I've heard something disturbing from my friend. He said he's grateful to his father because his father taught him to question everything that was around us.

Why is this so important?

  • 1
    He's grateful for that. But how did you draw a conclusion that questioning everything is important for everyone? However, what is really important is always to be ready to hear a reason that you are wrong.
    – rus9384
    Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 20:57
  • I made an edit. You roll this back or continue editing. You can see the versions by clicking on the "edited" link above. Welcome to this SE! Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 21:53
  • 2
    Descartes believed that to sort out true from false one needs to subject everything to doubt, and the thesis spread through much of philosophy and later became a common platitude, see Cartesian doubt. Nonetheless, it is controversial, e.g. Peirce dismissed it as a false pretense, "prejudices are not to be dispelled by a maxim, for they are things which it does not occur to us can be questioned", see How far can/should one press philosophical doubt?
    – Conifold
    Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 22:23
  • To say you ought to question everything doesn't mean (and it would be crazy to suggest) that you should question everything. It's a recommendation of a prudent disposition to have. I.e., you shouldn't accept what others say about important things without considering alternatives and being convinced of the correctness of what the others say. That's what "question everything" really means - to me at any rate.
    – Roddus
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 1:42
  • 1
    It's important because we are fed nonsense from the the time we go to school to the time we depart this mortal coil; If we do not question it we'll end up swallowing it. Why do you think it's important to ask?
    – user20253
    Commented Sep 19, 2018 at 12:10

4 Answers 4


Asking questions is a good way to improve beliefs. If you don't ask questions, you are likely to stick to whatever beliefs you already have, right or wrong. But if you ask questions, you open yourself up to potentially better beliefs. Socrates is said to have said: "All knowledge starts with doubt"

Worse yet, if you don't ask questions, you may go along with whatever other people are telling you ... and they may well take advantage of you.

Also, note that in science we keep on testing our hypotheses and theories ... that's the same as asking the question: "Is this theory really correct?". And again, through this scientific method of testing, testing, and testing, science comes to better and better theories.

This example of questioning-as-testing also shows that questioning things is not the same as rejecting things: a car-inspector is critical of the state of your car (again, ask the question: is the car ok?), but in the end may well say: "the car is ok!". And just as you recognize the importance of car inspections, so you should recognize the importance of belief inspections.

Finally, we (well, philosophers) don't ask questions for asking-questions sake. Asking questions does not have the purpose of being annoying or contrary, but has the purpose of seeking truth: if we didn't think there was a truth out there, we wouldn't be asking questions. Only the person who believes that any belief is just as good as any other sees no value in asking questions.

  • "A Socrates..." But Socrates are plural, no article (joking, haha).
    – rus9384
    Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 21:10
  • There probably were multiple Socrates :)
    – Bram28
    Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 22:10

The search from truth is considered mandatory not just from a philosophical or scientific point of view but for the evolution of the individual and the collective. Whether the truth is always pleasant of whether everybody is ready to accept truth is another debate. It's up to the individual to seek for it but unless you are very happy living in "a matrix of delusion" there is no other way to grow than by the truth.

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvellous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity" Albert Einstein

“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.”

“Doubt is the origin of wisdom” ― René Descartes


This is a fun question to ask, because it suggests that whatever answers are given shall be questioned.

I find that experience has borne out the reality that, if one has false illusions about what reality is, one acts in a way which one would not, if one only knew the truth. Sometimes this effect can be so pronounced as to cause one to do the opposite of what one would do. Consider the police officer who believes that an individual is a suspect who has a gun drawn. Later we find that, in reality, it was an innocent young boy with a water pistol. Surely that officer would not have taken the shot on the young boy, but from his illusion that this individual was dangerous, he decided to fire.

Indeed, the great debate about our police today is how often those illusions are warranted (due to time or lack of information), and when they are lacking.

Nietzsche said to this end (translated, of course):

Truths are illusions that we have forgotten were illusions.

Of course, the flip side of the coin is important. One must retain the ability to act in support of something you believe. If you question everything to the point of being unable to do anything, then questioning, itself, must be questioned.


Imagine the dogged pursuit of a proper clock-maker, day after day bound up in design and measurement and function and orderly thinking, forcing exactitude on little bits of metal that never asked for it.

And then finally getting it right–so many decisions and matters of design suddenly set the clock off ticking forever.

Get inside the mind of a clock-maker—one who still experiments with matters of design, improving their craft with minor revisions of planning and execution—and suddenly you’re seeing from ground zero how things come to be, first in a humble glow, then a blinding white starlight that bleaches everything.

There’s a lesson here.

Questioning is the art of learning. Learning to ask important questions is the best evidence of understanding there is, far surpassing the temporary endorphins of a correct “answer.”

So what makes a question bad?

Well, that depends on what you think a question should “do.

Produce a nice and tidy answer?

Cause a student to reconsider a position?

Force someone to go back and look more closely at how they know what they know? Assess understanding?

All make sense, and a good question can do all of that. But a bad question? They halt, freeze, deflate, and derail thinking. Simply put, bad questions are confusing questions.

That’s not to say that good questions shouldn’t be challenging, and that students might not hit a spot where they feel confused. They might. But a challenged learner and a confused learner are not the same. It’s not all about “rigor” either. Bad questions can be rigorous—force learners to think on higher-level planes—synthesis, evaluation, close analysis—and still be bad.

A bad question can be judged so because it gets at the wrong content, is full of unnecessary jargon, or is syntactically corrupt. But more than anything else, the most telling hallmark of a bad question is that it encourages learners to guess what the teacher’s thinking. To try to get into the mind of the question-maker.

This, mind you, is decidedly different than understanding the mind of a clock-maker. A clock’s design inspires design thinking. What that clockmaker was thinking matters.

But a question maker is not a clock-maker–different, at best only a mediator between the student and content. Their intent can be noble, well-researched, and justified, but the maker cannot—or should not–linger like a good question. There is the troubling matter of timing. Ask even the right question at the wrong time, and rather than front-loading, priming, scaffolding, or causing curiosity, students end up bewildered, their thinking scattershot, internalizing all the wrong things—social expectation, tempting recall, your relationship with them, or their own anxiety with the content. Rarely, though, do they sit with the content and its context and metacognition, but rather the bloody question and the false promise of a correct response.

The Abstraction of the Question The right question at the right time can make a learning experience, because more than anything read, drawn, or even written, a question is acute and properly troubling. It creates a needle-point of light even as it suggests darkness. Even if it’s multi-part and inclusive, it’s somehow singular.

It jabs and fingers at a learner’s mind then burrow in like a drill.

A bad question is sloppy—it doesn’t burrow anywhere, but bangs around and makes a troubling noise. It forces the learner to come to the question and frown and decode. Decoding can be cognitively demanding and thus helpful, but not if it mars the student’s thinking.

A precise, well-timed question keeps the learner in the content, in their own mind, in the mind of model thinking—in the mind of the clock-maker and not the question-maker.

A bad question also creates the illusion of an end-point to thinking—of the student has arrived at some place where they understand the mind of the clock-maker. And when that happens, everything just kind of dissolves, and they sit passively and wait for another question, thinking they’ve won. This, of course, is a tragedy. The mind must never exhale, but grapple! Wrestle with a text, a concept, or a question until they’ve found a new question is better suited to the task. Taking a piece of literature, an engineering problem, or an ethical issue and reducing it to a series of question is a dangerous kind of reductionism.

Questions are links to other questions, and that’s it. Little fragments of curiosity that get at the marrow of important issues that resonate and thrum and linger. Statements of opinion, answers, and other lies are fine, provided they move aside to let the questions through. When you ask questions—on exams, in person, in your next Socratic discussion—insist on good questions. Great questions. Model their development. Revise their wording. Toy with their tone.

Simplify their syntax or implications over and over again until the confusion has been bleached and there’s only thinking left. Until the question asks exactly what it should, and nothing more. Lock the students out of your head—and away from guess-what-the-teacher’s-thinking, proficiency, false confidence, and overly-simple labels of “understanding.”

Instead, encourage them inside the mind of the clock-maker. Let them huddle, and sit in awkward silence. Let them think you’re a little bit crazy. And then watch for the questions. Watch for the glow. ref.-


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