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Contradictions: Everybody’s Doing It June 4, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Philosophy.
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Here is a interesting result from the folks at Experimental Philosophy.

Apparently, most people think that contradictions can be true.

Consider the sentence:

(1) The circle is near the square, and it isn’t near the square.

This sentence appears to be a contradiction, and it therefore seems that defenders of classical logic would have to say that it was false. However, there are other logics — Graham Priest’s dialetheist logic LP, for example — in which sentences like this one can turn out to be true.

A question now arises as to what ordinary folks think of sentences like (1). Do people take the apparently classical view that such sentences have to be false, or do they think that sentences like (1) can actually turn out to be true?

In a surprising new paper, David Ripley shows that people are actually extremely willing to express agreement with apparently contradictory sentences like this one. In cases at the vague borderline between ‘near’ and ‘not near,’ people felt that it was perfectly acceptable to consider an object ‘both near and not near.’ In fact, they were just as willing to say that an object was ‘both near and not near’ as they were to say that it was ‘neither near nor not near.’

The paper explores various hypotheses about what people are actually thinking when they assert the truth of a contradictory statement. My uninformed intuition is that people contextualize the contradictory statements—the circle is near the square in one sense, but not near the square in some different sense of “near”.


book-section-book-cover2Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

or Visit the Website: www.revivingliberalism.com