It is sometimes sufficient to simply frame questions and not rush to “answer” them.
With practice, over time, one comes to accept the fact that there is no reason why every question should have an absolute answer. We may wish it to be so, but that doesn’t mean it is the case. These questions of ours say something about the way we think. Our deep desire for answers says something else about us, our craving for certainty, our need to believe.
Over the millennia of our time on Earth, a set of questions have been generated that are often referred to as “philosophical” in nature. It does us some good, I think, to simply ask them – as we have been doing for thousands of years. It is not so clear to me that our attempts to answer them have brought us more pleasure than pain, more success than failure, or more good than bad results.
I’ll use an Aristotelian framework here to supply and briefly describe a list of some of the most basic philosophical questions humans have asked since we began to think as humans do.
1: What is the nature of the self?
2: What is the nature of the universe?
3: What is the nature of consciousness?
4: Can we achieve personal understanding of the ultimate philosophical questions?
a. The ontological question: What is real?
b. The epistemological question: How can we know what is real?
c. The ethical question: What is good?
d. The aesthetic question: What is beautiful?
e. The political question: How should we organize ourselves?7: What is the nature and purpose of life?
8: What is the significance and meaning of death?
The ontological question: What is real?
Ontology concerns the true nature of what is real. The question, “What is real?” is the ontological question. In some ways, it is the only question. Seeking an answer, however, can include other questions: Who is asking the question? What is the nature of the questioner? In what context does the question arise? What relationships exist between the questioner and the thing in question?
The epistemological question: How can we know what is real?
Epistemology is concerned with knowledge. How do we gain knowledge? What is true knowledge? What is false knowledge? How knowledge is achieved is related to what is real. The epistemological question is directly related to the ontological question.
The ethical question: What is good?
Ethics involves what is right, good, and proper. Therefore ethics is also concerned with what is wrong, bad, and improper. Ethical discussions follow naturally from the manner in which the first two philosophical questions are dealt with. What is good and bad depends on what is. Knowing what is good or bad depends on how knowledge is achieved.
The aesthetic question: What is beautiful?
Aesthetics defines the beautiful. The beautiful is intimately involved with the good, and what is good depends upon what is true. As such aesthetics is interconnected with ontology, epistemology, and ethics.
The political question: How should we organize ourselves?
Politics involves putting the truths revealed by solutions of the first four questions into action in organizing human society. How political action is defined is dependent upon how one answers the questions of what is real, true, good, and beautiful.
There is no reason why we need to consult “experts” to answer these questions for us. Answers come with agendas attached to them. They are a form of influence and manipulation. They have more to do with the power of systems of belief than with free philosophical pursuit. In the ideal republic, we are all philosophers.
Image: “New World 2011a”
by Tullio DeSantis, painted globe, ink drawing, and digital images, 2011