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Logic & Paradox

This course is expected to run but has not yet been scheduled.

Course Description

Logic is a system of rules upon which human reasoning is based. It is a tool that we deploy in our everyday lives, and it pervades every academic discipline, from mathematics to the sciences to the humanities. To philosophers, logic is a deep and complex subject of study in its own right. This course is devoted in part to exploring this system of rules, which we will build from the ground up. Previous exposure to logic is not a prerequisite for the course.

A paradox is a chain of reasoning that starts from seemingly obvious premises and arrives at a conclusion we find unacceptable. Consider the famous Liar Paradox: “This sentence is false.” Is it true? Can’t be. Is it false? Can’t be. Perhaps it is neither true nor false? For reasons we will see, this option doesn't work either. Nothing works. Or at least, that’s how things seem. Paradoxes reveal inconsistencies in our everyday beliefs. They show us that our intuition sometimes breaks down. Part of this course will be an opportunity to investigate some of the most mind-bending and perplexing paradoxes that have been discovered.

The logic part of the course will be similar to an accelerated math class. We will cover new material every day; there will be problem sets every night. In terms of content, we will cover much of the same material that a college-level introduction to logic course would cover. We will start by formally defining the core concepts (propositions, truth/falsity) as well as the logical operators (conjunction, disjunction, negation, the conditional). We will use truth tables to examine how these operators affect the truth of sentences that contain them. We will work our way toward definitions of satisfiability, implication, and validity. In the second half of the course, we will introduce predicates and quantifiers into our system in order to study first-order logic in all of its depth and rigor.

The paradoxes part of the course will not be similar to any high school course that I know of. Each day, we will explore a new paradox together. In the evening, students will work in small groups trying to devise their own solutions to the paradox of the day. In class the following day, students will have the opportunity to present their preferred solutions to their peers. In past instances of this course, some student solutions have been so innovative and insightful that we have published them on the web. Paradoxes we will study include: Zeno’s paradoxes of motion, Newcomb’s Paradox, the Two-Envelope Paradox, the Problem of Moral Luck, the Ship of Theseus, the Trolley Problem, the Mere Addition Paradox, The Sleeping Beauty Paradox, the Monty Hall Problem, Hilbert’s Hotel, and many others.

The course has no prerequisites. All students are welcome!