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Logic of the Preface Paradox

Keywords: Belief , epistemology , induction , logic , preface paradox , probability theory , rationality

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The preface paradox is the apparent pragmatic inconsistency that occurs when the author of a book declares in its preface that despite believing that it is highly probable that everything the book maintains is true it is also highly probable that the book contains at least some errors. The preface paradox has often been presented as an example of a logically inconsistent belief that it is nevertheless rational to accept, supporting the suggestion that rationality has nothing immediately to do with avoiding formal logical inconsistency in one’s beliefs. In contrast with complicated received solutions, I explain a simple method of avoiding inconsistency in preface paradox assertions by indexing the two claims to distinct probability or justification sources, referencing in the first case the conscientious efforts to eliminate errors and in the second case the chagrin of past experience in discovering previously unsuspected errors in published writings. The solution thereby helps preserve the concept of rationality as logical consistency of belief, and avoids the conclusion that the preface paradox proves that it is sometimes rational to accept logically inconsistent beliefs.


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