A University of Otago philosopher is seeking to explain something that has puzzled philosophers since at least the fourth century.
Dr Zach Weber (Philosophy) is researching logical paradoxes or apparently false propositions that, nevertheless, appear to follow from apparently true premises.
He proffers as one example the “liar paradox” put forward by the ancient Greek philosopher, Eubulides of Miletus, who pondered: “Consider a person who says, ‘What I am now telling you is a lie’. It is true or false?”
“Although deceptively simple,” says Weber, “this contradiction puts extreme pressure on our grasp of the concept of truth.
“A great number of proposals by eminent thinkers have been offered that address some of these problems piecemeal, case-by-case. No one, though, has managed to produce a principled, plausible and general response – an explanation of why there are paradoxes at all.”
Weber says that his research will give a new description of logical paradoxes, explaining them through mathematical models that will shed some light on why they exist.
“These sorts of questions are very abstract – they are not about doing your washing – but they are questions about some of the most fundamental aspects of the shape of reality and I think it’s beneficial to understand that, as far as we can, and to find out how much we can know.”
Weber has received a Fast-Start Grant from the Marsden Fund to further his research on what he dubs “models of paradox in non-classical meretopology”. The funding is partly supporting a small research team of PhD students and travel to international conferences.
Weber says that much of the work in trying to understand paradoxes has been undertaken in universities in Australasia and his research will reinforce a field in which New Zealand already has an enviable record.
He intends to make his findings more widely known through research publications and a book. He also hopes to host an international conference in Dunedin on the explanation of paradoxes.