If a person believes something is true and untrue that is a paradox, but not one he necessarily needs to lose sleep over. So for example the Sorites paradox could lead you to believe both that
I)a man with a hundred hairs is bald
2)a man with a hundred hairs is not bald.
(Cf Wikipedia on the Sorites — they are doing it with heaps of sand but it works just as well with bald man and hairs)
Paradox of the heap
The word “sorites” derives from the Greek word for heap. The paradox is so named because of its original characterization, attributed to Eubulides of Miletus. The paradox goes as follows: consider a heap of sand from which grains are individually removed. One might construct the argument, using premises, as follows:
- 1000000 grains of sand is a heap of sand (Premise 1)
- A heap of sand minus one grain is still a heap. (Premise 2)
Repeated applications of Premise 2 (each time starting with one fewer grain) eventually forces one to accept the conclusion that a heap may be composed of just one grain of sand (and consequently, if one grain of sand is still a heap, then removing that one grain of sand to leave no grains at all still leaves a heap of sand; indeed a negative number of grains must also form a heap). Read (1995) observes that “the argument is itself a heap, or sorites, of steps of modus ponens“:
1000000 grains is a heap.
If 1000000 grains is a heap then 999999 grains is a heap.
So 999999 grains is a heap.
If 999999 grains is a heap then 999998 grains is a heap.
So 999998 grains is a heap.
… So 1 grain is a heap.
But if you don’t need to do anything that depends on that question it doesn’t matter. If you avoid thinking about the issue, you avoid the paradox.
On the other hand if you want and don’t want something, say another cigarette, that is a more uncomfortable paradox. In the face of a cigarette you can’t just not think about it : you either smoke or don’t.
Nevertheless if you move somewhere with no cigarettes you avoid it.
The maximally uncomfortable paradox is one that you can’t avoid. So if you find life intolerable but view suicide as wrong, you are in a difficult situation.
Perhaps we are all in this situation.