As in the title: What is the most basic question you can ask? So answers to it solve the most problem at once. Isn't it the question:
How do we improve the process of understanding?

  • 3
    Why? ............. :)
    – Bumble
    Nov 9, 2015 at 18:20
  • Let's say you there were such a question. How would you know about it? You would have to ask your question, meaning that the question we supposed existed would have some question more basic than it. The part "How do we improve the process of understanding" is way too broad. Nov 9, 2015 at 22:34

5 Answers 5


A kantian answer (as he was the first to make this question explicit in his letter to Marcus Herz from February 21th,1772, Ak 10:129-35) to that question is:

What is the reason for the reference of perceptions to their objects?

His answer is named "Critique of Pure Reason" and is quite a bold book. It includes all kinds of ontological and epistemological questions, anthropology (implicitely) included, and therefore is in this sense more "general" than a question that merely asks for what is existing (object) or what "I" am (subject). It also includes practical philosophy, as there are perceptions of actions, therefore it would be more adequate to state that all Kant wrote after 1781 (the moment he finished a first sketch of an answer with before mentioned book, as he stated in a letter to Christian Garve from August 7th, 1783, Ak. 10:336-43) is part of the answer to that question.
Interesting enough, this question is the starting point of the philosophy of Hegel, Husserl (Phenomenology), the old realism/idealism debate, pragmatism, and the Philosophy of Mind.

Another question after Helmuth Plessner, and starting point of Philosophy of Life/Philosophical Anthopology, would be:

What is life?

If we take a concept of behaviour as a very broad concept like he did, this question includes perhaps even more than the kantian question, as it directly includes social aspects, culture and so on. You have to differentiate all layers of nature: dead objects, plants, animals and humans and their specifics.


The question so basic it "solves the most problems at once" is like the map with a perfectly accurate 1:1 scale. It solves no particular problems at all, echoing Wittgenstein's idea that philosophy, in answering its own questions, must "leave the world as it found it."

That said, my own candidate would be the question: "What am I?" The reason is that it entails both ontology and epistemology, and contains an outwardly spiraling dialectic of "subject" and "object," self and world. In the manner of Hegel, it already describes consciousness as "self-consciousness." It reiterates the ancient imperative to "Know thyself," as well as the modern derivation of "Cogito ergo sum."

It asks the very Heideggerian question: What is it that asks questions? I don't see how a question answering your question could get better than that. At least not in a neat three-word trinity, the minimal possible fully specified question. So I will be so bold as to claim it is the "best" answer to your question, or at least has the best pedigree.


The most abstract and theoretical question that can be asked is that of existence. What IS existence? Everything stems off from existence.

The problem here is that very fundamental questions may have no answers for the simple fact that they are so fundamental that they are the foundation upon which all our answers are built.


What language do you want to phrase the most basic question in?

No, really. That's the question where I'd start. I think the definition of the most basic question will actually vary from individual to individual. Not all of knowledge fits nicely into tree like structures with one fundamental question at the bottom. If you do try to construct such a question, it tends to be less than perfectly objective, indeed often personal.


Your question leaves open a wide range of interpretation. But if you ask for a fundamental philosophical question, many would take into account Leibniz' question:

Why is there something rather than nothing?

But this question is totally open. Some would even argue that the question is meaningless because one cannot compare the two alternatives on a common ground. Hence one cannot speculate whether the question has a correct answer and what we could learn from that answer.

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