assumptions and the theoretical context, try their hands at solutions (group work of about 30 minutes) and then be presented with an overview of extant diagnoses, being given the opportunity to critically discuss them.

Target audience. The course is designed for students who are ambitious enough to test their critical thinking skills at some of the most difficult problems at all. They will benefit first, by learning humility, that nothing is quite as easy as it first appears, and second, by appreciating their own intellectual progress as they revise, change, refine and develop a first response to the problems, which are likely to accompany them for the rest of their lives. An important task is to justify and defend their positions; students will thus also improve their debating skills.

Objectives. Critical thinking -- understand a problem, devise new problem-solving strategies, defend these against critical objections.

Office hours. Every day, after class.

Grading. Students will be marked on the basis of a written essay, of one page maximal. The final version of this essay is due on Friday, 21st of February: please send it to me in pdf format, with your name, student ID and email address on it. More information is below.






Paradoxes of size: groups, sets, infinities, self-reference


Physical paradoxes: motion, time, action


Semantic paradoxes: truth, meaning, indexicality, vagueness

problem set (corrected), solutions to the problems


Rational paradoxes: decisions, expectations, probabilities


Paradoxes of the mind: beliefs, assertions, intentionse

Working Assignments

Group work. Have a look at the selection of paradoxes from Clarke, Paradoxes from A to Z. Pick a paradox and one strand of discussion (or a family of 'solutions' or 'answers' to it, or some diagnosis). Think about it and either defend or criticise it.

Essay. If you want to have some comments on the first version of your essay (both lingustic/stylistic comments and philosophical comments / reading suggestions), send it to me on Friday, 14th of February. I will then get back to you over the weekend. You do not have to send me your essay on Friday, you can also hand in the final version on Friday, 21st of February.

Feedback session. We will devote all or at least part of Monday's session to a discussion of the themes of your essays. If you want, you are very welcome to present some ideas to everyone.

Final version. The final version of your essay (1 page, pdf) is due on Friday 21st of February. I'll mark it and hand in the marks to the Registry before the 28th of February.

Reading Suggestions

Here are some reading suggestions (password protected):