Dr. Peter Cave (Open University and City
Lather, Rinse, Repeat! - paradoxes informed by humour
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
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
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.