4

Consider this situation:

  1. Politician A "slings mud" at Politician B.

  2. Politician B accuses Politician A of being a mudslinger

  3. Politician A accuses B of being a hypocrite since accusing someone of being a mudslinger is a form of mudslinging

  4. Politician B accuses A of accusing B of being a hypocrite only in order to sling mud so is begging the original accusation of mudslinging.

  5. Politician A accuses Politician B of accusing A of accusing B of being a hypocrite only in order to sling mud so is begging the original accusation of mudslinging is still a form of mudslinging and therefore hypocritical.

(At step 4 Politician B could have instead said that accusing someone of hypocrisy is a form of mudslinging but this seems less plausible.)

So the argument goes like this:

  1. A says ((B) is bad)

  2. B says ((A says ((B) is bad) is bad)

  3. A says ((B says ((A says ((B) is bad) is bad) is bad)

  4. B says ((A says ((B says ((A says ((B) is bad) is bad) is bad) is bad)

  5. A says ((B says (A says ((B says ((A says ((B) is bad) is bad) is bad) is bad) is bad

So what is happening here, that makes the moral concept of mudslinging (meaning as something that is bad) create a regress?

  • 1
    Welcome to Phil.SE! Politicians are human, so any thing they do or say is finite; notions of infinite regress don't typically apply there. – Mozibur Ullah Mar 3 '16 at 21:56
2

I don't think this has anything to do with morality or mudslinging specifically, the possibility of regress is created by the ability of talking to represent something else. A talks about B, B talks about A talking about B, A talks about B talking about A talking about B, etc. That talking is accusing accompanied by moral judgements just comes along for the ride. Indeed we do not even need B, A can talk about A talking about A talking about A, talking about A, sometimes politicians do that too with accusing replaced by praising.

This regress appears every time something has the ability to represent something else, Aristotle used it to criticize Plato's ideal realm. Since idea can represent an object, or another idea, the realm containing all of them would have to be populated not only by ideas of objects, but also ideas of ideas of objects, ideas of ideas of ideas of ideas of objects. It seemed a bit excessive, so he disposed of the separate realm, and embodied ideas as forms of objects instead.

One can do something more interesting than regress with ability of sentences to represent, or refer to, other sentences. A sentence may not just refer to a sentence that refers to a sentence, it may refer to itself. And if it does so in a special way we may get a paradox, e.g. "this sentence is false" is true if and only if it is false. This is like A accusing himself of lying, or mudslinging, the Liar paradox.

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