Look “Two paradoxes” – republished from 6 years ago

I’ve got two new paradoxes (at least, I think they’re new!) that I hope to write an article about this coming week. Here’s a preview. Remember, folks, you saw ’em first here on Episyllogism!

A note of clarification: ‘paradox’ can mean several different things. Logicians generally use it to mean a statement that cannot consistently be true or false, and English lit. people often use it to mean something surprising. I mean something weaker than what logicians mean and stronger than what literary critics mean. In calling these ‘paradoxes’, I’m saying that they are problems whose obvious solutions seem counterintuitive in one way or another.

The first paradox has to do with morality. I accept all the following claims, and take it that others do as well:

1. More or less nobody entirely follows the moral principles he or she maintains as true.

2. Moreover, it is extremely unlikely that any of us will ever live in accordance with his or her own moral principles.

3. Any intellectually honest and reasonably observant person should be able to see the truth of 1 and 2.

4. To maintain a moral principle that one does not follow and knows that one will almost certainly never follow is hypocritical.

5. It is wrong to be a hypocrite.

6. Therefore, we must resolve the tension either by living up to our moral principles or else abandoning or by watering down those principles.

7. But experience shows that we cannot successfully live up to our moral principles even if we recognize that it would be hypocritical of us not to.

8. Therefore, we must abandon or water down our moral principles in order to avoid hypocrisy.

9 But it is wrong to abandon or water down a moral principle in order to avoid hypocrisy.

It is difficult to see how 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 or 9 could plausibly be incorrect, and 6 and 8 follow logically from the rest. But clearly, 8 and 9 are in tension.

So what should we do? Maybe we just have to give up on 4 or 5: maybe, that is, maintaining a moral principle that one has excellent reason to believe one will never follow is OK.

Well, suppose you go that way. Then it seems that you should not feel so bad when you fail to live up to your moral principles. But doesn’t this seem worrisome? If you don’t feel bad about violating your own moral principles, then a) it’s not entirely clear what is meant by their being your moral principles and b) regardless, it’s not difficult to see that your commitment to your moral principles will become weaker by your no longer caring as much about failing to live by them, and that certainly would be morally irresponsible on your part.

The second paradox is very similar, but this time the principles in question are epistemic ones. Epistemic principles are the principles that determine whether it’s right or wrong to believe something. If you see that the sun is up, people are awake and walking or driving to work, and your clock says 8:30am, etc., then it would be a violation of basic epistemological principles or norms to think that it’s 11pm. If you know that Nanaimo is part of BC and that BC is part of Canada, it would be irrational for you to believe that BC is not a part of Canada. Those are examples of epistemic norms or principles. But sometimes, we have a difficult time following our epistemic principles. We tend to believe we’re much smarter, more ethical, better at sex, funnier, more reasonable, etc. than most or all of our peers. We tend to remember confirmations of our religious, political, etc. beliefs but forget the problems with them. Psychologists have shown this in study after study. And while we can improve on our epistemic conduct, these problems seem extremely difficult (and probably impossible) to eliminate entirely. So:

1. More or less nobody entirely follows the epistemic principles he or she maintains as true.

2. Moreover, it is extremely unlikely that any of us will ever live in accordance with his or her own epistemic principles.

3. Any intellectually honest and reasonably observant person should be able to see the truth of 1 and 2.

4. To maintain an epistemic principle that one does not follow and knows that one will almost certainly never follow is hypocritical.

5. It is wrong to be a hypocrite.

6. Therefore, we must resolve the tension either by living up to our epistemic principles or else abandoning or by watering down those principles.

7. But experience shows that we cannot successfully live up to our epistemic principles even if we recognize that it would be hypocritical of us not to.

8. Therefore, we must abandon or water down our epistemic principles in order to avoid hypocrisy.

9 But it is wrong to abandon or water down an epistemic principle in order to avoid hypocrisy.

 

And here we are again!

What’s going wrong in these paradoxes? How can the matter be resolved?

Bart Ehrman is a bible scholar with an interesting conversion experience. He was an active Christian as a high school and early university student, but then began to wonder about the accuracy of the New Testament gospels. He studied NT Greek and tried to answer the question, “Are the Gospels reliable?”

His lifetime of study led to his conversion experience. Watch him debate Craig Evans, another NT scholar.

Sunday’s Sermon

Samuel Beckett – cbc

Beckett and Giacometti on the set of Waiting for Godot

Back in the 1970s John Marshall and I went to the UK on holiday. We saw some plays, ran into Shakespeare Professor Homer (Murph) Swander after a play in London, and we saw Not I by Samuel Beckett. Over the years I have read and taught Beckett to several University classes – always an enjoyable activity.

Today in my email I received a note from another former student, Colin Whyte, who sent a link to a recent CBC programme on, guess who, Samuel Beckett! Listen to it here. It is good.

Over the years I have posted about Beckett many times (do a search from the home page) if you are interested. One here!

To sum up: Beckett speaks to me.