Death by Paradox?: Inconsistency and Nihilism

School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science, University of Leeds

St George's Centre, 60 Great George Street
Leeds LS1 3DL
United Kingdom


  • British Academy

Main speakers:

Cambridge University
University of Manchester
Australian Catholic University
University of St. Andrews


University of Leeds

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Workshop exploring the connections between paradoxes of various kinds (such as the liar paradox, sorites paradox, paradoxes of validity, Arrow's impossibility theorem) and nihilist theories of various kinds (such as alethic nihilism, semantic nihilism, logical nihilism, moral nihilism).

Paradoxes should be disturbing.  A paradox typically starts from premises that are obviously true and proves a conclusion that is obviously false.  Unless we can show where the reasoning goes wrong, a paradox seems to show that the world simply cannot be as we think it must be.  It is not merely that our conception of the world is imperfect, but that it is in some sense fundamentally flawed.

Resilient paradoxes therefore motivate nihilism of one kind or another.  Nihilism in some domain is (roughly) the view that the entities or properties of that domain do not exist.  Paradoxes motivate nihilism because they seem to show that the relevant entities or properties cannot exist, on pain of absurdity.  For instance, it seems built into our concept of truth that it validates all instances of the T-schema ('p' is true iff p).  But paradoxes like the Liar and Curry seem to show that there cannot be a property that does so, on pain of absurdity.  But if truth is a property that validates all instances of the T-schema, and there is no property that validates all instances of the T-schema, then there is no such property as truth.  This is alethic nihilism.  Other paradoxes can be used to motivate other kinds of nihilism.

This line of argument has a long history.  Zeno's paradoxes of motion were formulated to defend Parmenides' view that there is no such thing as motion, after all.  But it is comparatively underrepresented in the current literature.  This workshop aims to revive interest in the connection between paradox and nihilism.

The workshop will be hybrid, with 2 virtual speakers and 2 in-person speakers.  Attendance is free, but numbers are somewhat limited, so please email Will Gamester at [email protected] to register beforehand.

Provisional schedule:

09:30-10:00 - Coffee

10:00-11:30 - Gillian Russell (virtual), "Logical Nihilism"

11:45-13:15 - David Liggins, "An Anti-Realist Inconsistency Theory of Truth"

14:15-15:45 - Christopher Cowie, "A New Defence of Moral Error Theory"

16:00-17:30 - Kevin Scharp, "Paradox Meets Property"

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Yesterday, 5:00pm BST

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2 people are attending:

University of St. Andrews
Augustine University, Ilara-Epe, Lagos, Nigeria.

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California State University, Long Beach

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