Why is it that there are no concrete answers? Nothing seems to be answered and that is so annoying. You know math would be a total contradiction to you philosophers. They give you answers. They say that's the answer. We should never be wrong if there are no answers, right?
and Jacob asked:
I have often wondered if the questions in philosophy are even answerable. Would you agree with me if I said that the only way to solve some areas of philosophy is in the absence of a physical reality?
To start with Jacob: if you wonder about the "answerability" of questions in philosophy, you're a true philosopher! To ask whether a question is answerable is to take a step up from the ordinary in thinking. Philosophical questions are ordinary questions pursued with more than ordinary stamina and with an eye toward their possible "togetherness" (so that at least they are all consistent with, if not also supportive of, each other). Everyone knows how to use words like "knowledge," "existence," and "value," but philosophers want to understand by those words something that not only resonates with their experience of knowing, existing, and valuing, but is also consistent with what they understand by the other two words.
But Jacob is onto something. One feature common to all philosophical questions is that they're still asked and their proposed answers are vigorously debated. That's not all there is to a philosophical question, of course: nonphilosophical questions like "What is the greatest movie ever made?" may also be debated until the end of time. It is true, however, that if we found a question about which no one disagreed as to its answer, it would probably not be a philosophical question. For example, I can't imagine someone in a campus bookstore in the year, say, 2050, flipping through an introductory philosophy textbook and exclaiming, "Hey! Where's the section on the existence of God?," and hearing his fellow customer reply, "Where've you been? They stopped debating that twenty years ago!"
As long as an unrestricted desire to know animates our minds, we will ask philosophical questions, i.e., questions about what really exists, about what we know, about what's worthwhile about existing and knowing, and about how we ought to act when we have answers to those questions. Depending on an individual's interest and conditions, he or she will pursue answers to them to the bitter end, and will lock philosophical horns with other questors after truth. We can no more responsibly evade them than we can jump out of our skins. Any attempt to artificially suppress them will backfire on the would-be suppressor. Disagreement over answers doesn't devalue the questions. What might make for some progress in philosophy is not "the absence of a physical reality" (I'm not sure what Jacob was getting at there), but a method for settling the very "decidability" of questions, if not the answers themselves. Perhaps we could then avoid a lot of what looks like "spinning wheels."
Kristina admires the "concrete answers" that mathematicians give, by which I presume she means definite answers. Ideally, a question should have one definite answer that unambiguously rules out all competitors! This is not true in philosophy, Kristina notes, and she finds that "annoying." But since she took the time to express her annoyance which is more than most people would do with a little help it may tip over into philosophical wonder.
We may purchase a great deal of definiteness if we are willing to tolerate a corresponding amount of abstraction. When one goes about proving a mathematical theorem, for example, there's no messing around with particularity "concreteness" as Kristina would say as there is in, say, social studies. In math, as in logic, we abstract from time and place: just tell me what the terms mean and what rules govern their relations, and the rest will be a matter of how intelligently I can (or in my case, probably cannot) do the relating. Two plus two is four, be they apples or oranges.
When we ask a philosophical question, however, we usually have to grapple with several questions and keep all of our provisional answers before us so we don't unintentionally contradict ourselves. There's a complication built into the task. Let's take an example is not mathematical but bears on mathematics: "Are numbers real?" Immediately two other questions surface: "What is a number?" and "What does it mean to be real?"
When we hear the word "numbers," we may first think of the numerals we learned to draw when we were children, i.e., Arabic numerals. But we also know that the Romans used a different system of numerals to express the same numbers. The number "one" is that to which the Arabic "1" and the Roman "I" refer. So the question "Are numbers real?" cannot be settled by looking at an advertisement and noting all the instances of Arabic numerals.
As for "What does it mean to be real?," we may, again at first, think of bodies, that is, things that have some palpability, things we can perceive in the broad daylight when we're not dreaming, things that move about in certain ways and interact with each other with some regularity. We contrast the real with the illusory. We also regard as real bodies that we cannot directly perceive but to which we infer a causal connection to the things we can directly perceive, e.g., distant galaxies and atomic particles.
It is necessarily true that A = A, regardless of what "A" stands for. If that equation holds not only for thinking, however, but also for the bodies we unhesitatingly take to be real, then the self-identity that the equation expresses is as real as bodies. It seems perverse to deny that the laws of logic are real just because they are not bodies. It also seems incoherent to suggest that perhaps a particular horse may or may not be that horse, just because logically A is A. Mathematical theorems might be real in the way that logical laws are. Perhaps that would be reason enough to affirm that numbers are real. We might even argue for this generalization: the real is what is affirmed in any true judgment, regardless of whether its subject matter is physical, mental, mathematical, grammatical, logical, or divine.
I would ask Kristina to consider this before rejecting philosophers as merely annoying: If we cannot responsibly suppress the question, "Are numbers real?" (a question that no mathematician may be interested in asking or answering, although a philosopher might), if "Who cares what's real!?" is merely a bad attitude masquerading as a question, then there's no avoiding the hard thinking needed to answer that and a great number of other questions that our minds spontaneously ask when we're reflective.
I am not of the opinion that philosophical questions have no answers, concrete or not. Read any philosophical work (as opposed to a textbook), and you will see that the author usually offers answers to every question s/he raises. Indeed, the problem seems to be that there are too many answers, rather than none. What is lacking is a clinching argument that will convince all other philosophers that this particular answer is correct.
This takes care of Kristina's assertion that 'we should never be wrong'. There are, in the history of philosophy, many wrong answers. We don't see much of them any more, because, well... they're wrong! Somebody has come up with the convincing counter-argument. It is somewhat easier to disprove an argument than to prove one. The surviving competing answers survive because they seem to have both powerful arguments for them, and strong but not conclusive counter-arguments. Their supporters believe that a more subtle version will be able to overcome the objections.
In any case, I don't understand the demand that all questions should have simple, knockdown answers. Why should we believe that life, the universe and everything is that way? Maybe some things in the universe are just complex. Maybe, if the universe were simple enough for us to understand, it would be too simple for us to come into being. As a school teacher myself, I often wonder if schools are guilty of teaching students to believe that answers are simple, known things, so that later exposure to philosophy and the real complexity of things comes as a great surprise and many try to retreat to simple certainties.
As for the contention that maths would be a total contradiction to philosophers, this ignores the fact that many great philosophers were mathematicians (and vice versa), from Pythagoras through Descartes, Leibnitz, Pascal, La Place, Frege, Russell and Godel onwards. I am sure that many cutting edge mathematicians would be surprised to learn that mathematicians just give you answers, too. Research maths is not like that, and many philosophical questions have to be addressed, and philosophical assumptions made, in solving these problems.
So, maybe there are some philosophical problems that will never be answered maybe we just aren't smart enough, or maybe the universe isn't totally understandable. Maybe a few millennia more work will do the trick. Maybe, as Jacob suggests, some are only answerable in the absence of a physical reality though that answer itself seems to me to raise other, even more intractable, problems.
It's fun trying to answer them, though.
What is an "answer"? Why do you want "answers"? Do you want to be told what to do, in detail, in every possible situation, and not have to think about anything? Do you want to be told the "meaning of life"? Why?
Here's a non-mathematical answer: no, you can't walk through walls. Another: no, you cannot move objects by merely thinking about moving them. Another: yes, there will be problems you cannot solve.
Does math give answers? What kind? What do mathematical answers depend on? Is mathematics always the best way of asking and answering questions?
Do you want answers to questions like, "should I shoot up heroin"? That's an easy one, and non-mathematical. How about, "should I put on clothes when I go out?" Another easy one, most of the time. "Should I learn to drive a car?" Pretty easy, I'd say. "Is it better to be healthy than sick?" A no-brainer, right?
So, what are you looking for? Whatkind of question is upsetting you, and more importantly, why, exactly? There are certainly questions for which we have no answers, and indeed questions that we don't even really know how to ask properly (example: "what is mind?"). Isn't that nice? I think it's really exciting that there are unanswered questions. Perhaps one of the best questions is why one should be upset about this situation.
Steven Ravett Brown
Kristina: you could still be wrong if there are no answers, but not 'wrong' in the maths sense. Rather, just because you can't see what I am pointing at across the bay doesn't mean I can't see it (I am wrong), but that you are short of sight and need to train your eyes. Just because you can't hear the sounds from the other room doesn't mean there is not another room (I am wrong) but you are deaf. In philosophy we to try to 'see' or 'hear', as it were, what the world gives us to see and hear. And by 'the world' I do not mean the world you watch on World News or The World About Us on TV, but language, which is the question of the world as it is the affirmation of itself.
Jacob: if the questions of philosophy were answerable they would not be properly philosophical. Scientific questions are either answerable or are non-questions in the sense of being of no concern. Philosophical questions are not in search of a solution, but of the truth. Truth, in the philosophical sense, does not mean the same as 'valid'. Truth is not an answer that puts an end to the question, but is a human disposition in the world responsible for reason and justice, that is, for one's fellow person, who is the face of the world. As Heidegger said, philosophy is always already in the truth, just as we are always already in the world. Philosophy presupposes the truth, as it must, in its questioning, which seeks to be more and more open to the truth, or to open truth more and more.
Matthew Del Nevo