What Is a Paradox? (Meaning and Examples)

A paradox is a statement or situation that seems to contradict itself or go against common sense, yet upon closer examination, may reveal a deeper truth or insight. Paradoxes can be found in various fields such as philosophy, mathematics, physics, and literature, and are often used to challenge established beliefs or ideas. They can be thought-provoking, amusing, or even mind-boggling, and have captured the attention of thinkers throughout history.

Table of Contents

  • Easy Examples of Paradoxes
  • Real-Life Examples of "Everyday" Paradoxes
  • Real-Life Examples of "Logical" Paradoxes
  • The Difference between Logical Paradoxes and Everyday Paradoxes
  • An Oxymoron Is a Paradox
  • Video Lesson
  • Why Understanding "Paradox" Is Important
  • Test Time!
paradox examples

Easy Examples of Paradoxes

  • I always lie.
  • (This statement is absolutely self-contradictory. If it's true, then it's not true. This would be accepted as a paradox in the field of Logic.)
  • You can save money by spending it.
  • (The idea seems self-contradictory, but it's possibly true. For example, spending money insulating your roof would reduce heating bills.)

Real-Life Examples of "Everyday" Paradoxes

These next examples seem self-contradictory, but they're not. (Paradoxical expressions that seem self-contradictory but aren't are often described as "everyday paradox" as opposed to "logical paradox.") These are examples of "everyday paradox":
  • To shut down your computer, first click Start.
  • You have to be cruel to be kind.
  • Less is more.
  • When you increase your knowledge, you understand how little you know.
  • (In essence, your unknown unknowns become known unknowns.)

Real-Life Examples of "Logical" Paradoxes

The following examples are absolutely self-contradictory. They are examples of "logical paradox."
  • My nose will grow. (Pinocchio)
  • If you didn't get this message, call me.
  • Your mission is to not accept this mission? Do you accept?
  • No keyboard detected. Press F1 to continue.
  • Youth would be an ideal state if it came a little later in life. (Prime Minister Herbert Asquith)

The Difference between Logical Paradoxes and Everyday Paradoxes

Logical paradoxes are contradictions that arise within a formal system of reasoning, such as mathematics or logic. These paradoxes often arise due to the self-referential nature of the system itself and can be resolved by revising the rules or assumptions of the system. Logical paradoxes are of interest to mathematicians, logicians, and philosophers of logic, as they provide insights into the limitations and boundaries of formal systems of reasoning.

Everyday paradoxes, on the other hand, refer to situations or statements that appear to be contradictory or absurd in everyday life but are not necessarily due to a flaw in the reasoning system itself. These types of paradoxes often involve the unexpected consequences of actions, the limitations of language or perception, or the complexity of human behavior. Everyday paradoxes can be found in literature, humor, and everyday conversations and can often provide a source of amusement or insight into the human experience.

An Oxymoron Is a Paradox

An oxymoron (a seemingly self-contradicting term) is a paradox (usually "everyday" paradox).
  • female gunman
  • fresh raisins
  • bittersweet
  • escaped prisoner
Read more about oxymorons.

Video Lesson

Here is a short video summarizing the what we mean by "paradox": video lesson

Are you a visual learner? Do you prefer video to text? Here is a list of all our grammar videos.

Why Understanding "Paradox" Is Important

A paradoxical expression that seems self-contradictory but isn't can be impactful and memorable as it compels your readers to work out for themselves why your seemingly self-contradictory idea is true.
  • We must go backwards to go forwards.
  • (This is a memorable way of delivering a message like "we must align our old processes to the new methodology" or "we must rethink our strategy".)

Key Point

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.

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