Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Question And Answer Logic

I need to try and remember to use Collingwood's notion of question and logic answer more deliberately. At some point in An Autobiography, or somewhere, Collingwood says something about how the most difficult problems become much easier to deal with if we are capable of asking ourselves intelligent questions about them. I wrote a post on question and answer logic both as methodological and epistemological. As an epistemological claim, it is more intense, a stronger claim that is more difficult, and will deserve closer attention.

The basic idea is that every answer has to have a corresponding question. There is no possible way to give an answer unless there is a question being asked. Even if the question is not posed explicitly, it is still the thing leading to an answer. Philosophers, for example, do not always state their questions clear. Collingwood insists, however, that "In order to find out his meaning you must also know what the question was (a question in his own mind, and presumed by him to be in yours) which the thing he ha said or written was meant as an answer" (Autobiography, 31). For Collingwood question and answer are "strictly correlative" (32). Moreover, Collingwood asserts that the question has a strong epistemological element: "No two propositions, i saw, can contradict one another unless they are answers to the same question. It is therefore impossible to say of a man, 'I do not know what the question is which he is trying to answer, but I can see that he is contradicting himself'" (33).

Interesting stuff. As you can see, question and answer is both methodological, for our own work, and epistemological, for how we understand other people's work.

The task of discovering a writers question, furthermore, is strictly a historical question: "Now, the question 'To what question did So-and-so intend this proposition for an answer?'is an historical question, and therefore cannot be settled except by historical methods." And since the original writer often doesn't state the question, especially with old philosophy, we need to think historically to uncover his questions: "So the question asked by the original writer can only be reconstructed historically, often not without the exercise of considerable historical skill" (39). Question and answer logic is effectively a bridge between philosophical method, historical method, and historical and philosophical epistemological. It is a sort of historico-philosophical methodological-epistemological tool.

I need to keep it in mind at all time. Always ask myself about the questions my authors are writing, and about the questions I am trying to write about. It will undoubtedly ease the movement my inquiries.

But I should try and remember to use this notion of question and answer logic more in my own thinking. Hone in on the question that I am asking. Because clarifying the questions will definitely help me produce clearer answers.

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