Barnette's Zeno's Coffeehouse
Challenge #59 Result
This challenge prompted over 300 replies, which is
most appreciated! As I noted earlier, however, due to a hard drive crash I
decided to extend the timeline for submissions in the hope that earlier
respondents would re-submit their replies, which some did. I thank you
all for this inconvenience and apologize to others whose replies could not be published.
I have listed
below the original challenge, followed by several respondents' thoughts
on the matter. I
want to thank ALL respondents for their thoughtful time taken with
Zeno's Coffeehouse, and
to encourage your continued support, as critical thinking exercises are
mental growth and recreation. Minds need exercising with shared,
Zee, aka 'Uncle Zee,' is a regular Coffeehouse
patron who appreciates the ancient Greek philosophers. He loves to
engage in paradoxical
dialogue and listen to other patrons' arguments and counterarguments
over dilemmas and the
like. One late evening he shared the following problem with those in
attendance, and posed
a question for a cogent, reasoned response. Here is Mr. Zee's
contribution to the latest
Zeno's Coffeehouse Challenge:
Consider the well-known story of Euathlus and
Protagoras. Euathlus wanted to become a lawyer but could not pay
Protagoras. Protagoras agreed to teach him law and rhetoric
under the condition that, as soon as Euathlus won his first case, he
would pay Protagoras. Euathlus agreed and finished his course of study
but, having done so, decided to pursue a career in politics instead.
Protagoras got tired of waiting for his fee and sued Euathlus for it.
If Euathlus loses
this case, then he must pay me (by the judgment of the court).
If Euathlus wins this case, then he must pay me (by the terms of the
must either win or lose this case.
Therefore Euathlus must pay me.
But Euathlus had
learned well the art of rhetoric. He responded:
I win this case, I do not have to pay (by the judgment of the court).
If I lose this case, I do not have
to pay (by the terms of the contract).
must either win or lose the case.
Therefore, I do not have to pay
who wins? And why?
Here are some representative replies to the
conundrum which I wanted to publish:
From Mark Young in Canada:
Sorry to hear about your crash -- fortunately, it's rare for anything
shared between computers to be completely lost. Here's the
response I submitted earlier....m
Protagoras should get paid -- but not yet!
Protagoras is asking for immediate payment. So the question the
judge must answer is: What does Euathlus owe Protagoras
Well, as of the time when Protagoras files and argues his case,
Euathlus has not won a case, and so his payment is not yet due.
Euathlus has not violated the contract, and so Protagoras' case gets
dismissed by the first judge.
But now Protagoras may go to Euathlus and demand payment. If
Euathlus refuses, Protagoras can sue *again* (this is not a case of
double jeopardy), and this time his case is sound. Euathlus *has*
won a case now, and so his refusal to pay is a violation of the
contract. The second judge should find for the plaintiff and
order Euathlus to pay.
But what if the first judge makes a mistake?
If the first judge says "Euathlus must pay the fee now" and Euathlus
does not pay, then Protagoras is no worse off than he was. He can
sue again -- and the new judge's reasoning *should* be as the first
one's was above: Euathlus hasn't won a case yet, so he doesn't
have to pay. But eo ipso he has won a case, and so Protagoras may
But Protagoras may have trouble if the *second* judge got it wrong.
If the second judge finds for Euathlus, then Euathlus has won *again*
-- but in much the same way as he won his first case. Whatever
(faulty!) reasoning the judge used for dismissing Protagoras' second
case now acts as a *precedent* for dismissing any future cases
Protagoras brings. Protagoras' only option would be to *appeal*
the second judgement and hope that the appellate court *overturns* the
second judge's ruling.
Euathlus may have learned the art of rhetoric, but he should still
recall that a lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client.
He should have hired representation. Then the victory would have
gone to his lawyer, and Protagoras would have no basis for a second
From Troy Williamson in the USA:
It does seem like a clear-cut dilemma ... but surely there is a
solution to this. So I propose the following. Euathlus
realizes that only a fool would represent himself in a court of
law. (That was not a recognized principle in ancient Greece, but
we're resolving the dilemma today!) Therefore, Euathlus should
not represent himself.
With this provision in place, then the terms of the contract are "set
aside" in order to resolve the dilemma. That is, the contract is
not that Euathlus must pay for his training the first time he is sued
and emerges the victor. The point of the contract was that
Euathlus would pay for his training the first time he wins a case as a
practicing lawyer. By hiring someone to defend him in this case,
Euathlus is still not practicing as a lawyer, thus resolving the
Okay ... slightly outside the box ... lol.
Speaking from a legal standpoint, whatever the judge rules is going to
be the final word, regardless of what the contract said. So it's
only a matter of the ruling.
If I were the judge, I would rule in favor of Euathlus. The
agreement was that Euathlus would pay WHEN he won his first case.
Protagoras does not have a basis for suing Euathlus at this point.
A parallel argument would be between Jim and Bob. Jim performs
some service and they agree that Bob will pay after January 1,
2020. Jim gets impatient though, and sues Bob for the money in
2007. There is no grounds for the litigation because, in reality,
no contract has been violated. Either Bob would win this case, or
the case would be thrown out entirely.
If Euathlus had won a case and refused to pay, then Protagoras would have a legal standing.
As it stands, though, Euathlus will win this case. This would
logically mean that, after winning the case, Euathlus would have to pay
Protagoras UNLESS the judge made a ruling negating the contract.
From Lauri Kultti in Finland:
I think my idea in the earlier response was that Protagoras should not
be much concerned about the judgment of the court: the courts do not
usually make their judgments on the basis of logic (alone). The spirit
of Protagoras' and Euathlus' contract is quite clear and court would
certainly judge against Euathlus.
On the other side, if Protagoras were eager enough to keep his
reputation (as a master of logic and rhetoric) as high as earlier
maybe, first, he should have sued Euathlus for some totally different
Again, good Zeno's patrons....thank you!!!