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One great way to look at a paradox is to compare it with other things. First, a paradox is not a contradiction. Contradictions simply are nonsense. No amount of reflection will get you anywhere. Second, a paradox is not a mystery. A mystery is something that cannot be explained. It is above reason.
A paradox is something that looks like a contradiction or a mystery on the surface, but under close reflection makes sense. There is a logic, but the logic is not apparent at first.
Here is an example from the New Testament: If you want to find your life, you must lose it.
Here is another example: The last shall be first and the first shall be last.
Here is a final example: To best way to be creative, is not to seek it.
There are at least a couple of ways to define a paradox.
- A statement that seems like it is contradictory or nonsensical but might still be true.
- A statement that does contradict itself but at first seems true.
So these are slightly different ideas.
Here are some paradoxical statements:
The only way to ensure peace is to prepare for war.
The only way to make money is to spend money.
But I'm pretty sure I didn't just make those up so I'm not sure they'd count as my own paradoxical statements.
The e-notes "Guide to Literary Terms" defines 'Paradox' to mean,
"Paradox - a statement that is apparently self-contradictory or absurd but really contains a possible truth. Sometimes the term is applied to a self-contradictory false proposition. It is also used to describe an opinion or statement which is contrary to generally accepted ideas. Often, a paradox is used to make a reader consider the point in a new way.
The term is from the Greek paradoxos, meaning “contrary to received opinion” or “expectation.”
An example of paradox is contained in Caesar’s speech from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
Cowards die many times before their deaths.
Act II, scene ii : line 32"
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