Beth asked:

I can’t think of any philosophical questions. Is there something wrong with me?

Answer by Shaun Williamson

There may be many things wrong with you but since I don’t know you I can’t say what they are.

If you want to know about some philosophical questions then read a book about philosophical questions. Try Bertrand Russells History of Western Philosophy.


Answer by Geoffrey Klempner

In Bertrand Russell by A.J. Ayer (1972) there is the following interesting comment about the divergence in the views of Russell and Wittgenstein after the publication of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus:

"Wittgenstein coupled Russell with H.G. Wells as men who had run out of problems, and Russell, though he retained great affection for Wittgenstein, could see little merit in his later work." (p.16)

Obviously, if you have never been gripped by a philosophical question, you are missing out on something. As a philosopher, I would have to say that, wouldn’t I? But what does it mean to ‘run out of problems’? Is it possible that your thinking could take you to a place — as Wittgenstein thought it had done with Russell — that you were no longer able to believe that there are any philosophical questions to answer?

This is an occupational hazard for philosophers who search for, and think they have found, the Big Theory. Russell’s ‘Big Theory’ was logical atomism. The theory furnished him with an epistemology, a metaphysics, a complete methodology for philosophical analysis, in short, a way of breaking down and resolving any philosophical problem. Ergo, there were no real problems left.

This view is ironic, given that Russell, more than most philosophers who had attained his level of prominence, was not afraid of changing his mind about answers he had previously given. (He makes a remark about this somewhere.) True, he didn’t see what the later Wittgenstein was getting at in his ‘philosophical therapy’ but this is a common issue with philosophers. ‘You do not appreciate the problems I am working on’ does not equate to ‘You have lost the ability to appreciate philosophical problems.’

This is of special interest to me because, like Russell, I have, or had, a ‘Big Theory’. The difference is that while logical atomism had an answer to practically everything, my theory of subjective and objective worlds merely redescribes the problems of philosophy, leaving things largely as they were before — apart from ‘one big thing’ which is all I really know. In terms of Isaiah Berlin’s classification, I am a hedgehog rather than a fox.

I see lots of philosophical questions. I fear that some of these questions, those which are the most fundamental, have no answer even in principle. They are conundrums. Wouldn’t it be better if one could just let these go? What is the point of continuing to ponder questions which have no answer? The only reply I can give to that question is simply that this is what I have to do.