Monday, December 13, 2010

Why does English use the word "Bollocks"?

Because Philosophy was already taken.

By the end of The Trolley Problem, I was still unsure if I am too intellectually limited to appreciate my intellectual limitations, or Philosophy is single mindedly inclined to make heavy going of a smooth sea.

The latest entry,Paradoxical Truth in The Stone: a forum for contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless is no help in solving that conundrum.
Professor Greene is lecturing. Down the hall, her arch-rival, Professor Browne, is also lecturing. Professor Greene is holding forth at length about how absurd Professor Browne’s ideas are. She believes Professor Browne to be lecturing in Room 33. So to emphasize her point, she writes on the blackboard the single sentence:

Everything written on the board in Room 33 is false.

But Professor Greene has made a mistake. She, herself, is in Room 33. So is what she has written on the board true or false? If it’s true, then since it itself is written on the board, it’s false. If it’s false, then since it is the only thing written on the board, it’s true. Either way, it’s both true and false.

Philosophers and logicians love paradoxes, and this is one — one of the many versions of what is usually called the Liar Paradox.

This isn't a paradox, it is a false dichotomy. Stating that "either way, it is true or false" excludes a third option: the statement is meaningless.

The obvious, but unmentioned, problem is self-reference.

If Prof Greene is in Room 34, "Everything written on the board in Room 33 is false" may well be guilty of gross generalization, but it is a sensible statement amenable to a decision one way or another.

Finding herself in Room 33, though, does not a paradox, or even a mild puzzle, make. The statement has suddenly become self referential, which has no more yields a true or false than dividing by zero yields a number.

One of the comments in the thread poses this variation of the Liar's Paradox:
There is a barber in a certain town who shaves all of the men who don't shave themselves. Does he shave himself?
Yes. No. Contradiction, paradox.

According to the article, hewing to the tradition of false dichotomies, [When] you meet a paradox, you’ve got only two choices. One is to accept that the conclusion, implausible as it may seem, is actually true; the other is to reject the conclusion, and explain what has gone wrong in the argument.


Take the set of all men in a certain town, which itself consists of two distinct subsets that together comprise all the elements of the superset: those who shave, and those who don't.

One of the members of those two sets -- it doesn't matter which -- is the barber. Now recast the statement, excluding the self reference, and the subsequent question:
There is a barber in a certain town who, except for himself, shaves all the men who don't shave themselves. Does he shave himself?
Without the self reference, instead of an alleged paradox, there is no answer at all, unless "dunno" counts.

So, philosophers, how is it an unanswerable question arrives at paradox through self reference?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Affirmative Action Takes a Mulligan

The LPGA Will Allow Transgender Players to Compete

L.P.G.A. players have voted to eliminate the tour’s requirement that players be “female at birth” and to allow transgender athletes to compete, less than two months after a transgender woman sued the tour in federal court, arguing that the rule violated California civil rights law.


The L.P.G.A. was sued in October by Lana Lawless, a retired police officer who had sex reassignment surgery in 2005 and who won the 2008 women’s world championship in long-drive golf. Lawless sought to play in L.P.G.A. qualifying tournaments after Long Drivers of America, which oversees the world championship she won, changed its rules to match the L.P.G.A.’s. Lawless also sued Long Drivers of America.
Some names are beyond improvement.

The golfer Cristie Kerr told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the policy change was now a “dead issue.”

“She can compete if she can qualify,” Kerr said. “We certainly don’t want to discriminate against anybody; that’s not what the L.P.G.A. is about."
Ahem. About that "L" ...