Lonely and Helpless

[I have this inchoate idea about practical paradoxes that could benefit from being idly aired  – I think perhaps by regularly posting examples of such paradoxes we might help to eek out the kernel from within its shell. Let’s make this a running feature, with occasional reflections on the argumentative-state-of-play. Here I’ll just try to sketch the ballpark]

Thesis: A certain stripe of practical paradoxes seem to presuppose some sort of soliptical outlook.

Practical  Paradox #3172226:

I’ve had a rough night doing things I’d rather forget. I have the hangover of a Colossus crammed inside my averagely-and-fetchingly-proportioned skull. The first thing I must do is administer myself a huge dose of coffee. In fact, without any coffee I won’t be capable of doing anything at all. The problem is that I’m so hungover that I can’t even make coffee: I need a coffee before I’ve the capacity to make one.

Practical Paradox #00126823:

I’ll spare you the details, but last night I did something incredibly regrettable. Exceptionally regrettable. So regrettable that I think I’ve forced myself to partially forget it, and I don’t ever want to remember it – I certainly don’t want to see it again. But worse than that, I filmed it using a clunky old VHS camcorder. Worser and more worse, I taped over the middle (boring) part of my wedding video. I can’t throw the video away (it might end up in the wrong hands, and everyone’ll see what I did). I can’t destroy the video (I’ll lose the wedding footage). I should tape over the rebarbative part of the reel with some nice soothing snooker. But in order to ensure I censor only the reprehensible scenes, I’ll need to watch them: to see when the debauchery begins and for how long it persists. I have to see it again because I don’t ever want to see it again.


It can seem to be easy enough to think up ways out of practical paradoxes. With the first case, we imagine the sudden arrival of the local Star*ucks door-to-door representative, who prepares the recommended prescription of caffeine.

But it’s a bit trickier with the second case: the dilemma is between what I want (that no-one should see the footage) and what needs to happen (that the footage is deleted, which requires that it’s seen). We can’t just hand over the practical duties to another person, since we desire that no one else sees the footage.

Similarly with the coffee case. We can build the example in such a way that I would be so incapacitated by my hangover that I couldn’t even open the door to the coffee-delivery boy, much less invite his participation in curing me. The benevolent coffee deliverer would have to arrive unprompted and uninvited; in fact, he’d have to force his way into my house to give me the dose.

All of this seems a bit like cheating – it’s our example, why should Costa-dosemen be allowed to barge into it like this? It seems a bit like cheating because we feel the familiar intellectual pull of paradoxes, and we have a familiar sense of what is fair-play by paradoxes and what is not. I suppose this suggests that there’s a certain type of practical paradox that seem to have a soliptical attitude built in: we presuppose that the agent in the paradox is quite importantly alone if the paradox is to work. The latter case builds it in explicitly.

I have no idea what this shows. 


3 responses to “Lonely and Helpless

  1. oxymoronicphilosopher

    Just stumbled over here from Leiter Reports, and I love the idea.

    It seems to me that the second example outlined has a fairly simple non-paradoxical solution, unless I’m missing something. There’s some obvious utility calculus to be done here. If the tape is seen by someone else it will have a detrimental effect on your well-being, if it is seen by you it will also have a detrimental effect on your well-being. Which of these effects is expected to be greater? If the effect of others outweighs the effect of you seeing it then you ought to immediately view it and get it over with. Let’s call this the “just suck it up” case, where you understand you must cause yourself some detriment in order to cutoff the prospect of greater future detriment.

    The first case might be a more deeply rooted practical paradox than “just suck it up,” and maybe more fruitful to explore. The run of the mill hangover, of course, is a “just suck it up” case, but what if your hangover’s so bad that you’re physically debilitated and unable to make that pot of coffee. Perhaps you get dizzy and fall over when you stand up or immediately have your head in a garbage can. In this case, you believe with conviction that a cup of coffee will “cure” you, but you simply can’t get it. Or maybe caffeine will make you feel better, but any liquid in your stomach will have the opposite effect… This seems to be the type of practical paradox with soliptical attitude built in that is beyond “just suck it up.”

    But of course, I have no idea what this shows.

  2. not to mention that dehydration is one of the causes of a hangover and Coffee is a diuretic.

  3. oxymoronicphilosopher

    Well yeah, there’s that too…but then that ruins the game we’re trying to play.

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