Is there a noun for when there are two or more feasible yet opposing explanations or interpretations of the same observations/evidence? For example, two people look at the arrangement of the balls on a billiard table. They each come up with separate scenarios of what occurred in the game to create the current arrangement. Both explanations are valid possibilities, however they oppose each other; they cannot both be true. One or both of them are incorrect.

So we might say, "My my, Dr. Geometrigonomestein, we have here a ___, for both explanations, while contradictory, are each quite complete and believable indeed."

Similar to the word "paradox", except that paradox refers to a seeming contradiction that turns out to be true, such as a beginner bicyclist finding it easier to ride fast rather than very slowly.

Really I'm thinking more about ideological frameworks where multiple frameworks can feasibly and thoroughly "make sense of the world", even though they can hardly both be true. (I find this phenomena fascinating.) (Though I recognize that there are also many cases where two seemingly opposed explanations can actually be reconciled as both true in different senses.)

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    In a sense yes, but I'm looking for a word that refers to this phenomenon where both "opinions" are actually very believable, complete, detailed. "Paradox" is just a word for two "ideas", but specifically it speaks of two ideas that were said together in a seemingly self-contradictory way, yet it turns out to be true.
    – voxoid
    Jan 19, 2020 at 22:51
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    How about "hypotheses"? Basically the same meaning, only sounds a lot sexier.
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 19, 2020 at 23:12
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    It would help if you added an example sentence or two to the question with a blank where you want the word you're looking for to go.
    – CJ Dennis
    Jan 19, 2020 at 23:48
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    Perhaps competing explanations ? I think that's commonly enough encountered to be readily understood with the sought-for meaning. Jan 20, 2020 at 8:34
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    I don't think there's such a noun. High Performance Mark's Competing explanations is a good option IMO and would usually imply that both are fairly plausible. You can spell this out by saying e.g. two equally plausible but incompatible explanations, but at the cost of a much longer sentence.
    – JD2000
    Jan 20, 2020 at 9:48

4 Answers 4


I think the expression competing explanations fits the bill here. It's a common-enough way of expressing the idea that there are multiple explanations for some phenomenon, each (at least as far as our state of knowledge at the time of expression goes) with some merit and some likelihood of being correct.

In OP's sentence we might replace the underscores thiswise:

My my, Dr. Geometrigonomestein, we have here a competition, for both explanations are quite complete and believable indeed.


If two hypotheses to a described phenomenon are both plausible but do exclude each other - i.e. only one is or can be true - the hypotheses contradict each other, or are contradictory.

Synonyms include: opposition, opposite, antithetical, contrary, contrasting, conflicting, at variance, at odds, opposing, clashing, divergent, discrepant, different; inconsistent, incompatible, irreconcilable

  • I'm sorry, zoig, OP clearly asks for a noun. A list of synonyms for 'contradictory' is not a suitable answer on a site aimed at linguists. Jan 20, 2020 at 15:33
  • You are right, it should be contradiction.
    – zoig
    Feb 11, 2020 at 13:01

dualidox for two remarkably plausible yet contradictory beliefs or hypotheses; pluralidox for more than two.

...with the disclaimer that I'm taking the liberty to coin new words ;) . Otherwise phrases such as "competing explanations" or "two equally plausible but incompatible explanations", as suggested by High Performance Mark and JD2000.



a contrast or opposition between two things.
"the antithesis between occult and rational mentalities"

from Oxford Online Dictionary.

The competing frameworks are antithetical.

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