Wednesday, 1 February 2012

What is a Philosophical Question?

Another fascinating lecture in the Knowledge, Wisdom and the University series organised by our colleagues in the School of Philosophy. Tonight's speaker was Professor Luciano Floridi who posed the never ending question about what constitutes a philosophical question, in doing so he tipped, if didn't quite knock over, a few sacred academic cows.

Again I was struck by how important it is for philosophers to open questions, avoiding the simplification that empirical or mathematical analysis might bring. Lucinao was quick to point out that most research funding - across all disciplines - is given on the premise that the results of the research might be expressed in these finite ways. This, he provocatively suggests, closes down enquiry and runs counter to the purpose of philosophy.

I have to admit that occasionally the ideas flew past me, but I did enjoy the way in which he repositioned, or perhaps even reclaimed, the role of philosophy in the academy as being a form of conceptual design, creating new ways or sets of questions through which we might continue to explore the world, rather than being for the pursuit of absolute truth. Other disciplines might go pearl diving for nuggets of evidence. Philosophy asks how we should pearl dive.

So a question like 'Does God exist?' is both fascinating and meaningless. Unless you are rash or possessed it's almost impossible to say Yes or No with much conviction. The only thing we can definitively say, perhaps, is that there is a question over whether God exists.

All this makes philosophy less a fixed discipline in its own right and more a tunnel through which questions travel en route to finding a discipline in which they can be housed and anlaysed. For example some problems which, historically used to be considered philosophical, have been discussed with an evolving sense of sophistication and understanding and, after many generations of thought are now better placed in the sciences: psychology has much to say on why we are attracted to certain features in the opposite sex and physics can, with increasing intelligence, offer an explanation of how the universe was created. In turn a fresh set of non-absolute questions enter the tunnel and the philosophers, through their love of rational disagreement, begin their job of opening them up.


No comments: