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Philosophical Paradoxes

This course listing applies to a Spring 2010 course. To find current courses, check out the Find a Course page.

Spring 2010
Philosophy 198
2 Unit(s)

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About the Course:

Paradoxes have been troubling philosophers for millennia, and the situation is only getting worse: the 20th century saw a number of new and quite troubling paradoxes get discovered. In this course, we will look at some of the most important of these paradoxes, as well as solutions offered by some prominent contemporary philosophers. This will not only expose you to some interesting and quite challenging conceptual problems, but also to the areas of philosophy in which the paradoxes are found (logic, epistemology, ethics, metaphysics, and decision theory). Furthermore, studying paradoxes is a good way to get exposed to and develop the sorts of analytical techniques that are characteristic of philosophy.

We will be asking a variety of questions: If taking away one grain away from a heap of sand is not enough to make it not a heap, does this mean that a collection of one grain of sand is a heap? Is there a fair way of making a group decision based on the preferences of the group’s members? What are the principles that govern inductive inferences from past observations of correlations to expectations of future occurrences? If moving from point A to point B requires getting to the half-way point, and half way to the half-way point, etc, then does it follow that all motion is impossible? Does the set of all sets that do not contain themselves contain itself? And is “this sentence is false” true or false? Neither? Both? In each case, we run into a paradox—a seemingly sound argument that implies a seemingly absurd conclusion. The challenge, then, is to figure out whether the seemingly absurd conclusion is actually right, or whether our seemingly sound reasoning actually works. And as we will see, this can be quite difficult.

This is not a lecture course. I will occasionally present supplementary material, but most of the course will be discussion-based. As such, it is critical for the success of the class that everyone comes prepared and motivated. Also, disagreement is encouraged (since it often leads to interesting insights), but should be polite and respectful.

The class does not presuppose any material, so students from any major should feel comfortable enrolling. The only requirement is that you should be motivated to do good philosophy, which involves reading and rereading the material, thinking about it on your own, discussing it with others, and putting thoughtful reflection into your papers.

How to Enroll:

Come to the first session on Jan 28. If we have too many people, there will be a short application. Those accepted will be notified by e-mail within 1-2 days.

Course Contact: igrubb AT berkeley.edu

Faculty Sponsor: John MacFarlane

Time & Location:

SectionFacilitatorsSizeLocationTimeStartsStatusCCNs
Section 1Ian Grubb
25279 DwinelleTh 6p-7:30p1/28started

Uploaded Files:

NameDateSizeTypeActions
Syllabus: Philosophical Paradoxes syllabus.docJan 2031kbWord Doc (Viewer)View Download

Course info last modified January 20, 2010. This page has been viewed 2566 times.

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