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The Drinker Paradox

This paradox can be found in a puzzle book entitled “What Is the Name of this Book?” (Footnote: Raymond Smullyan. What is the Name of this Book? Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-13-955088-7, 1978 Smullyan, What is the Name of this Book?: Details.) by Raymond Smullyan, who called it the ‘drinking principle’. This is perhaps the origin of this ‘paradox’. The ‘paradox’ is also referenced in some other books (Footnote: Sindy Dunbar, “Logic & Mathematical Paradoxes”, World Technologies, ISBN 13: 9788132343134, 2012 Dunbar, Logic & Mathematical Paradoxes: Details.) (Footnote: Orna Grumberg, Tobias Nipkow, and Christian Pfaller, Formal Logical Methods for System Security and Correctness, IOS Press, ISBN 9781586038434, 2008 Formal Logical Methods: Details.) (Footnote: Martín Escardó and Paulo Oliva, Searchable Sets, Dubuc-Penon Compactness, Omniscience Principles, and the Drinker Paradox Computability in Europe Conference 2010) and articles. (Footnote: Marc Bezem and Dimitri Hendriks Clausification in Coq.) (Footnote: Freek Wiedijk, Mizar Light for HOL Light Conference on Theorem Proving in Higher Order Logics, 2001) (Footnote: Henk Barendregt, The Quest for Correctness in Images of SMC research, 1996)


This paradox is quite different from most paradoxes, since of itself it is not a paradox at all, and it simply is a statement that is not correct. The claim that it is a paradox relies on the insistence that the statement is also a theorem of classical logic. Classical logic is a system that gives a general method of analyzing statements in a logical way. However, one of the crucial differences between statements of natural language and statements of classical logic is that classical logic assumes a fixed, non-changing world, where nothing changes over time. Obviously, in that respect, classical logic does not reflect real world situations that do involve changes over time.


The statement of the paradox is this:

S: “For any pub, there is always a customer in the pub such that, if he is drinking, every customer in the pub is drinking.”


Obviously, we know from real world experience that this is incorrect - and because of that, we would not, by any stretch of the imagination, call the statement S a paradox - we would simply say it is incorrect.


So where does the notion that the statement S is a paradox come from?


It comes from the naïve notion that there is a theorem of classical logic that reflects precisely what the natural language statement S states. This theorem of classical logic can be written as:

T : ∃x, [D(x) ⇒ ∀y, D(y)]

which in English, essentially states:

“There is some x, where, if D applies to x then D applies to every y”.


In classical logic, this statement is precisely the same as:

T : ∃x, [¬D(x) ∨ ∀y, D(y)]

which in English, essentially states:

“There is some x, where, D does not apply to x or D applies to every y”.


Now, in classical logic, everything has a fixed truth value. So, either D applies to every y, or it does not. So, considering the two options:

  1. Suppose that D applies to every y. In that case, the statement T is correct


  1. Suppose that D does not apply to every y. In that case, there must be at least one x where D does not apply, so the statement T is again correct.


In either case, in classical logic, the statement T is correct.


But many people seem to believe that you can apply this theorem of classical logic to the real world situation of people drinking in a pub, where some people may not be drinking and then start drinking. They take the classical theorem of logic

x, [D(x) ⇒ ∀yD(y)]

and say that it does apply to the real world, and they may write it such as this:

x, [Drinking(x) ⇒ ∀yDrinking(y)]

where Drinking(x) means that the person x is drinking.


And yes, taken as a statement of classical logic, this can be proved in classical logic, where Drinking(x) is an abstract concept which has no connection to real world drinking. And in classical logic, every proposition has a fixed truth value, and every proposition must be either true or false, and always remains so. That presents no difficulties when dealing with situations where everything has a fixed truth value, for example, in the case of arithmetic, where 1+1 always equals 2. But in the real world, which is the case with drinkers and pubs, the case of whether a person is, or is not drinking is subject to change over time and does not have a fixed truth value.


So there is no logic in the assertion that this theorem of classical logic means that the natural language statement “For any pub, there is always a customer in the pub such that, if he is drinking, every customer in the pub is drinking” must be true.


The old adage that a little learning is a dangerous thing applies here. Beware of people who call themselves logicians, and who have learned some of the rules of classical logic, and who take it on themselves to tell the rest of the world that they know better than we do as to what we actually mean when we make statements about the real world.


Note: For an analysis of other paradoxes by Raymond Smullyan, please see Smullyan’s Paradoxes.

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Diverse opinions and criticisms are welcome, but messages that are frivolous, irrelevant or devoid of logical basis will be blocked. Difficulties in understanding the site content are usually best addressed by contacting me by e-mail. Note: you will be asked to provide an e-mail address - any address will do, it does not require verification. Your e-mail will only be used to notify you of replies to your comments - it will never be used for any other purpose and will not be displayed. If you cannot see any comments below, see Why isn’t the comment box loading?.

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The Lighter Side


Paper on the diagonal proof

There is now a paper that deals with the matter of language and the diagonal proof, see On Considerations of Language in the Diagonal Proof.

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Other recently added pages

The Myths of Platonism


Goodman’s Paradox


The Platonist Rod paradox


The Balls in the Urn Paradox


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Lebesgue Measure

There is now a new page on a contradiction in Lebesgue measure theory.

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Easy Footnotes

I found that making, adding or deleting footnotes in the traditional manner proved to be a major pain. So I developed a different system for footnotes which makes inserting or changing footnotes a doddle. You can check it out at Easy Footnotes for Web Pages (Accessibility friendly).

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O’Connor’s “computer checked” proof

I have now added a new section to my paper on Russell O’Connor’s claim of a computer verified incompleteness proof. This shows that the flaw in the proof arises from a reliance on definitions that include unacceptable assumptions - assumptions that are not actually checked by the computer code. See also the new page Representability.

Previous Blog Posts

Moderate Platonism

Descartes’ Platonism

The duplicity of Mark Chu-Carroll

A John Searle Inanity

Man versus Machine

Fake News and Fake Mathematics

Ned Block’s Blockhead

Are we alone in the Universe?

Good Math, Bad Math?

Bishops Dancing with Pixies?

Artificial Intelligence

Cranks and Crackpots

The Chinese Room


For convenience, there are now two pages on this site with links to various material relating to Gödel and the Incompleteness Theorem


– a page with general links:

Gödel Links


– and a page relating specifically to the Gödel mind-machine debate:

Gödel, Minds, and Machines

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