I’ve been thinking lately about questions, philosophical questions. It seems to me–although I admit to being unable to take this thought very far yet–that one useful way of gaining insight into a philosopher’s work is by working delicately to typify the relationship between the philosopher’s questions and her answers to them. Perhaps, so stated, that seems obvious. But what I mean is typifying the relationship as such (if that can be done), independent of the particular erototetic content or declarative content of the question and answer, respectively. There are, I submit, a vast number of different typifying relationships to be discovered. Part of the reason I began to think about this was re-reading a comment of mine on G. E. Moore:
Moore insists that we often ask a philosophical question without knowing quite what question our interrogatory words express. But Moore does not ever seriously doubt that there is a philosophical question that the words express. We can rightly say that Moore doubted the clarity of the questions that philosophers asked, and we can rightly say that he often doubted whether philosophers really believed the answers they gave to the questions; but we cannot rightly say that he doubted whether there were philosophical questions to be asked and answers to be given to them. That Moore took this view of philosophical questions is shown by his deep unease with his own answers to them. Moore, I think, believed his answers; but he also did not believe his answers. (“I believe; help thou my unbelief.”) His deep unease was the result of the mismatch between his understanding of the questions and the believability of his answers to them: given his view of the questions, the very believability of his answers to them made the answers hard to believe.
Socrates’ questions and answers bear one sort of relationship to each other. Augustine’s another. Aquinas’ another. Kant’s another–and so on. Consider Heidegger, at least late: he so absolutizes the question over the answer that it is no longer clear that there is, that there could be, even that there should be any answer to the question or even an attempt at an answer. Such an attempt would violate the absoluteness of the question, allow us at least the hope of being able to end, at least for a moment, enduring the interrogative rack, to stop bearing the question mark, to finish the forever-rising inflection–to scramble off the heath and into shelter, no longer exposed as mad Lear. But Heidegger would have us stay.
(Ok, so I got a little carried away there. Apologies. But I plan to return–soberly–to this line of thought in coming days.)