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Blues for Dixie

Here's a pretty old legacy post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 21 years ago, in 2003, on the World Wide Web.

Tomorrow–or, if you reckon it by the time of night when I’m posting this, today–I’m hopping on a Greyhound bound southward to Alabama for a weekend at the beach with L. You might find it a bit odd that I am bussing all the way down to Alabama for a weekend at the cold end of October; it might not seem so odd when I mention that our vacation is going to consist in going to the annual Alabama Philosophical Society conference in Orange Beach, Alabama.

For what it’s worth, I’ll be presenting a paper at the APS conference. It’s an essay on the Liar Paradox and other related paradoxes of self-reference. I argue against traditional attempts to rule out the formulation of paradoxical sentences through the employment of syntactical rules; using Tarski’s semantic conception of truth as a case study, I argue that the dream of a logical syntax leads either to overt ad hockery, or else systematic theories that go systematically wrong. In place of the syntactic method, I argue for a dialectical method of elucidations–rather than looking for prior syntactic rules, the right method is to explore the putative sentences and show how, even if they follow all the syntactic rules, they never succeed in doing propositional work. (To get a rough idea of the distinction, think of two different ways of talking about what goes wrong in a chess game. On the one hand, think of how you would react if someone tried to win by moving her bishop sideways: you would get out the rule book and point out the rule that specifies only diagonal moves as well-formed bishop moves. The syntactic method takes something like this picture as the model for deflating self-referential paradoxes: if you adhere rigorously to the syntactic rules of the formalism, there is no way for the paradoxical sentences to ever be formulated. The dialectical method, on the other hand, takes the matter to be more like moving your pieces into stalemate than like making an illegal move: all of the moves leading up to it are legal, and there’s no single non-trival rule to tell you why you can’t win from a stalemate. Rather, you realize that you are stalemated by trying out moves until you see that there’s just no more chess to play.)

In any case, I’m really looking forward to the upcoming weekend: what could be better than a restful weekend at the beach, a vacation alone with L., and a quality philosophy conference all in one? (Disneyworld, eat your heart out.) Also, I’ll get to head back to the South and spend a little time in Auburn again.

In related news, I won’t be taking much time out of my vacation to post updates to the weblog. (You might protest that I don’t take much time out of my work week or weekends to post updates, either. I haven’t gotten back into the groove of regular posting yet, no. But mostly because I’ve been busy with a lot of updates to various parts of the website that aren’t immediately visible in the form of weblog posts. I have a couple of posts in the queue that I’ll polish up and post on my return, and hopefully I’ll carry on from there.)

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. Ciao!

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  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Geekery Today:

    Piggly wiggle tiggle

    Sean Martin at common sense philosophy and Richard Chappell at Philosophy, et cetera have lately been puzzling over the claim that so-called sentences, such as…

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Anticopyright. This was written in 2003 by Rad Geek. Feel free to reprint if you like it. This machine kills intellectual monopolists.