Paradox
Paradox
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  • Thinkers have been fascinated by paradox since long before Aristotle grappled withZeno's. In this volume in The MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, Margaret Cuonzo exploresparadoxes and the strategies used to solve them. She finds that paradoxes are more than mere puzzlesbut can prompt new ways of thinking. A paradox can be defined as a set of mutually inconsistentclaims, each of which seems true. Paradoxes emerge not just in salons and ivory towers but ineveryday life. (An Internet search for "paradox" brings forth a picture of an ashtray witha "no smoking" symbol inscribed on it.) Proposing solutions, Cuonzo writes, is a naturalresponse to paradoxes. She invites us to rethink paradoxes by focusing on strategies for solvingthem, arguing that there is much to be learned from this, regardless of whether any of the morepowerful paradoxes is even capable of solution.

    Cuonzo offers a catalog ofparadox-solving strategies -- including the Preemptive-Strike (questioning the paradox itself), theOdd-Guy-Out (calling one of the assumptions into question), and the You-Can't-Get-There-from-Here(denying the validity of the reasoning). She argues that certain types of solutions work better insome contexts than others, and that as paradoxicality increases, the success of certain strategiesgrows more unlikely. Cuonzo shows that the processes of paradox generation and solution proposal areinteresting and important ones. Discovering a paradox leads to advances in knowledge: new scienceoften stems from attempts to solve paradoxes, and the concepts used in the new sciences lead to newparadoxes. As Niels Bohr wrote, "How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we havesome hope of making progress."

  • Margaret Cuonzo is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Coordinator of Humanities at Long Island University, Brooklyn.

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