Tag Archives: coffee

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.