Honors Seminar: Paradoxes (HNRS 354 Section 003)

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Instructor: Keith Simmons. This honors seminar meets on Tuesdays from 2:00 – 4:30 p.m. in Graham Memorial 210.

This is a Philosophy course about paradoxes.  Paradoxes have been a driving force in Philosophy since the 5th Century B.C.  They force us to rethink old ideas and conceptions.  Aristotle famously said that Philosophy begins in wonder – and he had in mind the kind of deep puzzlement that paradoxes generate.  In this seminar, we will study a wide range of paradoxes: Zeno’s paradoxes about space, time and motion, Sorites paradoxes about vagueness (like the paradox of the heap), paradoxes of rationality (Newcomb’s paradox and the Prisoner’s dilemma), paradoxes of belief (including paradoxes of confirmation, and the surprise examination paradox), logical paradoxes (Russell’s paradox about classes and the Liar paradox about truth), and paradoxes about time travel.   As we explore these paradoxes, we will wrestle with some central philosophical questions: What is the nature of space, time and motion?  Is the world a fully determinate place? What is it to act rationally?  When is a belief justified?  What is the nature of truth? The paradoxes are not just important – they are fun too.  They encourage us to think creatively, in new and surprising ways.  In this seminar, you will be given the opportunity to tackle the paradoxes yourselves, through group discussions, oral presentations, and frequent written assignments.  Philosophy is best viewed as a practice, as something that one does.  By actively engaging with the paradoxes, both orally and in your written work, you will develop the intellectual skills that make philosophical progress possible.

Keith Simmons’s webpage