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The University of Southampton

PHIL3049 Puzzles and Paradoxes

Module Overview

Socrates wants to cross a river and comes to a bridge guarded by Plato, who says: “Socrates, if you say something true, I will permit you to cross. But if you speak falsely, I shall throw you into the water.” Socrates answers: “You will throw me into the water”. It is clear that Socrates puts Plato in a difficult situation: He cannot throw Socrates into the water, because if he did he would violate his promise to let Socrates cross the bridge if he speaks the truth. On the other hand, if Plato allows Socrates to cross the bridge it would mean that Socrates spoke untruth. What should Plato do? This is a classic example of a philosophical paradox. Paradoxes, and related types of puzzles, have had a lot of attention in philosophy, particularly in philosophy of language, epistemology, and metaphysics. But what are puzzles and paradoxes? Why have they always been considered so important in philosophy? What are the most famous puzzles and paradoxes in philosophy? This module aims at answering these questions by presenting some the most famous, challenging and intriguing puzzles and paradoxes that philosophers have provided us with. Since puzzles and paradoxes are indeed puzzling and paradoxical, the aim will primarily be to work out together the various solutions or dissolutions one might try out to solve the problems.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Some of the most famous and important puzzles and paradoxes
  • Advantages and disadvantages of some proposed solutions to these puzzles and paradoxes
  • why puzzles and paradoxes have a central role in Philosophy.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Interpret, synthesise and criticise complex texts and positions
  • Present ideas, both clearly and carefully.
  • Debate and criticise ideas and arguments in an even-handed fashion
  • Articulate and defend your own views regarding the issues the module concerns
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Undertake independent work, including identifying and using appropriate resources
  • Work effectively to deadlines
  • Take notes from talks and written materials
  • Contribute to discussion in a critical but dispassionate way.
  • Express views clearly and concisely.


The syllabus may vary from year to year. Topics might include: - What are philosophical puzzles and paradoxes and why are they interesting? - Puzzles and Paradoxes in epistemology (examples: Can you assert that it’s a nice day and that you do not believe it? Do you have rational beliefs about lotteries?) - Puzzles and Paradoxes in metaphysics (examples: How many hairs do you need in order not to be bald? Can there be two absolutely indistinguishable spheres?) - Puzzles in philosophy of language (examples: What is the best question ever to ask an angel? Is the word ‘obscene’ obscene? Can you be told somebody’s name?)

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: Lectures In-class discussion One-on-one consultation with module co-ordinator Learning activities include: Attending classes Contribution to class discussion Doing independent research for and writing assessed work

Preparation for scheduled sessions24
Completion of assessment task22
Follow-up work24
Wider reading or practice24
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Michael Clark (2002). Paradoxes from A to Z. 

Mark Sainsbury (1995). Paradoxes. 

A full reading list will be made available once the module is underway. 



Draft essay


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 50%
Essay 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 50%
Essay 50%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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