Robert Burns and true contradictions

Robert Peter Burns rburns at scf.usc.edu
Sat Nov 25 17:01:45 MST 1995


My thanks to Lorenzo for his post.  I was too
quick in making the principle of non-contradiction
straight-off a normative principle, though this
was due more to haste of expression than to not realizing
the distinction.  As one who is always arguing that
normativity cannot be given an adequate reductionist
treatment in terms of non-normative notions, I welcome
Lorenzo's more precise formulation.

As to the other matters Lorenzo raises, in particular,
whether there can be true contradictions, I am skeptical on the
grounds that deriving such contradictions always
seems to require deliberately keeping indeterminate
or ambiguous the meanings <what Frege would have called
the "senses"> of the propositions involved, and I don't
think that the principle of non-contradiction viewed
as a normative principle was ever thought by its
sophisticated proponents to say anything more than that
where a proposition P has a determinate, non-vague, unambiguous
sense, then it is illogical to violate the principle.  Apparent
counterexamples are really assertions of non-contradictory
propositions in the disguise of contradictions--e.g. "it
is cold <for this time of year>" and "it is not cold <
relative to other times in the year>"; or else they
are disguised assertions of the vagueness of a concept
<and hence of the difficulty of determining its application
in particular cases.>--e.g. "he is tall and he is not tall"
="it's not really clear whether we should say he is tall or
not".  If we all agree that "tall" only applies to human
beings 6 feet tall or over, then the vagueness disappears.
But we could stipulate this by convention--though it would
be very inconvenient to do so systematically for a natural
language.  But it would not be an interesting position philosophically
to rest one's case on problems that can be dissolved <even if
only in theory> by convention.  The possibility of true contradictions
would only be interesting if there was no way to deal with apparent cases
of the same by convention.  I am sure Lorenzo has further ingenious
thoughts on this matter, but I will take some convincing that we should
give up thinking of the principle of non-contradiction as
a norm of rational belief.

Peter
rburns at scf.usc.edu
PS--Lorenzo, I am working at present on a post on
scientism and Marxism that may be of interest to
you at least, if not to others, when it appears
in a day or so.


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