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Friday, August 20, 2010

Sorites Paradox: When Does a Heap of Sand Stop Being a Heap of Sand?

Philosophy, besides being a good major of choice for fast food workers (kidding! No hate mails please – those fries will get cold if you don’t bag them right away), makes for a pretty good blog reading.
You’d think that after a few thousand years of thinking, all philosophical problems would be solved, but that isn’t so. Road Tickle has a list of 4 unsolved philosophical problems for you to ponder. For example:
Sorites Paradox
What’s the problem? Language uses many poorly defined predicates. A fine example is measurement; assume that you define a heap of sand as having one-million grains. You then establish that taking away a single grain doesn’t unmake the heap and it is still defined as being heap. If you accept both of these as fact then what does your definition of a heap actually mean? When does it stop being a heap?
By not giving the heap an precise definition you are simply stating that the heap does or does not exist in some form. Meanwhile, you realize you’ve been sitting and counting individual grains of sand for the sake of a hypothetical question.
What’s the answer? Defining a change in the object require you to set specific boundaries. If you can say that a heap of sand is only a pile of sand if it contains nine-thousand or fewer grains then you can say that a pile is only a heap when it contains more than nine-thousand grains.
At least, that’s one answer. Sorites paradox is what’s referred to as an unsolved problem in philosophy, meaning there is no one method of approaching the question as to solve it universally. Because it’s hinged on definition and perception, the answer is going to vary from individual to individual without a commonly accepted answer overlapping.

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