Talk: Liar Paradox II: Revenge of the Liar Paradox, by Ben Burgis (26 April 2011)

Philosophy Seminar Series: 26 April 2011, 2-4pm, Philosophy Resource Room; Speaker: Ben Burgis; Visiting Professor, University of Ulsan in South Korea; Moderator: Dr. Tang Weng Hong

Abstract: Dialetheists like Graham Priest and JC Beall conclude from the Liar Paradox that sentences like “This sentence is not true” are fact both true and untrue, and that we must therefore revise our logic to accommodate the existence of true contradictions. Similarly, “paracomplete” theorists like Hartry Field avoid the contradiction posed by the Liar Paradox by rejecting one of the central elements of classical logic, the Law of the Excluded Middle. A more conservative solution starts from the claim that sentences that attempt to attribute truth or untruth to themselves are meaningless, and therefore simply not the kinds of things we can logically symbolize or apply truth talk to without committing a nonsensical category mistake. The most common objections to this move are (1) that the “meaninglessness solution” is refuted by the existence of “revenge paradoxes” like the one revolving around the sentence “This sentence is either false or meaningless”, and that (2) the sentences involved are so obviously meaningful that it’s just not possible to take seriously the claim that they’re literally meaningless in any ordinary sense, like “Blorks geblork” or “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously,” whereas the dialetheist and paracomplete approaches have the advantages that they (1*) make room for the perfectly obvious fact that, in any language with normal expressive resources, we can construct perfectly meaningful sentences that attribute untruth to themselves, and (2*) are immune to refutation by means of “revenge paradoxes.” I will argue that (1), (2), (1*) and (2*) are all completely wrong.

About the speaker: Ben Burgis is a Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the University of Ulsan in South Korea. He has an MA from Western Michigan University, where he worked on problems related to the metaphysics of time, and a PhD from the University of Miami, where his dissertation was about the dialetheism and the Liar Paradox. His other research interests involve quantum logic, the philosophy of mathematics, and the problem of how to reconcile his atheism with the existence of good whiskey.
More information on the Philosophy Seminar Series can be found here. A list of past talks in the series can be found here.