Philosophers as Discoverers of the Unknown (Questions for World Philosophy Day)

“I didn’t even know that was a question I could ask.”

That remark from a student in an introductory philosophy course of mine points to the primary body of knowledge philosophy produces: a detailed record of what we do not know.

Julie Mehretu, “Entropia”

When we come to view a philosophical question as well-formed and worthwhile, it is a way of providing as specific a description as we can of something we do not know.

The creation or discovery of such questions is like noting a landmark in a territory we’re exploring.

When we identify reasonable, if conflicting, answers to this question, we are noting routes to and away from that landmark. And since proposed answers to philosophical questions often contain implied answers to other philosophical questions, those routes connect different landmarks.

The result is a kind of map: a map of the unknown.

Sometimes philosophers create or discover new questions and sets of possible answers to them, and the map grows. Sometimes we are able to answer questions on the map, or determine a method by which a definitive answer to a version of a question could be acquired (in the way that certain versions of philosophical questions have over time become questions for scientists), and the map loses some territory. The map of the unknown, like the world’s other maps, changes over time.

Today is World Philosophy Day. In celebration of it, let me ask my fellow philosophers to share a bit of this map with the world by telling us a philosophical question you like to think about, or teach, or are working on, or consider to be important.

(As we know, once we begin asking philosophical questions it is hard to stop, but I ask commenters to limit themselves to just one question, and if you really need to, one closely related follow-up.)

Happy World Philosophy Day, everyone!

Related: “The Intellectual Achievement of Creating Questions“, “Teaching Philosophy as the Search for Complication“, “Intuitive Bedrock and the Philosophical Enterprise“, “Whether Philosophical Questions Can Be Answered

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