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Plucky's avatar

When/how is a question considered philosophical?

Asked by Plucky (10205 points ) April 20th, 2012

I have many questions within the question. Please bear with me. I am interested in your opinions on the matter.

Is it the question’s abstract nature? When you can not answer it with facts? Perhaps it’s about the interpretation of the question by the answerer(s)?

Does the answer determine if the question is philosophical?

Could I see a question as philosophical while someone else may not? If that is the case, then how do we know when a question is truly philosophical?

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10 Answers

rooeytoo's avatar

I think a question is philosophical when it has virtually no application or usefulness to the real world. It is a mental exercise. Does the tree in the woods make noise when it falls if no one is there to hear it??? My answer is who the hell cares, I have an electric bill to pay! :-)

JLeslie's avatar

For me it is a question that is abstract and usually looking for an explanation, or truism about life. Pondering events in life and the universe. It kind of is similar to religion, answering life’s questions. It can also be something someone lives by. For instance, my grandma’s philosophy on life was do what you want to do while you can do it. Philosophy seems different to me than religion though, because a philosopher asks the people to think about what they are proposing, while religion asks for people to accept what is said as truth without argument. Some religions allow for argument of interpretation of what is written, but that is a little different. However it is arguable that religions contain philosophies on and for living your life.

wildpotato's avatar

Well, it depends on who you are asking. For people who have studied philosophy, it does not have to do with abstraction or hermeneutics, or with the answer. For example, I would identify the question “What is Descartes’ cogito, and what did he mean by it?” as philosophical, and this is a straightforward question with a factual answer and not a huge amount of space for varying interpretations.

This is much of what we do, actually – study past philosophers and try to get a handle on what they were doing, on how their work builds off of previous philosophers, and on what their ideas mean for what we currently think about things. Nothing mysterious, just the history of ideas. We do also build on their work, of course, but we generally don’t do it by posing questions to one another like “Why is the world the way it is?”, but rather pose questions like “Can we find out something new about Amery’s account of ressentiment by viewing it in light of Rorty’s notion of ironism?” or “Was Derrida saying what most people think he was saying, or was it something else?” or “In what ways can we suggest a melding of Irigaray & Kristeva’s ideas about femininity, and in what ways do they differ?”

The “big” ones, like about how we know what we know, why the world is as it is, whether God exists, how mind, body, and world relate to each other, – these are also philosophical questions, ones that do have the qualities you identify above. These are more like broad outlines of inquiry than anything else, though – they are, in fact, how we define different areas of study in philosophy. In order, the questions above describe Epistemology, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Religion, and Philosophy of Mind.

You know when a question is truly philosophical when you have a reasonable sense of what philosophy is and can identify it as such. It’s a matter of interpretation. Ultimately, I think one can interpret almost any question as philosophical, down to “How old are you?” and “What time is it?” – it depends on the context the interlocutor was asking the question in.

kess's avatar

Philosophy is that which injects purpose in the things that are done, presently doing, and will do.

It undergirds everything but itself is none of those things.

It pertains to the reasoning behind Life as a whole, thus it takes us to the beginnings and endings. It transforms your life not only by getting you to change the things that you do, but also inject purpose in the things that you are doing.

It is always one question away even in the most mundane and seemingly innocous circumstances….

For example…“Why do find it neccessary to pay your electric bill?”
And by a series of whys, you get to… did this world begin?

Blondesjon's avatar

I think you just asked one.


submariner's avatar

Philosophy asks questions of the most general nature. So, for example, the biologist examines the nature of living matter, physicist inquires into the nature of material being, and the philosopher asks into the nature of being itself.

Anyone who thinks philosophy is an idle intellectual pastime should review the histories of the American, French, Russian, and Chinese revolutions. One of the reasons these revolutions had such different outcomes is that their leaders had settled on very different answers to certain philosophical questions. No serious student of history can escape the conclusion that ideas matter.

Paradox25's avatar

In my opinion philosophy is the same thing as science, except that one term is used to describe matters of the mind and discussion while the other term is used to describe the research of how all phenomena works (generally). Both terms are used to describe knowledge, wisdom, information about all phenomena. As a result philosophical questions can vary greatly, and branch out into many facets.

Basically if I had to resort to two terms by default instinct which immediately come to mind to remind me of philosophy, those terms would be objectivism and subjectivism. Theology and religion are two other subjects that I associate with philosophical matters very quickly too. Like I’ve said above there are many more as well.

Plucky's avatar

Thank you for the responses thus far. Very interesting answers.

@rooeytoo How is it that the questions have no application or usefulness in the real world? Surely there must be some usefulness. If there wasn’t, we wouldn’t know of the greatest philosophers. They made an impact in some form or another, yes?

@JLeslie Your response makes sense to me. It seems true philosophical questions are searching for the deeper meanings/truths in life. The answers are open to a wide variety of interpretation of the question.

@wildpotato The questions about philosophers and their philosophies are not what I meant by this question, as you stated later on in your response. I understand the study of the history of ideas. That is more factual as well. I agree that it depends on the context which the interlocutor was asking the question in. But doesn’t it also depend how the question is answered? I could ask a simple question such as “How old are you?” you stated. To me it may not be philosophical. However, the person I asked may see it as such. Their answer to my simple question forces it to become philosophical. If their answer was philosophical, I would be forced to really think about it (thereby helping the cause) rather than simply hearing them state a number. Does that make sense? Or is it completely off?

@kess I agree with you. This is why I didn’t quite understand @rooeytoo‘s comment about the questions having no application or usefulness in the real world. Unless, perhaps, if one truly believes that…then philosophical questions really would have no use for them in their perception of the real world.

@Blondesjon I was wondering if it was philosophical myself ..and thank you.

@submariner I agree with you. I believe ideas (plus action) are some of the most important factors in shaping the intellectual, and cognizant, progress of humanity.

@Paradox25 I understand and agree. Philosophical question are extremely diverse. They can change from culture to culture…religion to religion ..and so on. Would you group mythology in with theology and religion? I ask because mythology is full of stories that describe the perceptions, and ideologies, of the world around us by many different cultures/societies throughout history. It is possible that many of the religious stories we know today may be placed under the wing of mythology in the distant future.

I am tired but wanted to reply to everyone individually, so I am hoping my responses were coherent enough.

Paradox25's avatar

@Plucky Would you group mythology in with theology and religion? No, not by themselves alone but I think the potential to generate myths are there with those two subjects. As a paranormal and afterlife enthusiast (I’m likely the only one on fluther) I believe that many religions developed many myths to try to describe (in my opinion) real natural phenomena that most of us even today don’t understand. I generally try to stay away from religion but I have an interest in theology to a small degree.

SavoirFaire's avatar

I would like to offer what might appear at first to be a quite radical thesis:

There are no philosophical questions.

This might seem like an odd thing for someone who is himself a philosopher to say, but I would also add this immediate qualification:

There are only questions, some of which may be answered philosophically.

Strictly speaking, then, I want to say that no question is philosophical, scientific, or anything else. What happens is that we ask a question, try different ways of answering it, and find that some methods seem more applicable to the question than others. This results in an association between a question and a discipline, leading to a convention of referring to that question as “philosophical” or “scientific” or whatever other labels might come up. Thus disagreement may arise whenever someone rejects, challenges, or for some other reason fails to recognize the conventional association.

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