With A Brief History of the Paradox, Dr. Roy Sorenson presents a relatively chronological development of the paradox and while the good doctor does his best to punch up the material, the subject matter’s inherent dryness overcomes all.
As any undergrad will tell you, philosophy can get boring in a hurry. Once you get past the why are we here, man?s and the plot of The Matrix, it’s pretty easy to lose interest in a true philosophical debate. Partly because no one can win such a debate; that’s the nature of the material. Fun, right?
Looking specifically at Sorenson’s focus – the paradox – the problem becomes that each paradox described appears to be either a problem of semantics or a problem of defining infinity in a finite context.
Despite my writerly love of words, even I must acknowledge that semantic issues are some of the most meaningless and uninteresting imaginable. This is in part because of the fact that, despite appearing to be concerned with language, philosophically semantic issues almost necessarily ignore the properties of language. Language has the capacity to be extremely flexible, so when semantic issues arise they only do so because the proper language is not being used (or potentially is not available). Semantic issues can almost always be resolved by clarification or specification.
Secondly, the discussion of infinity is always problematic because of its indefinite nature. In the examination of Zeno’s dichotomy paradox, a problem arises between the infinite nature of fractions and the finite nature of a fixed distance. But sometimes math is not perfectly reflected in reality. It is not always possible to reconcile the infinite with the finite.
And that’s pretty much it. We’ve disarmed the great paradoxes. Not solved them, mind you, but disarmed them. And that’s enough, really. It may be that some of these paradoxes will be solved one day, as others were before them. In the meantime, though, until some great advance of knowledge is made, we now know enough to render them inconsequential.
In fairness to Dr. Sorenson, I did enjoy parts of this book, particularly the discussion of the liar’s paradox which I’ve always found interesting. That said, A Brief History of the Paradox, with its occasionally awkward writing and frequently ambiguous pronouns, is rather like its subject paradoxes: inconsequential. I suppose that you could use some of the book’s subject matter to try to make yourself sound more interesting at parties, although you might be more likely to scare off the other guests.