Are Philosophical Questions Different from other kinds of Questions?

Philosophy, is the search for wisdom. The word itself comes from the Greek words ‘philos’ or ‘search for’ and ‘sophia’ or wisdom.  The purpose or function of philosophy is to ask and answer fundamental questions.

Philosophy uses a rational or intellectual method to answer fundamental questions called logic or “the reasoning process.” Therefore, the first course in philosophy is a course in logic.

Philosophy differs from science, which is the discovery of facts through the search for observable or empirical phenomena. Many scientific discoveries began as philosophical questions. Why does the apple fall down instead of up? Why do some people have blue eyes while others have brown eyes?

Philosophy has no specific content, so philosophical questions can be asked about anything and everything.  Every academic discipline has its own philosophy such as: Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Art, Philosophy of Religion or Philosophy of Education.

Philosophical questions can be asked about human nature, the origins of the universe, the existence and nature of God or the existence of the soul. Children ask the most surprising philosophical questions:

“How do you know someone is really your friend?

What’s the difference between telling a lie and keeping a secret?

When did you start to think?”

“Why is the grass green?”

Most universities will have a department of philosophy. As an academic discipline, philosophy offers a number of basic courses such as:  Logic (the reasoning process), Epistemology (the nature and scope of knowledge), Ethics or moral philosophy (differentiating right from wrong), Medical Ethics (differentiating right from wrong in healing professions), Metaphysics (cosmology and being) and History of Philosophy (historical development of philosophy both eastern and western) which may be divided by historical periods.  Each of these areas has its own set of questions that can be asked and explored. In each case, the logical thought process by which the answer is derived is critically important.

Questions can be asked about beliefs, both religious and secular, and questions can be asked of facts. Are what we believe about facts true or false? Asking questions about right and wrong (not good and evil) are philosophical.

So, what is a philosophical question?

In one course outline, for example, the professor describes what he considers to be characteristics of philosophical questions:

1) a conceptual rather than a practical activity;

2) use of reason and argumentation to establish a point;

3) explanation of the puzzling features of things;

4) digging beyond the obvious; and

5) the search for principles which underlie phenomena.”

Examples of philosophical questions that can be asked about Christianity, are placed in specific categories:

How can humans have free-will and God be sovereign all at the same time? (Philosophy of Religion)

Is science compatible with religious belief (such as Christianity)? (Philosophy of Science)

Does God exist? (Metaphysics + Philosophy of Religion).

How can we know that God exists? (Epistemology + Natural Theology + Philosophy of Religion).”

Because it is essential that logic and reasoning are part of their formation to priesthood, Catholic priests are required to take courses in philosophy before they study theology. In this way, they study the Word of God in a reasoned rather than in an emotional way. Since God is logical, trying to understand His reasoning process is essential to studying scripture and theology.

A course outline based upon Bertrand Russell’s book, “The Value of Philosophy,” gives a good overview of just what philosophy is, how philosophy differs from science, and gives some examples of philosophical questions. The author is more concerned with what he calls “Fundamental Questions” rather than “Little Questions.”  He says that most philosophical questions begin with either “what” or “why” and cannot be answered empirically.

Philosophical questions, therefore, are questions that cannot be answered by facts. They are answered, if they can be answered at all, only through logical reasoning. The reasoning process is critically important in evaluating the final answer, since the answer will often yield more questions.