Confessing to a Superfluous Premise – Roy Sorensen (WUSTL)

March 12, 2018 @ 4:15 pm – 6:15 pm
CUNY Grad Center, rm 3309
365 5th Ave
New York, NY 10016

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 available for advance reading here.

This meeting is open to all who are interested. Please feel free to pass this announcement on, or direct others to our website at

Logic & Metaphysics Workshop

Feb 26 Martin Pleitz, Muenster
Mar 5 Vera Flocke, NYU
Mar 12 Roy Sorensen, WUSTL
Mar 19 Alex Citkin, Private Researcher
Mar 26 Chris Scambler, NYU
Apr 9 Greg Restall, Melbourne
Apr 16 Daniel Nolan, Notre Dame
Apr 23 Mel Fitting, CUNY
Apr 30 Sungil Han, Seoul National
May 7 Andreas Ditter, NYU
May14 Rohit Parikh

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