“Better questions than answers? Silence would be better still.” betterquestionsthananswersAugust 19, 2017September 21, 2017Funny?, Guest Post Post navigation PreviousNext Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like Loading... Related
Lighten up, Myrna. We’re doing the best we can. Doesn’t that count for something?
The answer is blowing in the wind, not in this blog.
does the title mean it’s better to ask questions than to give answers or that your questions are better than your answers?
Both. The questions are better than the answers at BQTA, if only because the answers around here aren’t much. The bigger issue: are questions worth more than answers? Aren’t answers supposed to be the point of the exercise?
Check “Getting Started” post for some quotes from philosophers.
Barry Stroud: “Often the worst thing to do with what looks like a real philosophical question is to answer it. It can get in the way of fuller understanding of what the problem really is and where it comes from.” Stroud wants us to think about our questions carefully before trying to answer them. Are we sure we know what we’re trying to ask about?
Ludwig Wittgenstein: “In philosophy it is always good to put a question instead of an answer to a question. For an answer to the philosophical question may easily be unfair; disposing of it by means of another question is not.” In his book Philosophical Investigations (often considered the most important philosophical work of the 20th century), he answers a lot of questions with questions. To the point that an early reviewer, Peter Strawson, thought that he practice of “disposing” of questions via more questions was unfair: “I wish he’d just say what he means!” W thought asking a second question can deepen and clarify the first.
And yet, only asking questions can create the impression philosophy never gets anywhere. So what’s the point? As a friend put it yesterday: “I decline to be baited into an intellectual Vietnam, an unwinnable quagmire, exhausting precious resources. The extent of my current philosophy is: Until morale improves, the beatings will continue.” This guy can be a bit grim.
Philosophy may be futile, but it is also inescapable.
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I think many people assume the idea of a question is getting to answers, as if the point of questions were the answers that flowed from them, as if having the answers were the measure of value. I think sometimes that is true, and then it seems we must also decide between good questions and bad questions. Because when we are stuck with poor questions there is a limit on our answers (maybe Wittgenstein took much of philosophy to be asking the wrong questions, even). It seems clear that even tentative answers to good questions can often be better than brilliant answers to bad questions. (Flies in bottles are notorious for their brilliant answers)
So I think there are more important things than simply the answers. The answers are not always the point. Asking itself can have value, and not simply as a means to the ends of correct answers. Asking questions is what humans do to navigate our world, and the point of most human questions is not ‘truth’. Rather, asking questions is part of the frame of meaning, and meaning is investigated and evolves through the activity of our questions. Questions are part of the everyday but also of the sublime and the ineffable. The questions circumscribe what it means to be human…..
One last thought. If we imagine that the model for asking questions is like what happens in science then it does seem like getting to answers is the point. And it is a seductive idea. And it also seems to describe the form of acceptable answers as often ‘evidence’ based or even as purely quantitative data. Plenty of folks who should know better are hypnotized by that idea.
But human questions are much bigger than merely what happens in science, there is a greater variety than we accept in science, and not being ‘scientific’ does not mean that they necessarily are ‘lesser’ or in any way deficient. The idea of science has a hypnotic effect. I know folks who will only accept answers where data can be gathered and evidence evaluated. I worry that these people have only hammers to work with, and decide as a consequence that the rest of the world therefor needs pounding…..
Different questions are different tools for different occasions. We should not presume that asking questions is something uniform or simple… And I agree, we should always strive to have better questions than answers, we should care more about the questions than the answers (in some sense, and when that makes sense to do).
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