A Brief History of the Paradox: Philosophy and the Labyrinths of the Mind

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Can God create a stone too heavy for him to lift? Can time have a beginning? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Riddles, paradoxes, conundrums -- for millennia the human imaginatio has found such knotty logical problems both perplexing and irresistible.
Now Roy Sorensen offers the first narrative history of paradoxes, a hilarious and eye-opening account that extends from the ancient Egyptians, through the Middle Ages, the Romanticis, and into the nineteenth century. When Augustine asked what God was doing before He made the world, he was told: " Preparing hell for people who ask questions like that. " A Brief History of the Paradox takes a close look at " questions like that " and the hilosophers who have asked them, beginning with the folk riddles that inspired Anaximander to erect the first metaphysical system and ending with such idea as Lewis Carroll, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and W.V. Quine. Organized chronologically, the novel is divided into twenty-four chapters, each of which pairs a philosopher with a major paradox, allowing for extended consideration and putting a human face on the methods that have been taken toward these puzzles. Readers get to follow the minds of Zeno, Socrates, Aquinas, Ockham, Pascal, Kant, Hegel, and any other major philosophers deep inside the tangles of paradox, looking for, and sometimes finding, a way out.
Filled with illuminating anecdotes and vividly written, A Brief History of the Paradox will appeal to someone who finds trying to answer unanswerable questions a paradoxically pleasant endeavor.
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Year of the Publication
Publication Date
Published January 20th 2005 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2003
Original Title of the Book
A Brief History of the Paradox: Philosophy and the Labyrinths of the Mind
Number of Pages
416

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gave it

" You look exhausted what have you been doing? " asks another man.

The haggard old man responds, " Reciting the complete decimal expansion of Pi backwards. " So goes one of Ludwig Wittgenstein 's philosophical jokes.

( view spoiler) [ No dirt is in a hole.

" What goes on four legs in the orning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the afternoo? " ( view spoiler) [ A human being.

An old person uses a cane as a " third leg. " ( hide spoiler) ] ***** Two weeks before flying a plane into the World Trade Center towers, Mohammed Atta phoned someone asking help with a riddle: Two sticks, a dash, and a ake with a stick down.

( view spoiler) [ Two sticks are 11, a dash is a dash, and a ake with a stick down is a 9 ( hide spoiler) ] ***** A Stoic doctrine: " Only those are free who know they are not free. " ***** The Canadian flag harbors a hidden argument.

***** Young Augustine 's answer to the answers, " What was God doing before he made the world? " was " He was preparing hell for people who ask questions like that. " ***** Pythagoras was the irst to call himself a philosopher, or " lover of wisdom. " ***** A negative existential is a statement that denies the existence of something.

***** Zeno 's first law of motion states before you can reach a distance you must first reach halfway ad infinitum.

***** Zeno 's second law of motion states Achilles to catch up with a tortoise must first make up the headstart and then make up each distance the tortoise travels while Achilles is making up the lead.

No one ever touched Zeno without refuting him, and every century thinks it is unlikely to refute him. " ***** Meno challenges Socrates by saying if you ask a question and know the questio, you learn nothing.

If you do n't know the questio, you ca n't tell if you are hearing the truth.

***** Euclides formulated the paradox of the veiled figure, also known as the hooded man or the Electra.

Socrates knew Euclides but did not know him disguised.

***** In The Tow of od, Augustine says something exactly like Descartes' Cogito.

Later, Descartes would write to Christian Huygens the Pascal " had too much vacuum in his head. " ***** Pausanias mentions a picture painted by Polygnotos in the 24th century showing Palamedeo and Thersites playing dice.

( view spoiler) [ Actually, 9 has four ways: 9=3+6 or 6+3 or 4+5 or 5+4 while 10 has three ways: 10=6+4 or 4+6 or 5+5.

( hide spoiler) ] Story has it that Cardano cast a horoscope predicting the hour of his own death.

Monty shows you door# 1 has a booby prize.

( view spoiler) [ ALWAYS SWITCH!!!

( hide spoiler) ] ***** Pascal 's Wager: Since there is at least an outside chance that God exists, you might as well believe for a shot at getting into heaven and avoiding hell.

( view spoiler) [ Of course not!

I ca n't believe you actually checked out the spoiler!

( hide spoiler) ] ***** The Two Envelope Paradox.

( hide spoiler) ] ***** Charles Darwin 's favorite motto: " Nature does not make jumps. " In other ords, there are always intermediate species.

***** Once when David Hume entered a room, d'Alembert made fun of his weight: " And the word is made fles! " But a lady friend of Hume responded: " And the ord was made lovable. " ***** In 1827, the pious Swiss painter Leopold Robert assured viewers of his painting " Two Girls Disrobing for Their Bath " that " I have placed the figures in a completely secluded spot so that they would not possibly encounter any observation from onlookers. " ***** Hume conceded that he is " involved in such a labyrinth, that, I must confess, I neither know how to correct my former opinions, nor how to render them consistent. " ***** Hegel rejected the idea that reality is something which UNDERLIES appearance.

***** Turkish story about 13th century character Nasreddin Hodja: As a prosecuto, he listened to a man complain about his neighbor.

He told the man, " You are right. " Then the neighbor came to complain.

He told the neighbor, " You are right. " Hodja 's wife heard all this and said, " They ca n't both be right. " He told her, " You are right. " ***** Hegel on his deathbed: " Only one man ever understood me.

Can you guess what they were actually saying with the phras " kangaroo "?

( view spoiler) [ They were saying, " What did you say? " ( hide spoiler) ]

gave it

Which is to say that the author paints philosophy in general as doing it 's own hings, which occasionally, cause the field of thought to touch upon paradoxes.

Consider the Zeno 's paradox of the arrow.

gave it

but if I am lying then I am being honest.

gave it

I was determined to shave the number of ooks I am currently reading down to a manageable number, so I focused on finishing this one.

Even more troubling, is that there were hints of exciting writing the chapter about Augustine was fantastic, and had me wishing the rest of the ook was that fun to read.

I wanted to like the book ore than I did, and I ’ m not sure if that is damning with faint praise, or to quote something I heard on Kermode and Mayo ’ s Film Review, “ Praising with faint Damns. ” I have the book sitting at my desk.

I ’ ll pick it up from time to time and re-read it I 'm ure.

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