Friday, February 3, 2012

Friday Paradox:

This one is from a great paper by Saul Kripke (see page 392 for a fuller description):

Pierre is from France and so speaks French. He sees pictures and postcards of a city called, ‘Londres.’ When asked in French whether he finds that city pretty, Pierre whole-heartedly and enthusiastically assents. He earnestly says things like, “Londres est jolie” (“London is pretty” in French). As a consequence, it seems correct to say that Pierre believes that London is pretty. After some time, Pierre moves to a town he knows by the name ‘London’—but he is not aware that it is the same town that he and other Frenchmen call ‘Londres.’ In addition, Pierre was unfortunate enough to have moved into a rather shoddy and rundown neighborhood, and so finds the town that he understands to be ‘London’ to be an extremely ugly place. Having learned quite a bit of English since his move, he adamantly assents to the English sentence, “London is not pretty.” As a result, it seems natural to say that Pierre believes that London is not pretty. Moreover, since he has not learned that ‘London’ and ‘Londres’ are names for the same city, he remains willing to assent to the sentence “Londres est jolie.” He clearly thinks that ‘London’ and ‘Londres’ name two different places.

On the basis of his French utterances it would appear natural to say that Pierre believes that London is pretty. At the same time, on the basis of his English utterances, it also seems fair to say that Pierre believes that London is not pretty. It might appear, then, that Pierre has contradictory beliefs. He seemingly both has the belief that London is pretty and has the belief that London is not pretty. The paradox, or so Kripke suggests, is that Pierre does not seem guilty of any logical error. In this scenario, it would be rather perverse to accuse Pierre of logical inconsistency. After all, he is simply not aware that ‘Londres’ and ‘London’ name the same city. In regard to Pierre’s lamentable circumstance, we are faced with an intriguing philosophical question—namely: What exactly does Pierre believe about the attractiveness of London?


Troy Polidori said...

Love Kripke. Reminds me of some stuff from Frege's Sense and Reference. Clearly the reference of both "London" and "Londres" are the same, but the senses of the sentences "London is pretty" and "Londres est jolie" are different. In fact, a more precise way of flushing out the sense of each sentence would be "ces images de Londres sont jolie" and "London is not beautiful."

Toby said...

It strikes me that the bilingual element is a red herring. A similar apparent paradox would arise whenever someone believes a pair of propositions such as

1. X is F
2. Y is not F

without believing the (true) proposition

3. X = Y

For instance, suppose Pierre believes:

1. Moles are adorable.
2. Nothing that digs up my lawn can be adorable.

But, because he's a city guy and doesn't know much about animals, he doesn't recognise the truth of

3. The things that dig up my lawn are moles.

Is there really a paradox here, or simply an ordinary and forgivable ignorance on Pierre's part that two of his beliefs are in conflict?

John Gregg said...

I have never understood why this is regarded as a paradox. Pierre contains, in his mind, a model of reality that is somewhat false: in his reality-model there is a city, "London" that he knows from first-hand experience is ugly. There is also a city, "Londres", that he has only read about, that he believes is beautiful. He wrongly thinks these are two different cities. Where's the paradox? It is only a paradox if you reify "belief" to mean some actual, substantial (if non-physical) connection between Pierre's mind and a particular city. If you subscribe to such Platonism, you can tie yourself into knots over the paradoxes of "belief". On an interalist construal of belief, where belief is just a shorthand way of talking about certain kinds of relationships between the various data structures in our minds, there is no paradox.

-John Gregg

Jacob Shepherd said...

I think Pierre is, like a lot of people (probably the author of this comment included), misinformed about his notions of London. It sounds more like he's seen postcards of "Londres", which of course wouldn't be snapshots of "Gin Lane" or anything like that.
So, "Londres" and London must be the same thing, but at the same time they are not the same thing. I suppose that Londres must be an idea for Pierre, whereas London, at least as Pierre knows it, must be empirical reality. Ideals are always (well, most of the time) better than reality. But like the saying goes, "reality sucks". And apparently here it does. Pierre's mind and his experience seem to be contradicting each other unknowingly. So, I think one of them must be mistaken. In this case, I would argue that his empirical reality notion of London is mistaken. He seems to live in a bit of a slum. So, he doesn't appear to be aware of how beautiful London is one the whole, outside the current realm of his perception.