Paradoxes: An approach to philosophy

Paradoxes reveal vagueness at the edges of our concepts. That is why philosophers from the earliest times have loved to formulate, discuss, and try to resolve paradoxes arising across almost every field of philosophical enquiry. This course aims to approach philosophy and logical reasoning through an examination an introduction to some of the most famous and provocative paradoxes.


Course outline

  1. What is a Paradox?
    We will consider what a paradox is, and how the formulation of a paradox differs from a contradictory statement. How does this give us tools for approaching, and possibly resolving, the classic paradoxes in the history of philosophy.
  2.  Zeno’s Paradoxes
    Zeno of Elea (c. 495 – c. 430 BC) was a pre-Socratic philosopher who introduced a number of ingenious paradoxes, mostly concerning physical motion, which have stimulated discussion to this day. We will look closely and discuss most of these paradoxes. (One especially nice one: A moving arrow is always at a determinate place. But to move is to be not in one determinate place. So a moving arrow does not move!)
  3. The Content of This Session is False: the ‘Liar’
    ‘this sentence is false’. Is it? If it is false, then the sentence is true. If it is true, then the sentence is false. This is the most famous example of a semantic paradox. Much discussed down the centuries, it has led some philosophers to think that not every contradiction is false.
  4. The Paradox of the Preface
    Authors of philosophy books generally state in a preface that they are very grateful for assistance for many people, but all (inevitable) errors and mistakes contained in the book are the author’s fault. Yet authors of philosophy books also generally believe that they have gone to great lengths to ensure that the text is free from errors and omissions. What does this paradox tell us about belief?
  5. Sorites
    Suppose we have a large heap of sand, consisting of 5 million grains. And suppose we gradually, one by one, removed each grain. Not one removal would cause the heap to cease to exist. And yet, if we continued long enough, we would be left with a single grain: certainly, not a heap. This famous ‘sorites’ paradox has generated a lot of discussion about constitution, vagueness, and classification. Is there a way out?

Learning outcomes

On completion of this course participants will be able to:

Understand the concept of a paradox: how it arises and its significance for philosophy and critical thinking.
Approach the analysis of conceptual problems using the tools of philosophical thought
Know something of the history of philosophical thinking about a range of famous/influential paradoxes.

Who should attend?

Those who are looking for a lively introduction to the inquiry of philosophy; those with an interest in logic and argumentation; and those who might be considering university-level study in the humanities in the future.


  • 5 x sessions, Tuesday 2 - 30 June, 6:30 - 8:30 pm
  • $155.00 incl. GST
  • The University of Auckland, City Campus
  • Presented by Thomas Harvey

Seminar presenter

Thomas Harvey

Thomas Harvey

BA PGDipArts MA PhD Auck

Thomas Harvey recently completed his PhD in Philosophy in the School of Humanities at The University of Auckland. He has been a Graduate Teaching Assistant for a range of courses at the University through his time as a graduate student. He has research interests in Philosophy of Religion, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Science and the History of Philosophy, and is currently working on a book on the Argument from Evil against the existence of God.

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