Why can't you answer a paradox


A paradox is a seemingly contradicting statement. In this post you will learn what the stylistic device can look like and how you determine its effect.

What is a paradox?

Feweris more!“ You have probably heard this statement before. At first glance it seems totally absurd. Finally is Lessthe opposite of more. At second glance, however, you recognize a point: a perfume, for example, often unfolds moreits scent when you Lessof which you apply.

That's what you call a statement Paradox. It is actually a contradicting statement, but behind which lies a deeper truth. These contradictions are used in various areas as stylistic devices to achieve a certain effect.

The paradox (Gr. Parádoxos = unexpected, contrary to common opinion) as a rhetorical means describes you supposed contradictionwhich, however, dissolves on closer inspection. Often it occurs in the form of exaggerated or absurd formulations.

Paradox - Examples

The following examples show you how different the paradox can look.

  • I know, that I know nothing. "(- Socrates)

This famous phrase comes from the Greek philosopher Socrates. With the contradiction between knowledgeand Knowing nothing he points out the following: The only thing that he can know for sure is the fact that he can never have absolutely certain knowledge.

  • Life is death, and death is life.

This idiom turns the first claim Life is deathin the second part of the sentence just turn indeath is lifeand thus actually contradicts itself. However, you can also interpret this paradox in this way: Life is determined by death. However, if there is still life after death, it does not end there. So life in death would be conceivable.

  • The only one Persistentis the change.

If something changed, does that actually mean that it just doesn't resistantis. However, this paradox describes the fact that all things change at some point and nothing can be unchanged or constant forever. Here, too, there is a deeper meaning hidden.

  • “And see, we live [...] as them Poor, but many of them richdo; as the have nothing and yet to have everything. "(- Bible: 2 Corinthians 6, 9-10)

There are many paradoxical passages in the Bible. So is this text excerpt: If you poorare respectively have nothing, you actually can't do others richdo it or not at the same time to have everything. At least when talking about material things. However, this passage from the Bible becomes understandable if you assume that one can also be rich through non-material things, such as friendship and health.

Paradox - effect

Paradoxical statements can have different effects on the reader.

On the one hand, the statements, which at first glance seem contradictory, stimulate the reader Think at. In order to understand the deeper meaning, you have to consider and interpret the statement in its context, i.e. the overall context.

On the other hand, the stylistic device also makes it clear that there are few things that can be clearly assessed. So there is not just black and white. Instead, a supposedly logical principle can also be evaluated differently through a paradox. So it can be entirely for the listener or reader new perspectives on the world surrender.

The technical term paradox is a foreign word. Therefore, you may not always be clear about all the meanings of the terms from the same word family:

  • paradox denotes a paradoxical state of affairs. → The known Paradoxes countless authors have worked on a journey through time.
  • paradox is the adjective of the word family. → A paradoxical Situation / statement.
  • Paradoxes is the correct plural of paradox. → Paradoxes of this type can be found in many areas.

Forms of paradox

Paradoxes are not only used as linguistic means. They are also available in other subject areas. They also indicate a contradiction. However, the paradox in these questions can often not be answered or solved. The contradiction often does not resolve itself, as is already the case with the paradox as a stylistic device.

Logical paradoxes

This type of paradox may become clearer with the Pinocchio example:

As you probably know, Pinocchio's nose always grows when he lies. But what happens when he says: “My nose is growing right now?” Imagine if he is telling the truth, then his nose does not grow and the sentence would be wrong. If you assume he's lying, his nose would grow, but the sentence would still be wrong - he lied. Such sentences contradict themselves in their logic, that is why you speak of logical paradoxes.

A classic example of a logical paradox is also the sentence: "This sentence is wrong.“Can you find out the paradox of this statement yourself? It works on the same principle as the Pinocchio Paradox.

Physical paradoxes

There are two well-known physical paradoxes that have also become known outside of physicist circles:

The first was named "Schrödinger's cat" after its inventor Erwin Schrödinger: It is a thought experiment from quantum physics. A cat is locked in a box together with an unstable atomic nucleus. This atomic nucleus disintegrates within a certain period of time. It is precisely this mechanism that releases poisonous gas that kills the cat in the box. Since it is a closed system without an observer, you cannot determine from the outside which state is prevailing in the box. So by the time someone opens the box and checks on the cat, you have to assume that the animal is dead at the same time and lively is.

The second known paradox is called the "Fermi Paradox". The physicist Enrico Fermi pointed out the following paradoxical relationship: Man has never encountered extraterrestrial life or has found any clues about it. But this contradicts this assumption: In all probability, such extraterrestrial civilizations live everywhere in our galaxy. So Fermi actually asks, in short: “If it's you givesthen why are they not here?“

Metaphysical Paradoxes

There is also a well-known paradox for this species: the concept of the (in) finiteness of the universe. The human mind cannot actually imagine anything infinite. Neither can you imagine, however, that the universe did not exist at one point in time, because what was before then? In short: In the case of metaphysical paradoxes, our human imagination is not sufficient for us to even imagine or understand something like this.

Differentiation from other stylistic devices

There are other stylistic devices that also describe the contradictions of something. Therefore, it is sometimes difficult to separate them from each other. See the explanations below to better understand the boundaries:

Parallelism - Chiasmus

A paradox can be reinforced in its sentence structure by the two stylistic devices parallelism and chiasmus.

For example, look back at the paradoxical phrase above:

Paradox + parallelism - example: Life is death and death is life.

There is always parallelism when individual clauses are in successive clauses or parts of clauses equal are arranged. As you can see from the colors, this is also the case with this paradoxical expression. This is how the contradiction in terms of content is also structurally made clear.

Another possibility to support the paradox in its sentence structure is the chiasmus.

Paradox + chiasm - example:

The more you know, the more you forget.
The more you forget, the less you know.

The chiasmus is in contrast to the parallelism. So here parts of the sentence are not lined up in the same way, but rather opposite. This allows you to connect the respective words crosswise. The contradiction between the two statements is also made clear here by the arrangement of the parts of the sentence.


With antithetical utterances, authors can use the Oppositionjuxtapose two terms or statements. In contrast to the paradox, however, there is no deeper meaning behind the antithesis, it is precisely about emphasizing the opposite.

Antithesis - example:"Oh God! the art islong! / And shortis our life. "(- J.W. v. Goethe: Faust I)

However, you cannot always clearly separate the two stylistic devices. Take another look at the example above: For freeis just that deathand the costs the LifeHere you can see that there is an antithesis in the paradox itself. This emphasizes the contradiction even more. In our article on the antithesis you will find out many examples of how this stylistic device can still look.


The oxymoron is a special form of the antithesis. Here, however, the opposing terms are not only juxtaposed. Instead, it's about combining two words that are mutually exclusive. With the oxymoron, too, the contradiction resolves upon closer inspection Not on. This is where it differs from the linguistic paradoxes.

Oxymoron - example:You look like a living corpse!

If you want to understand the difference between the stylistic devices of the opposites even better, then take a look at our article on the oxymoron here.