Philosophical Questions

It pertains to the very nature of a philosophical question that its answer will not be a 'perfectly rounded truth' (as Parmenides said it), grasped in the hand like an apple plucked from a tree.

[Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture, 63]

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22 Comments

  1. Fanny Price said,

    May 11, 2006 at 7:39 pm

    Because philosophy begins in wonder?

  2. Neoclassical said,

    May 19, 2006 at 8:10 pm

    I think it’s more because philosophical questions don’t have a neat answer, like some people would like.

    Perhaps wonder has something to do with it. I would be interested in hearing the development of your thought.

  3. Fanny Price said,

    May 20, 2006 at 1:20 am

    Joseph Pieper says philosophy begins in wonder. He develops his thought in a book called In Defense of Philosophy.

    I think the reason the questions don’t have a neat answer may have to do with the nature of these questions and the nature of these questions may have to do with the attitude of the asker.

    I wonder if science can be said to begin in curiousity as distiinguished from wonder. Curiosity being like the grasping in your post above.

  4. Neoclassical said,

    May 20, 2006 at 1:47 am

    So do you think the reason that mathematical answers generally are neat and rounded is that the attitude of the asker is different than the attitude of the one who asks philosophical questions?

  5. Fanny Price said,

    May 20, 2006 at 2:13 am

    I think the neat answers have to do with the kind of questions. And I think the kind of questions have to do with the asker’s attitude.

  6. Neoclassical said,

    May 20, 2006 at 2:48 am

    Yes, but I’m trying to employ the socratic method to your answer.

    Could you explain what you mean by “the asker’s attitude” in relation to the answering of mathematical questions?

  7. Fanny Price said,

    May 20, 2006 at 8:51 am

    I am not sure what you mean by mathematical questions.

    But I can say what I am trying to say another way.

    Don’t you think the answers you get depend on the questions you ask? And if you do, don’t you think the questions you ask in turn depend on the attitude you have?

    Wonder leads to philosophical questions. Curiosity (distinguished from wonder) leads to grasping questions.

    That is all I mean.

  8. Neoclassical said,

    May 24, 2006 at 4:26 am

    I just mean questions that have “rounded” and neat answers, such as some mathematical issues.

    It was just an example.

    I do understand what you are saying, but I’m trying to figure out whether it stands in real life by applying it to different examples. I’m wondering if what you are saying about wonder and the nature of questions only applies to philosophy, or whether it applies to all of life.

  9. Fanny Price said,

    May 24, 2006 at 9:25 am

    How do you divide philosophy off from all of life? In your mind, what forms the border?

  10. Neoclassical said,

    May 25, 2006 at 2:43 am

    I think there is a difference between philosophical questions and definite answer questions (like mathematics, and yes/no questions, for example), but I see where you're coming from, so that is why I'm trying to explore your view.

    If I ask, what color is this leaf? you would have a "rounded" answer. The same would be if you asked how much is 2+2.

    On the other hand, if you were to ask, what is being? or what is beauty? you would have a harder time giving a certain answer, so it is not a "perfectly rounded truth."

     I guess I should ask you, how is the question, how much is 2+2? philosophical?

  11. Fanny Price said,

    May 25, 2006 at 6:53 am

    Not in the least that I can see.

  12. Neoclassical said,

    May 25, 2006 at 8:10 am

    So…if it’s not philosophical, wouldn’t that mean that not all of life is philosophical?

    If so, how would my attitude be different whether I ask this question or a philosophical question?

    I guess I’m not following you when you say that the nature of the question depends on the attitude of the asker.

  13. Fanny Price said,

    May 25, 2006 at 10:15 am

    To your first question my answer is that I don’t think so. I’ve got to think that while asking “how much is 2+2?” is part of life and not a philosophical question, that it does not therefore follow that all of life is not in some way philosophical, or ought to be.

    Since this is not so, I will skip you second question.

    I think you are not following when I say the nature of the question depends on the attitude of the asker.

  14. Paul said,

    May 26, 2006 at 12:55 am

    Even in pertaining to matters as “what color is this leaf?”, philosophy has many struggles. As I am doing deep reading into George Berkeley, I begin to question what exactly we even know about the nature of ‘simple’ propositions. Even as we begin dealing what the cut-and-dry questions of mathematics, one should try reading a little Bertrand Russell. That’s some pretty hard analytic philosophy. It is the encompassment of what we view as life. It is a certain wonder about life and living and all things existential that bring us to philosophy.
    Certain questions in philosophy are definately intended to bring about certain results, but let me say this is just bad philosophy. Good philosophy, in my understanding, is done when one desires to know nothing that he may seek something. (Sorry, but I do have a slight crude aversion to Descartes.) Generally speaking, the philosopher will never “get it right”. In my experience, it is not the goal of the philosopher to necessarily get it right, but rather that he produce a system of thought in Ethics, Epistemology, Metaphysics, Aesthetics and Logic that are completely coherant with each other. Understanding this, that the philosopher’s job is to develop a system of rigid thought with no holes, we begin to understand that he will never claim a “perfectly rounded truth”, but rather a system of thinking that contains no logical contradiction.
    It’s a good thing I’m a philosophy major. All I do is sit around and type on message boards all day.

  15. Neoclassical said,

    May 26, 2006 at 8:08 am

    Fanny,

    Of course I’m not following what you mean when you say that the nature of the question depends on the attitude of the asker. That’s what I’m trying to get you to explain!

    I think, though, that if you take “philosophy” loosely, then you can say that all of life should be philosophical. But if you talk about “philosophical questions” in the sense in which Pieper means, then you have to conclude that some questions are not philosophical [otherwise, why use the adjective?].

  16. Neoclassical said,

    May 26, 2006 at 8:11 am

    Paul,

    RE:

    Good philosophy, in my understanding, is done when one desires to know nothing that he may seek something.

    If you desire to know nothing, will you ever arrive at any knowledge?

  17. Fanny Price said,

    May 26, 2006 at 9:00 am

    I have no quarrel with those uses of the term “philosophy.”

    Let us try this.

    “I think it’s more because philosophical questions don’t have a neat answer, like some people would like.”

    Why don’t they have such answers?

    Why would some people like a neat answer?

    You will say, I suppose, it is in the nature of the question. At least it seems to me that is what your original answer to my question implied. And this is what Pieper says in the quotation. But I asked my question after the quotation. I want to know why it is in the nature of these questions.

    But from where can such questions come? Who would ask them? Why would they ask such questions?

    And what is wonder?

  18. Paul said,

    May 26, 2006 at 4:14 pm

    Neoclassical, ever read Descartes? In a desire to cast himself into a hyperbolic doubt, he acquires a great deal of knowledge. Cogito ergo sum, for example. He also systematically finds out that God is, the corporeal world is (in a sense) and all senses have some sort of real existence. Yes, these things are a priori knowledge, which make them so much easier to find when desiring to know nothing. You see, as Descartes notes, we are given mixed philosophies of the world our entire lives. It is not until we reject everything that we realize the things that are true. I think he has a point in this. I cannot figure out what is false until I learn to discern the true and I cannot learn what is true until I learn to reject everything and allow all the knowledge I attain apart from experience (which is practically what a priori means) to reveal itself to me.
    So, after all this discourse, my answer is of course you will arrive at some knowledge of that which is true if I desire to know nothing at all.

  19. Paul said,

    May 27, 2006 at 4:38 pm

    Whoops, terrible grammar.
    “my answer is of course you will arrive at some knowledge of that which is true if I desire to know nothing at all”, should read, “my answer is of course one will arrive at some knowledge of that which is true if one desires to know nothing at all.”

  20. Neoclassical said,

    May 30, 2006 at 9:19 am

    Paul,

    Why bother with Descartes, when you can read Plato? Have you ever read the Meno?

    He says that if you don’t know something, you won’t ask the questions in order to know it. In other words, nothing comes from nothing [and Shakespeare agrees :)].

  21. Paul said,

    May 30, 2006 at 11:52 am

    I have read the Meno about 4 times in the past year. (3 of those reads were for classes.) However, I think there are greater complications with Plato than we realize. I don’t really remember Socrates saying what you’re alluding to. He is only attempting to prove a sort of immortality of the soul (which he may have only proved a sort of pre-existence), which he later points out in the Phaedo.
    He is trying to prove that we existed once in the world of Forms by saying we only need to remember the Forms themselves and notice their representations on Earth. However, I don’t think Plato really proves this through the slave boy example. If you go through and read the Meno again, you’ll notice that Socrates (or Plato) has a little knack for manipulating his opponents to say whatever it is he wants them to say. Even through his example, Socrates does not prove what he sets out to prove in the Phaedo, which is to establish the infinitude of the soul. All he does in the Meno is establish a possible pre-existence of the soul.
    And… ex nihilo nihilo? Thomas Aquinas, I’m sure, can provide objections to that.
    I use Descartes because he has a more developed system of philosophy to provide a method of thought. I don’t think good philosophy is done when we only include what we like and exclude all the rest. I can’t make logical sense of my philosophy if I choose to exclude any objection.

  22. Paul said,

    May 30, 2006 at 10:49 pm

    And, if we refer to nominalism as a sort of anti-realism, then Berkeley was indeed a moderate nominalist within his metaphysics.


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