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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: June 2014

Meditation 9 - The bounds of (non)sense



The upshot of the last Meditation was neither that rights work as simple trumps, nor that a “theory” of rights is coextensive with morality, nor that a theoretical “foundation” can be given for law and its practice, as certain paradoxes appear. Paradoxes are not simply perverse effects resulting from unintended consequences or from aggregation problems, but are rooted in logical impasses, as for example Russell has shown. This realization has disturbing implications for getting at the “truth” of any matter, as “truth” is neither a simple matching operation, as we have seen, nor is it unequivocally guaranteed by logic. Thus we usually take for granted that at least the “truths” contained in analytical statements (bachelors are unmarried men) are reliable, closely followed by those that derive conclusions from premises via rigorous deductions. But our confidence seems somewhat misplaced.

Consider the status of analytical truths, as in the example of the bachelor who is an unmarried man. It is not as clear-cut as it appears. Suppose we deal with a man who is living with a woman, perhaps even having a child with her. We might not consider him a bachelor, although “technically” speaking he might be if the legal system does not recognize a common law marriage. Thus the distinction between analytic and synthetic statements itself is problematic, as Quine pointed out.

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