I have become interested in the idea of paradox recently. Not logical paradoxes though, but when philosophical ideas are pursued consistently, and end up arguing against that position. The most basic of course is the relativists denial of truth leads to a truth claim, but let me give you two further examples of what I mean. I am not arguing that these positions should be viewed this way only giving examples of the type of reasoning I would be curious to see an analysis of.

  1. Democracy is a system where divergent viewpoints are allowed to compete for dominance. Everyone active in a democracy is trying to get their viewpoint established as the one that is always dominate though. Thus people active in a democracy are always working for the practical end of it.

  2. Libertarianism is a philosophy where people are free to make choices about their lives free from government coercion. Except they cannot then make the choice to establish a coercive government because that eliminates the idea of a Libertarian society. Thus there has to be some coercive order to prevent people from establishing a coercive order.

Where can I find literature that deals with why this kind of contradiction can occur within philosophies?

  • you may be interested in this answer about democracy
    – Nikos M.
    Jun 17 at 14:41
  • It is important to make clear that a philosophical position may explicitly state the range of application of this position. Thus edge cases which may result in paradoxes are not promoted per se
    – Nikos M.
    Jun 17 at 15:06
  • I'm doubtful that searching for "paradox" is likely to get you what you want without a qualifier like "metaphysical paradox". You might find it fruitful to search for "self-defeating proposition". Jun 17 at 17:46
  • As both of your examples concern political philosophy, studying that would likely lead you to encounter other examples.
    – J.G.
    Jun 17 at 18:26
  • 1
    Perhaps the famous Prisoner's dilemma in game theory and economics could provide some hint... Most truths you're interested in are contingent truths at best which always are not context-free and thus with strings attached. Just stare at the favicon symbol of Taoism, things morph into its opposite constantly... Borrowing modal logic jargon, the paradox lies in the same problem of squaring the circle, and in this case trying to square the non-alethic to alethic... Jun 17 at 19:44

2 Answers 2


Paradoxes are a huge topic in philosophy given the preoccupation with logic.

  1. It might help to start fishing through entries that are related to paradox. For instance, terms like dialethiesm and self-refuting ideas are related.
  2. You might also want to familiarize yourself with some of the common paradoxes here at Stanford Encyclopedia's list of articles featuring 'paradox' or search of the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  3. Lastly, a Google Book searches might turn up topics that are interest to you like this one, A Brief History of Paradox.
  4. Lastly, there are resources such as PhilPapers.org that can provide you some leads like Paradoxes From a to Z by Michael Clark.

That's not really a fair description of democracy, afaik the point is that the power remains with the people and IS NOT a quest for dominance over the people. What you describe is rather a "competitive pluralism", but a more fitting example would be "the competitive free market". Which is literally what you describe everyone tries to gain a monopoly but as soon as they would it would seize to be a competitive free market.

And Libertarianism also only becomes a paradox when you straw man that position. Also you could make up a better straw man arguing with a philosophy of "universal, absolute individual freedom". Where an absolute individual freedom of the individual would, if anybody actually exercised it, violate the absolute individual freedom of another individual thus negating the concept (not being universal). So it can only exist if it doesn't actually exist (people don't exercise that freedom), but if it doesn't exist, does it exist (like is the freedom real if you aren't free to use it)?

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