Nils Kürbis: Lewis Carroll’s ‘What the Tortoise said to Achilles’

On Tuesday 7th November, Dr Nils Kürbis, a philosophy lecturer from King’s College London, visited Chigwell to give a talk on ‘What the Tortoise said to Achilles’ by Lewis Carroll. Two Chigwell students read the dialogue. The opening part eluded to one of Zeno’s most famous paradoxes – the race between Achilles and the tortoise. Even though we know Achilles will overtake the tortoise (given the Tortoise had a head start), when broken down into small intervals it seems that the gap between Achilles and the tortoise gets smaller but never diminishes, hence Achilles can never overtake the tortoise. This is why this is a paradox. I helped to explain this using a simple diagram.

However Nils’ main focus was on what the text went on to describe. The tortoise was using the example of Euclid’s first proposition, which states that things that are equal to the same thing are equal to each other. This is a proposition. The problem began when we had to go from the proposition to the conclusion. To do this you need a middle step to reach the conclusion. Since the middle step contains the proposition you need another step to convince the very stubborn tortoise (in this example). This creates an infinite number of middle steps creating a sequence infinitely increasing (the opposite to the infinitely decreasing sequence in Zeno’s paradox).
As a philosophy professor he was able to really engage us into this problem which had a lot of people scratching their heads as they were being asked to think in what seemed to be a very illogical way.
Milan Patel
Nils Kürbis on triangles

Nils Kürbis on triangles

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