Preface paradox

Preface paradox

The Preface Paradox, or the paradox of the preface, [Makinson, D. C., "Paradox of the Preface", Analysis 25 (1965) 205-207. [] ] was introduced by David Makinson in 1965. Similar to the Lottery Paradox, it presents an argument according to which it can be rational to accept mutually incompatible beliefs.

The argument runs along these lines:

It is customary for authors of academic books to include in the preface of their books statements such as "any errors that remain are my sole responsibility." Occasionally they go further and actually claim there are errors in the books, with statements such as "the errors that are found herein are mine alone".

(1) Such an author has written a book that contains many assertions, and has factually checked each one carefully, submitted it to reveiwers for comment, etc. Thus, he has reason to beleive that each assertion he has made is true.

(2) However, he knows, having learned from experience, that, in spite of his best efforts, there are very likely undetected errors in his book. So he also has good reason to believe that there is at least one assertion in his book is not true.

Thus, he has good reason, from (1), to rationally beleive both that each statement in his book is true, while at the same time he has good reason to rationally beleive, from (2), that the book contains at least one error. Thus he can rationally believe both that the book does and does not, contain at least one error.


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