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regress


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A strategy gives rise to a vicious regress if whatever problem it was designed to solve remains as much in need of the same treatment after its use as before. Thus a definition is (usually) viciously regressive if the term to be defined recurs in the definition. The definition ‘x is good’=‘x is something we think is good’, faces the question of what the word ‘good’ is doing on the right-hand side of the equation: what are we said to think about x? Reapplication gives ‘x is good’=‘x is something we think is something we think is…’ and the procedure continues forever, yielding an infinite regress. A benign regress is a regress which involves no such failure. ‘It is true that p’=‘it is true that it is true that…that p’ without any worrisome change of content of what is said. There is frequently room for dispute about whether regresses are benign or vicious, since the issue will hinge on whether it is necessary to reapply the procedure. The cosmological argument is an attempt to find a stopping point for what is otherwise seen as being an infinite regress. See also circle, vicious.

Subjects: Philosophy.


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