Epistemic Paradox and the Logic of Acceptance

Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Artificial Intelligence 25:337-353 (2013)
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Paradoxes have played an important role both in philosophy and in mathematics and paradox resolution is an important topic in both fields. Paradox resolution is deeply important because if such resolution cannot be achieved, we are threatened with the charge of debilitating irrationality. This is supposed to be the case for the following reason. Paradoxes consist of jointly contradictory sets of statements that are individually plausible or believable. These facts about paradoxes then give rise to a deeply troubling epistemic problem. Specifically, if one believes all of the constitutive propositions that make up a paradox, then one is apparently committed to belief in every proposition. This is the result of the principle of classical logical known as ex contradictione (sequitur) quodlibetthat anything and everything follows from a contradiction, and the plausible idea that belief is closed under logical or material implication (i.e. the epistemic closure principle). But, it is manifestly and profoundly irrational to believe every proposition and so the presence of even one contradiction in one’s doxa appears to result in what seems to be total irrationality. This problem is the problem of paradox-induced explosion. In this paper it will be argued that in many cases this problem can plausibly be avoided in a purely epistemic manner, without having either to resort to non-classical logics for belief (e.g. paraconsistent logics) or to the denial of the standard closure principle for beliefs. The manner in which this result can be achieved depends on drawing an important distinction between the propositional attitude of belief and the weaker attitude of acceptance such that paradox constituting propositions are accepted but not believed. Paradox-induced explosion is then avoided by noting that while belief may well be closed under material implication or even under logical implication, these sorts of weaker commitments are not subject to closure principles of those sorts. So, this possibility provides us with a less radical way to deal with the existence of paradoxes and it preserves the idea that intelligent agents can actually entertain paradoxes.

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Michael Shaffer
Gustavus Adolphus College


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