Antinomy or the Deceit of Clarity

“In point of fact, Bertrand Russell constructed a contradiction within the framework of elementary logic itself that is precisely analogous to the contradiction first developed in the Cantorian theory of infinite classes. Russell’s antinomy can be stated as follows. Classes seem to be of two kinds: those which do not contain themselves as members, and those which do. A class will be called “normal” if, and only if, it does not contain itself as a member; otherwise it will be called “non-normal”. An example of a normal class is the class of mathematicians, for patently the class itself is not a mathematician and is therefore not a member of itself. An example of a non-normal class is the class of all thinkable things; for the class of all thinkable things is itself thinkable and is therefore a member of itself. Let ‘N’ by definition stand for the class of all normal classes. We ask whether N itself is a normal class. If N is normal, it is a member of itself (for by definition N contains all normal classes); but, in that case, N is non-normal, because by definition a class that contains itself as a member is non-normal. On the other hand, if N is non-normal, it is a member of itself (by definition of non-normal); but, in that case, Nis normal, because by definition the members of N are normal classes. In short, N is normal if, and only if, Nis non-normal. It follows that the statement ‘N is normal’ is both true and false. This fatal contradiction results from an uncritical use of the apparently pellucid notion of class. Other paradoxes were found later, each of them constructed by means of familiar and seemingly cogent modes of reasoning. Mathematicians came to realize that in developing consistent systems familiarity and intuitive clarity are weak reeds to lean on.[1]


[1] Nagel and Newman, in Gödel’s Proof, pp. 23,24 & 25,  University of Florida Libraries.

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