Dialogue

Articles

Reasoning with Loose Concepts

Max Blacka1

a1 Cornell University

A Man whose height is four feet is short; adding one tenthof an inch to a short man's height leaves him short; therefore, a man whose height is four feet and one tenth of an inch is short. Now begin again and argue in the same pattern. A man whose height is four feet and one tenth of an inch is short; adding one tenth of an inch to a short man's height leaves him short; therefore, a man whose height is four feet and two tenths of an inch is short. In this way, it seems, we can reach the absurd result that a man whose height is four feet plus any number of tenths of an inch is short. For, if the first argument is sound, so is the second; and if the second, so is the third; and so on. There appears to be no good reason for stopping at any one point rather than at another; it is hard to see why the chain of arguments should ever be broken. But the conclusion is ridiculous; it is, for example, preposterous to say that a man whose height is seven feet is, nevertheless, short.