What is the purpose of a paradox?

Paradoxes can serve several purposes:

  • In literature and rhetoric, paradoxes can be used as rhetorical or plot devices. They can add humor, provoke philosophical thought, or express critique through satire.
    • Example: “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” (Oscar Wilde, De Profundis)
  • In logic and other branches of philosophy, paradoxes highlight flaws or contradictions in currently accepted definitions and systems, demonstrating the need for further inquiry.
    • Example: If you keep removing grains of sand from a heap, at what point does it stop being a heap? (This problem is referred to as the “paradox of the heap,” or the “sorites paradox”).
  • In everyday aphorisms, paradoxes are used to express philosophical insights and practical wisdom in a memorable and sometimes humorous way.
    • Example: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”