The paradox of the court

The Paradox of the Court is a very old problem in logic stemming from ancient Greece. It is said that the famous sophist Protagoras took on a pupil, Euathlus, on the understanding that the student pay Protagoras for his instruction after he had won his first case. Some accounts claim that Protagoras demanded his money as soon as Euathlus completed his education; others say that Protagoras waited until it was obvious that Euathlus was making no effort to take on clients and still others assert that Euathlus made a genuine attempt but that no clients ever came. In any case, Protagoras decided to sue Euathlus for the amount owed.

Protagoras argued that if he won the case he would be paid his money. If Euathlus won the case, Protagoras would still be paid according to the original contract, because Euathlus would have won his first case.

Euathlus, however, claimed that if he won then by the court’s decision he would not have to pay Protagoras. If on the other hand Protagoras won then Euathlus would still not have won a case and therefore not be obliged to pay. The question is: which of the two men is in the right?

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