Logical, Semantic and Cultural Paradoxes

Argumentation 17 (1):65-86 (2003)
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The property common to three kinds of paradoxes (logical, semantic, and cultural) is the underlying presence of an exclusive disjunction: even when it is put to a check by the paradox, it is still invoked at the level of implicit discourse. Hence the argumentative strength of paradoxical propositions is derived. Logical paradoxes (insolubilia) always involve two contradictory, mutually exclusive, truths. One truth is always perceived to the detriment of the other, in accordance with a succession which is endlessly repetitive. A check is put on the principle of the excluded middle by the logical paradoxes, because self-reference leads to an endlessly repeating circle, out of which no resolution is conceivable. Logical paradoxes are to be compared with the `objective ambiguity' prevalent in oracles (Gallet, 1990). Semantic paradoxes are contextually-determined occurrences, whose resolution at the metalinguistic level is made possible by the discovery of a middle term. They express a wilful ambiguity, in which the interlocutor is invited to take an active part in the construction of sense, since what must be found is the unexpected sense thanks to which A and not-A can be asserted simultaneously. Cultural paradoxes play about doxa (`common sense') and openly challenge common opinion because of their character as inopinata (`unexpected'). My aim is to show that even cultural paradoxes hide sometimes a flaw of argumentation similar to logical or semantic paradox; they too imply an exclusive disjunction leading to the disappearance of the middle terms. Finally, basing myself on the theory of topoi (Anscombre and Ducrot, 1983), a tentative resolution of the cultural paradoxes will be suggested



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