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A paradox is a statement that seems to contradict itself, or seems to go against itself, but may contain a basic or underlying truth when examined more closely. A paradox may be thought of as working against common sense but seems to be true, or state a truth. In some cases, we think of paradoxes as riddles or questions of logic. When a phrase is a paradox, we say it is paradoxical.
Take the following, for example:
This sentence is a lie.
The example creates questions of logic. If the sentence is lying, then the statement is true. If the statement is true, then the sentence is telling us that it is a lie. The sentence begins to work against itself logically but points us towards ideas of what it means to lie and what it means to tell the truth. The sentence suggests that perhaps lies and truth are more closely related than we think by using a paradox.
We encounter paradoxes in our everyday lives too. Sometimes we hear the phrase, “age before beauty.” While this often means that an elderly person comes before a young person in significance or order, the phrase itself is a paradox. If we think about the sentence literally, beauty is generally associated with young people, and age is associated with those who are elderly. Therefore, age cannot come before beauty because we believe ourselves to be beautiful before we become older. The paradox comes when we realize that we hold older people to higher standards and importance in society than younger people. In this way, the paradox is hinting at an underlying truth about society and culture.
Sometimes authors use paradoxes to get the reader’s attention or to direct the reader to a specific idea in the text. Romantic and metaphysical poets often used paradox in their poetry when talking about love and death. In a famous line of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the protagonist says, “I must be cruel only to be kind.” In this moment, Hamlet believes that a harsh act will lead to a better life for his mother. An act of cruelty that leads to kindness and betterment is paradoxical.
The following phrases are examples of paradoxes:
- I know that I know nothing – Socrates
- How can someone know that they do not know anything? The statement contradicts itself because if someone knows nothing, they cannot know anything.
- Living in the present for the future.
- Paradoxes become especially confusing when thinking about time. If someone is living in the present, it means they are not looking ahead or thinking about the future. However, this statement indicates that the person is living right now to exist and thrive in the future. The two indications and moments of time do not seem to match up, but they suggest the idea of living in a way right now that secures a future.
The following are examples of paradoxes from literature:
From Fight Club, directed by David Fincher:
“The first rule of fight club is: You do not talk about fight club.”
The first rule from Fight Club is paradoxical because the first rule of Fight Club is not to talk about it. Yet, in order for everyone in the club to understand this rule, someone must tell them. Therefore, talking about the rules of fight club is immediately contradicting and working against the very first rule of Fight Club.
From “My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold,” by William Wordsworth
“The Child is father of the Man”
Wordsworth sets a child and an adult man against each other to make this paradox work. We usually think of adults as parents, which makes an adult man a father. However, it becomes confusing and paradoxical when a child is father of an adult man. Scholars have given many interpretations to this paradox. Wordsworth may be saying that habits of adults are formed in childhood. He may also be saying that childlike wonder needs to be fathered in man. The paradox brings up many questions and interpretations.
This bundle contains 5 ready-to-use paradox worksheets that are perfect to test student knowledge and understanding of what paradox is and how it can be used. You can use these paradox worksheets in the classroom with students, or with home schooled children as well.
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Link will appear as Paradox Examples and Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, July 11, 2017
Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.