Open Journal of Philosophy
2011. Vol.1, No.2, 57-60
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/ojpp.2011.12010
New Zeno and Actual Infinity
Casper Storm Hansen
Northern Institute of Philosophy, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK.
Received July 9th, 2011; revised August 15th, 2011; accepted August 25th, 2011.
In 1964 José Benardete invented the “New Zeno Paradox” about an infinity of gods trying to prevent a traveller
from reaching his destination. In this paper it is argued, contra Priest and Yablo, that the paradox must be re-
solved by rejecting the possibility of actual infinity. Further, it is shown that this paradox has the same logical
form as Yablo’s Paradox. It is suggested that constructivism can serve as the basis of a common solution to New
Zeno and the paradoxes of truth, and a constructivist interpretation of Kripke’s theory of truth is given.
Keywords: New Zeno, Yablo’s Paradox, Infinity, Constructivism
The New Zeno Paradox
I wish to discuss the “New Zeno Paradox” invented by José
Benardete, criticise the proposed solutions of Graham Priest
and Stephen Yablo, and argue that the paradox should be re-
solved by rejecting the possibility of actual infinity. The para-
dox goes as follows:
“A man decides to walk one mile from A to B. A god waits
in readiness to throw up a wall blocking the man’s further ad-
vance when the man has travelled 1/2 mile. A second god (un-
known to the first) waits in readiness to throw up a wall of his
own blocking the man’s further advance when the man has
travelled 1/4 mile. A third god...&c. ad infinitum. It is clear that
this infinite sequence of mere intentions (assuming the contrary
to fact conditional that each god would succeed in executing his
intentions if given the opportunity) logically entails the conse-
quence that the man will be arrested at point A; he will not be
able to pass beyond it, even though not a single wall will in fact
be thrown down in his path.” (Benardete, 1964)
Following Yablo (2000), we will assume that the man does
not stop before B unless a barrier is raised to prevent him from
proceeding. From this, together with the conclusion that no
walls are raised, follows that the man does move beyond A—a
According to Yablo, it is the combination of the god’s inten-
tions that is impossible. When the man tries to move away from
A it will turn out that some of the gods won’t be able to fulfil
their intentions. Either some of the gods will raise their wall,
even though walls before theirs have been raised, or some of
the gods will refrain from raising their wall even though none
of the prior walls were raised. Yablo writes:
“If there’s a paradox here, it lies in the difficulty of combin-
ing individually operational subsystems into an operational
system. But is this any more puzzling than the fact that al-
though I can pick a number larger than whatever number you
pick, and vice versa, we can’t be combined into a system pro-
ducing two numbers each larger than the other?” (Yablo, 2000)
The answer to that question is: Yes, it is much more surpris-
ing! For the two situations are not alike. If Yablo and I both try
to pick the higher number, he who gets to choose last will suc-
ceed. If I choose after Yablo I will be able to fulfil my intention
no matter what Yablo does (I can simply choose the number
that is one higher than Yablo’s). This resembles the situation
described in the paradox, as each god has a course of action
(raising the wall or refraining from doing so) available that is
consistent with his intentions, no matter what the gods before
him have done. But I can be prevented from fulfiling my inten-
tion of picking the higher number by someone (Yablo) acting
after me. That is not the case for the gods. For each given god,
it is irrelevant to his purposes what the succeeding gods do.
Actually, the intentions of a given god (let us call him Zeus
and let him be placed 1/2n of the way from A to B) are consis-
tent with any combination of actions that the other gods can
perform (that is, any combination of raisings and non-raisings
of walls by the other gods irrespective of their intentions), and
at the time when Zeus must decide what to do, he will have all
the information needed to ensure that his intention is fulfiled.
For the intention of Zeus is given by the biconditional
(In) a wall shall be raised at the 1/2n point, if and only if for
all m > n no wall has been raised at the 1/2m point,
which makes no reference to the actions of the gods after Zeus,
and is such that Zeus has full power to determine the truth value
of the left hand side at a time when the truth value of the right
hand side is determined. The contradictory combined intention
of the gods
(I) for all n 1, a wall shall be raised at the 1/2n point, if and
only if for all m > n no wall has been raised at the 1/2m point,
is not Zeus’ intention.
So if Yablo is right that the solution is that it will turn out
that some of the gods fail in their attempts to fulfil their inten-
tions, we lack an explanation why. Yablo’s “explanation” is that
“logic stops them”. But that does not explain why the individ-
ual gods fail.
If an individual fails in achieving some goal, “being stopped
by logic” will only be a sufficient explanation if that goal is
self-contradictory. And if a group of individuals have goals that
are self-consistent separately and contradictory combined, so
that there is at least one of these individuals who will not
achieve his goal, his failure will have a more concrete explana-
tion, i.e. an explanation that makes reference to contingent
states of affairs that contradict the goal of this individual. If, for
example, Achilles and the Tortoise race each other and both
intend to be the first to reach the finishing line, their goals are
contradictory combined, and so “being stopped by logic” can
explain their failure in reaching both their goals. But if the
Tortoise is the one to fail his goal, there is also a more concrete
explanation for this, namely that Achilles got to the finishing
line first (or at the exact same time as the Tortoise).
Assume that Zeus is one of the gods who fail their goal. The
goal of Zeus is not self-contradictory, and so his failure will not
be sufficiently explained by saying that he was “stopped by
logic”. The goals of all the gods are contradictory combined,
but there can be given no concrete explanation for the failure of
Zeus. No combination of raised and non-raised walls of the
other gods will serve to explain why Zeus couldn’t make the
truth value of the left hand side of (In) equal to the right hand
This of course generalises to all the gods. So if the man
moves away from A, something inexplicable will happen (i.e.
an event without a cause will happen). And that is also the case
if the man can’t move away from A: Either there will be no
raised walls and so the man’s failure will be inexplicable, or
some walls will be raised and then the actions of the associated
gods will be inexplicable.
So given that Yablo is right, the situation described in the
paradox will necessarily result in an inexplicable state of affairs.
That is unacceptable, and so his solution must be rejected.
So where does that leave us? Let us examine the premises.
Letting “Rx” mean that the man reaches point x and “Bx” mean
that a barrier is raised at point x, where x ranges over the real
numbers, and A is placed at x = 0 and B at x = 1, the premises
are stated thus by Yablo (I have made some inessential
yRxyx Ry
yByyx Rx
0,1 :0,1 :yxx yBxRy 
0,1 ::1 2&2
xBxnx Rx
Priest (1999) suggests that the paradox could be resolved by
denying the possibility of motion, i.e. rejecting premises (A1),
(A2) or (A3) or some combination thereof. Yablo shows that
this won’t work. He does so with the example of an infinite
series of demons calling off YES’s and NO’s in reverse order,
with demon n calling after demon n + 1. The nth demon calls at
the time t = 1/2n. The intention of each demon is to call YES iff
all the earlier-calling demons have called NO. This amounts to
using the same premises with “Rx” and “Bx” reinterpreted to
mean “up to (and including) the time t = x no demon has called
YES” and “at t = x a demon calls YES” respectively. In this
version of the paradox motion plays no role, but the contradic-
tion still ensues. And the first three premises have been reduced
to truisms that can’t be rejected with any degree of reasonabili-
ty. The interpretations are as follows:
(A1) If no demon has called YES up to t = x then no demon
has called YES up to any earlier time.
(A2) If at t = y a demon calls YES then there is no later time
up to which no demon has called YES.
(A3) If no demon has called YES up to t = y then no demon
has called YES up to t = y.
So premise (A4) must be rejected. I agree with Yablo that far.
In order to analyze the situation in more detail, I will “split
up” premise (A4), i.e. replace it with two premises whose con-
junction implies (A4). Let g be a function from the set of natu-
ral numbers to the set of gods. Then the two new premises are
 
,:nmnmgngm 
::nmn mgngm 
12 12
Premise (A4') says that there exists infinitely many gods.
Premise (A4") expresses the individual god’s ability to raise a
barrier at his unique point iff the man gets half the way to his. If
we assume the logical possibility of the existence of gods with
the ability to raise arbitrarily thin walls arbitrarily fast (or just
demons with the ability to call YES or NO arbitrarily fast) and
base their decision of whether to do so on previous events, then
(A4") can’t be rejected without accepting the possibility of
inexplicable states of affairs as argued above. So (A4') must be
rejected instead. That amounts to rejecting the possibility of
actual infinity.
That solves the paradox because if only potential infinity and
not actual infinity can exist, the “closest” situations to the one
described in the paradox are these:
One god intends to stop the man the first time he arrives
at a point in the set . {1/ 2|}
A potential infinity of gods are created one after the other
and when each god is created he is assigned to a point on
the route.
And they do not give rise to a paradox. The god in the first
situation simply has an inconsistent intention, and so his failure
to fulfil it can be sufficiently explained by saying that “logic
stops him”. In the second situation there will only exist a finite
number of gods at the time when the man begins his journey.
So one of these gods will be the first on the route, and he will
raise his wall while none of the others will.
The Logical Essence of New Zeno
I will use the rest of this paper to provide further support for
this conclusion; that New Zeno should be solved by rejecting
actual infinity. I will do this by first carrying out a deeper logi-
cal analysis of the paradox than the one above. This analysis
will reveal a close affinity to the semantic paradoxes, in par-
ticular the one named after Yablo. And then (in the next section)
I will reach the conclusion through an appeal to Priest’s Princi-
ple of Uniform Solution.
One step towards identifying the “logical essence” of New
Zeno has been taken with Yablo’s modification into a simpler
form not involving movement and the demonstration that this
modified paradox has the same logical structure as the original.
Another step can be taken by making an alternative and simpler
formalization of the modified paradox, where only the predicate
B and not R is used. Still using “Bx” to mean that a demon calls
YES at t = x, all the premises (A1) - (A4) can be replaced with
just this one:
12 ::
nBxyxB  y
But instead of using the reals and the natural numbers in a
naive way, where it is not clear what properties of the metric
and order relations on these sets are necessary to achieve the
contradiction, the premises of the paradox can be given as a set
of formulas from which the contradiction can be deduced using
only standard first order predicate logic. Let B and
unary predicates, written prefix and postfix respectively, and <
a binary predicate, written infix. Then the set of formulas con-
sists of these four:
(B1) :
(B2) ,, :
yzA xyyzxz
(B3) :
Ay Ay x
ABxy xBy
The contradiction is derived as follows. From (B1) by exis-
tential specification we have aA
, and then from (B4)
follows by universal specification. As-
:Bay aBy
:yAya 
:ya By
and then deduce. From (B3) follows
and hence by existential specification again we
have . From this follows in conjunction with (B2) and
that  and
hold. As we also
get from (B4) this implies the contra-
diction. Discarding the assumption, we have
:Bbyb By
, from
which it follows together with that
holds, and then the use of existential specification
yet again produces
Ba y
b. From this a contradiction can be de-
rived analogously to how it was derived from
What we see is that in addition to (B4) the only thing that is
required is a non-empty set equipped with a transitive and
non-wellfounded order relation. The metric on the reals and the
linearity of the standard order relation on the same do not play
any role in the derivation of the contradiction; their purpose is
only to make the premises plausible. The metric serves to make
it plausible that the traveller can cover the distance from point
A to point B in a finite amount of time. The linearity makes it
plausible that the right hand side of (In) is a given at the time
where god number n must decide whether or not to make the
left hand side true.
What is interesting about the fact that (B1) - (B4) is the “lo-
gical essence” of the paradox is that it reveals that New Zeno
has the same logical structure as Yablo’s Paradox (Yablo, 1993).
This paradox results from this infinite list of sentences:
Y1: For all n > 1 the sentence Yn is not true
Y2: For all n > 2 the sentence Yn is not true
Y3: For all n > 3 the sentence Yn is not true
This set of sentences satisfies (B1) - (B4) when the predi-
cates are interpreted as follows: “Bx” means that x is true,
A” means that x is a sentence on the list and “x < y
means that x is further down on the list than y.
The (semi)formal proof of contradiction above then corre-
sponds to this informal proof: There is some sentence on the list,
call it “a”. a is true iff all sentences further down on the list are
false. Assume that a is true. Then all sentences further down on
the list are false. There is a sentence further down on the list,
call it “b”. All sentences further down than b are false. b is false.
b is true iff all sentences further down on the list than b are
false. Contradiction! So a is false. There is a true sentence fur-
ther down than a, call it “b”. b is true. Contradiction follows
The Principle of Uniform Solution
According to Priest’s so-called Principle of Uniform Solution,
paradoxes with the same logical structure should be solved in a
similar way. When it has now been demonstrated that New
Zeno and Yablo’s Paradox have the same logical structure, this
puts a significant restriction on what can be accepted as possi-
ble solutions to these two paradoxes. On the one hand, the de-
nial-of-the-possibility-of-motion solution and the logic-stops-
them solution to New Zeno can not be transfered to Yablo’s
Paradox, and on the other hand, the denial of either semantical
closure, the validity of the Tarskian T-schema or classical logic
—the conjunction of which are normally considered the source
of the semantic paradoxes—will not solve New Zeno.
I claim that constructivism can serve as such a unifying solu-
tion. Three aspects of constructivism, relevant to this paper, can
be distinguished. The first is the thesis that any infinity is
merely a potiential such, in the sense that its elements are cre-
ated in time and at any given time is finite in number. The sec-
ond is mentalism with regard to certain abstract entities, e.g.
mathematical objects. And the third is the rejection of tertium
non datur. It is the first of these three aspects which can unify
the solutions. The other two will become relevant in the fol-
lowing, but do not apply to New Zeno and are therefore not part
of what unifies. The second is a way to explain why the first
applies to abstract entities. And the third, even though often
considered the central thesis of constructivism, is but a side-
effect of the two others.
Constructivism qua the first aspect solves New Zeno as ex-
plained in the first section. Yablo’s Paradox can be solved with
Kripke’s theory of truth (Kripke, 1975)1. And that theory can, I
will argue, be interpreted as a constructivistic theory.
In (Beall, 2007, chapter 1) Beall presents Kripke’s theory
through a metaphor about books. It goes as follows. Imagine a
world initially consisting only of non-semantic facts. In this
world, there is a writer with two very large books. They carry
the titles The True and The False. In the beginning they are
empty, but the writer sets out to fill them so that they accurately
reflect their titles. In the first book, he records every fact of the
world, and in the second, he records every state of affairs that
fails to obtain in the world. For instance, he writes “Snow is
white” in the first book and “Snow is green” in the second.
After having done so, he realises that his work is not complete.
For now there are more facts than when he started. By writing
in the books, he has added facts to the world, namely facts
about what is written in the books, and he did not include these
facts in The True, nor did he include non-obtaining facts about
the books in The False. So in each book, he puts the heading
“Chapter 1” over what he has written so far and starts writing
the more comprehensive chapters 2 of each book. Chapter 2 of
The True is a complete record of all facts about the world out-
side the books as well as about chapter 1 of each of the books.
He uses the predicate “is true” in the meaning “is a sentence
written in The True” and similarly the predicate “is false” in the
meaning “is a sentence written in The False”. So “‘Snow is
white’ is true” and “‘Snow is green’ is false” both appear in this
chapter. Because “Snow is green” is in The False, it is deter-
mined that this sentence will never be in The True, no matter
how many chapters are written, so the writer can put “‘Snow is
green’ is true” in chapter 2 of The False.
There are sentences that the writer puts in neither of the two
chapters 2. One of them is “‘‘‘Snow is white’ is true’ is true’ is
true”. This is because the sentence “‘‘Snow is white’ is true’ is
true” is not in chapter 1 of either of the books, so whether it
will be written in The True is not yet determined. Another is
“This sentence is false”. And for the same reason. The sentence
referred to by “This sentence” namely “This sentence is false”.
itself, is not in chapter 1 of either of the books. After having
written the two new chapters, there are again new facts, so the
writer also compiles increasingly comprehensive chapters 3, 4,
5, etc. Of the two mentioned sentences, the first eventually gets
into one of the books (The True, in chapter 4), while the second
never does. It is “ungrounded”.
According to this metaphor, Kripke’s theory introduces an
element of temporality in semantics; the sentence “‘Grass is
green’ is true” is made true later than the sentence “Grass is
green”. I believe we should take this temporality seriously and
not just metaphorically. Imagine, in analogy to the ideal ma-
1Much criticism can be directed at Kripke’s theory, so whether the paradox
can really be solved by the theory is a controversial issue. I will not go into
that discussion here, but simply assume that Kripke’s theory is adequate.
thematician appealed to by writers in intuitionistic mathematics
(for example by Brouwer in his (1933)), an ideal linguist who
was to construct the set of truths and the set of falsities given
only non-semantical facts. We can then see Kripke’s theory as a
set of rules for the linguist to follow in this undertaking. Were
he to follow these rules, he would of course proceed just as the
writer in the metaphor except that we must abstract from the
concrete writing of books.
So a constructivist theory of truth that can be an interpreta-
tion and justification of Kripke’s theory is that the truth values
of sentences are the mental constructions of an ideal linguist.
Let me immediately prevent a possible misunderstanding: I am
not claiming some form of anti-realism or idealism in a general
sense. The existence of mind-independent facts is not rejected.
We can consistently believe that it is a mind-independent fact
that grass is green, while claiming that the truth of the sentence
“Grass is green” is mind-dependent. For the truth of this sen-
tence is not determined by the fact of the greenness of grass
alone; an equally important role is played by the rules of the
English language. These rules are a human construct, and the
act of applying them to sentences to assign a truth value is a
mental one.
Mental constructions happen in time, and when the language,
to whose sentences truth values are to be assigned, itself con-
tains predicates for the truth values, these mental constructions
cannot be carried out in any order. According to the correspon-
dence theory of truth, a sentence is true if it corresponds to or
represents a fact. For something to represent something else,
the represented must in some sense be logical prior to the rep-
resenting. So when not only the representing but also the repre-
sented is a sentence, i.e. when a sentence is about sentences,
temporality appears in semantics; the semantics of some sen-
tences must be prior to the semantics of other sentences. Only
after the sentence “Grass is green” is made true, is there a fact
to which the sentence “‘Grass is green’ is true” can correspond.
This I believe to be the lesson of Kripke’s theory (although
perhaps not of Kripke).
In this theory, Yablo’s Paradox is solved in exactly the same
way as the Liar Paradox. None of the sentences Y1, Y2, Y3, …
are ever put in either of the books and hence none of them are
true or false. This is because each of the sentences depend for
their truth value on an infinity of other sentences in the list, and
at no point in time do all these sentences and their truth values
exist so as to determine the truth value of any given sentence on
the list.
It is in other words premise (B3) that should be rejected, both
in the case of New Zeno and in the case of Yablo’s Paradox:
Rejecting the possibility of an actual infinity of gods and sen-
tences/truth values makes for a uniform solution to these para-
The New Zeno Paradox and Yablo’s Paradox are of similar
logical form and hence, according to the Principle of Uniform
Solution, they should have similar solutions. This requirement
disqualifies many proposed solutions to each of the paradoxes.
On the other hand it serves to make the constructivist solution
to New Zeno proposed in this paper and Kripke’s solution to
the paradoxes of truth under a constructivist interpretation lend
reciprocal support to each other.
Of the three proposed solutions to New Zeno; the denial-
of-the-possibility-of-motion solution, the logic-stops-them so-
lution and the denial-of-actual-infinity solution, the first falls
for the Principle of Uniform Solution applied to New Zeno and
the paradox of the demons calling YES and NO, and the second
falls for the same principle applied to the latter paradox and
Yablo’s Paradox. Only constructivism can, it seems to me, be a
basis for a common solution to all these paradoxes.
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