Aporia

Aporia

May 1, 2015

Aporia is an ancient Greek concept which has two incarnations: logical and rhetorical. Logically it is a contradictory assertion. The most famous one is “all Cretans are liars,” but this statement was spoken by a Cretan. It forces you to question whether you can believe his statement at all. The more interesting incarnation of aporia, however, is rhetorical.

Have you ever heard someone begin offering an opinion by saying, “well, I’m no expert, but…?” This is aporia: the introduction of an opinion by the speaker that distances him or herself from the opinion. If you like what s/he says, you’re in agreement; if not, you can’t blame the speaker because s/he said s/he wasn’t an expert. It’s a rhetorical trap.In middle and high school, it works the same way, but instead students begin statements with, “I don’t know, but….” Do you believe people are generally good? “I don’t know, but I think so.” Do you believe that racism is still as much of a problem today as in the past? “I don’t know, but I think it is.” It is an attempt (rhetorically) to absolve oneself from a divisive opinion, and a hollow one at that. If one disagrees strongly with that opinion, the “I don’t know, but” does nothing to lessen one’s objection.”I don’t know” is a great phrase because we all need it. None of us knows anything until we do (and then it is still in question). “I don’t know” is the starting point to knowing, not an excuse. I encourage students to avoid this aporia and instead stand proudly by their ideas. The worst possible outcome? They’re wrong. Big deal. I’m wrong three times each day before 9am but I own my mistakes; that’s how I grow. So the next time you hear your child begin a sentence with, “I don’t know,” think about what s/he is actually saying.

Dr. Brian Bloomfield
Head of School, Academy at Charlemont

Aporia

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