Dr. Peter Cave (Open University and City University London)

Lather, Rinse, Repeat! - paradoxes informed by humour

Peter Cave

Humour and paradox involve incongruities; but not any incongruity will do. After all, contradictions manifest incongruity, yet are not thereby paradoxical nor even funny. Jokes typically sabotage expectations; so too do paradoxes.
For this workshop Peter Cave is the purveyor of the humour and paradoxes to be surveyed, exposing certain absurdities.
The workshop covers perplexing presents, surprising surprises and the rational irrational. The cast of such paradoxical plays includes chickens, tortoises, asses, Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox; Machiavelli, Moore and Newcomb; even the odd hangman indeed, though only in word and not actually in deed. Sadly, time prevents many of these paradoxical characters from appearing, but, be rest assured, some are signed up to perform.
How should we handle the paradoxes? Although the workshop meets with an end, the paradoxes send participants, in their reasoning, reeling with no end in sight, reeling endlessly even. So, what trick sets us travelling around the endless circles? Is there escape?
Consider, for example, Philosopher's simple offer of a large monetary sum, if you do something irrational. You want the money, so you perform silly walks in Groningen, balancing pink bananas on your head, singing songs backwards, while unpeeling peeled onions. 'Good attempt,' says Philosopher, 'but it wasn't truly irrational. It's just the right sort of activity to win the money; so it is highly rational to do after all.' Is there anything you can do - to win the money?
Why engage in paradoxes? Well, they pass the time - but, as Samuel Beckett quipped, time would have passed anyway. Paradoxes, though, do more than fill time. They pretend to conjure up possibilities that are impossible to conjure; they show us how close we can go to the reasoning edge - well, er... maybe they show this, or maybe not.

Peter Cave's book of philosophical puzzles, The Unusual, Please, appears later in 2007 (Oneworld Publications, Oxford). He hopes - he hopes! - it proves stimulating, entertaining yet also informative. His target audience is philosophers and non-philosophers. Will he miss this wide target?
Recent BBC programmes on paradoxes and John Stuart Mill were scripted and presented by Peter. He edited the small collections Thinking about Death and John Stuart Mill on... He has published papers, from the light to formal, but he is no pure academic; he does various things, living, a little, on the edge.
Peter studied philosophy at University College London and King's College Cambridge. After teaching abroad, he has - for too many years - engaged philosophy in London for The Open University and City University. He chairs UK's Humanist Philosophers' Group, is atheistic, yet delights in choral music. He lives in Soho, London, and is frequently found wine a-drinking in The French House.