Confessing to a Superfluous Premise (Roy Sorensen)

The Logic and Metaphysics Workshop will meet on March 12th from 4:15-6:15 in room 3309 of the CUNY Graduate Center for a talk by Roy Sorensen (WUSTL).

Title: Confessing to a Superfluous Premise

Abstract: In a hurried letter to beleaguered brethren, Blaise Pascal (1658) confesses to a lapse of concision: “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”  Pascal’s confession was emulated with the same warmth as philosophers now emulate the apology introduced by D. C. Mackinson’s “The Preface Paradox”. Could Pascal’s confession of superfluity be sound? Pascal thinks his letter could be conservatively abridged; the shortened letter would be true and have the exact same content. In contrast to the Preface Paradox, where Mackinson’s author apologizes for false assertions, Pascal apologizes for an excess of true assertions. He believes at least one of his remarks could be deleted in a fashion that leaves all of its consequences entailed by the remaining assertions. Pascal’s confession of superfluity is plausible even if we count the apology as part of the letter (as we should since this is the most famous part of the letter). Yet there is an a priori refutation. Any conservative abridgement must preserve the implication that there is a superfluous assertion. This means any abridged version can itself be abridged. Since the letter is finite, we must eventually run out of conservative abridgements. Any predecessor of an unabridgeable abridgement is itself an unabridgeable.  So the original letter cannot be conservatively abridged.

Manuscript: for those interested, the manuscript has been made available for advance reading here.

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