A Brief History of the Paradox: Philosophy and the Labyrinths of the Mind
Can God create a stone too heavy for him to lift? Can time have a beginning? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Riddles, paradoxes, conundrums--for millennia the human mind has found such knotty logical problems both perplexing and irresistible. Now Roy Sorensen offers the first narrative history of paradoxes, a fascinating and eye-opening account that extends from the ancient Greeks, through the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, and into the twentieth century. When Augustine asked what God was doing before He made the world, he was told: "Preparing hell for people who ask questions like that." A Brief History of the Paradox takes a close look at "questions like that" and the philosophers who have asked them, beginning with the folk riddles that inspired Anaximander to erect the first metaphysical system and ending with such thinkers as Lewis Carroll, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and W.V. Quine. Organized chronologically, the book is divided into twenty-four chapters, each of which pairs a philosopher with a major paradox, allowing for extended consideration and putting a human face on the strategies that have been taken toward these puzzles. Readers get to follow the minds of Zeno, Socrates, Aquinas, Ockham, Pascal, Kant, Hegel, and many other major philosophers deep inside the tangles of paradox, looking for, and sometimes finding, a way out. Filled with illuminating anecdotes and vividly written, A Brief History of the Paradox will appeal to anyone who finds trying to answer unanswerable questions a paradoxically pleasant endeavor.
Most paradoxes aren't
By Jesse Steven Hargrave - June 26, 2005
This survey by a Dartmouth Professor of Philosophy promises "a narrative history of paradoxes [extending] from the ancient Greeks ... and into the twentieth century." Although a small-format book, it's a bulky one, using its 370 pages to comprise 24 chronologically-ordered chapters. Each chapter pivots around one philosopher and a paradox associated with that thinker. Examples are: "Aristotle on Fatalism", "Aquinas: Can God Have a Biography", and "The Common Sense of Thomas Reid". Author Roy Sorenson writes with a smooth but playful authority, conveying an encyclopedic grasp of the somewhat cloudy subject matter.
The book begins with "Anaximander and the Riddle of Origin". Author Sorenson states therein that "I take paradoxes to be a species of riddle." Here and elsewhere he hints that he is developing for us a taxonomy of paradoxes, but he never fulfills this promise in any explicit fashion. (Only in the final chapter, when the author quotes W. V. O. Quine as defining a... read more
More than just paradoxes
By Franz Kiekeben - July 25, 2006
As the title states, this is a HISTORY of paradoxes. The focus is on the development of thinking about these problems from ancient Greek times to the present. But to a great extent Sorensen's book is also a history of philosophy (which shows just how important paradoxes have been in philosophy). The topics covered include such things as the nature of God and of time, fatalism, Hume's skepticism, and many other things.
Sorensen makes it all relatively easy to follow and includes many interesting asides (e.g., when Pascal tried to convince Descartes that vacuums exist, Descartes quipped that Pascal had too much vacuum in his head).
There are other books out there that concentrate more on the resolutions, or attempted resolutions, to paradoxes. But what this book offers is just as valuable.
By Bati - April 6, 2007
Generally speaking, there is no charm in certainty. Riddles amuse because they take some dull, every day word and, by shrouding it in mystery, transform it into a stimulating challenge. Paradoxes do something similar: they defy our notion of logic and show us conundrums where we only had rock-solid truths. A paradox enriches our reality by undermining it. Roy Sorensen, Professor of Philosophy at Dartmouth, has written a dazzling book that traces the evolution of some of this conundrums throughout (western) history. As the topic itself, this book can be frustrating at times, but it always remains strangely compelling.
Starting with the Presocratics and ending with W.V. Quine, the chapters are ordered chronologically and they tend to focus on a specific author, a paradox he may have discovered or worked on, and several possible solutions to it by an array of philosophers from different ages and schools of thought. The historical context provided usually takes a life of its... read more
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