Question and Answer


BQTA presents a guest post by Carter Gillies

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. 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…..

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).

Carter Gillies is a potter and philosopher in Athens, Georgia.


Carter IMG_0625

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