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All of the ideas are mine, I don't know a lot about philosophy's terms, I'll be clear and I'll speak in human's terms.

Imagine someday everything is normal, kids going to schools, doctors going to hospitals, and philosophers going to their bedrooms - just kidding. Suddenly, a magical box appears in the sky and every single human on the globe sees it. It's the box of answers!

Basically the box contains the answers to all existing questions. To make sure it's real, a sound comes from nowhere saying it's a box from the heavens.

Someone asks: "What is Reality?" The box lands and opens in a magical way; the man who asked the question puts his hand in the box and gets a random paper which says "Reality is ...".

Since answers exist and all humans witnessed the landing of the box and the sound, will philosophy be useless? Philosophy searches for answers but since there is an answer for each question, will philosophy be useful in another way?

But there was a problem. After 26 days a man came to the box and said:
"I really want to know the answer to these 2 questions":

  • What is God?
  • What is the Soul?

And for the first time the box gave an unclear answer:

  • "You are not authorized to know what is God."
  • "You are not authorized to know what is the Soul."

Many people accepted these answers and thought they may be clearer than thought. A few people started asking and giving theories about the 2 questions. Some gave their definition of what is God and some gave their perspective of what is the Soul.

Since the box is always true implies that the few people who gave their ideas are always false.

I tried to make my ideas like a story to be more clear. The main question is:
since there is an answer for each question will philosophy be useless?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jun 25 at 8:35
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    Is the box of answers StackExchange?
    – Caius Jard
    Jun 25 at 8:43
  • Giving the box a few additional miraculous capabilities might make this question a bit harder to dismiss on technicalities. For example, maybe it answers questions by directly implanting knowledge in people's minds, thus avoiding the limitations of verbal communication (although, I guess that raises the question of how many actual truths a finite mind can hold). At the very least, you could give it the ability to magically eliminate any doubts about the correctness of its answers. Jun 25 at 20:41
  • 1
    Regarding "Since the box is always true implies that the few people who gave their ideas are always false.": I dunno if that would follow, unless the box said that humans were metaphysically-disabled from comprehension? In other words, when the box says that an asker isn't "authorized" to know an answer, does the box mean that it's not going to provide it, or do you mean that the box is stating that humans are fundamentally prohibited from understanding?
    – Nat
    Jun 26 at 3:41
  • Well, the question "is philosophy useless now" is rather philosophical itself.
    – Jason C
    Jun 26 at 6:05

12 Answers 12

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+50

Since it was more for less settled that metaphysical questions can't be settled and moral statements are not factual ("is-ought" problem), the job of modern philosophy is mostly to study the expression of ideas through language. I.e. "what is it you really mean when you use words like 'god', 'reality', 'state', 'free will'..."

Since your box of answers is expressing complex and very important ideas through language ("Reality is ..."), philosophy will actually be more necessary than ever in order to interpret those answers, or explain them if they are precise enough to not allow various interpretations (if those questions were answerable both concisely and unambiguously, we would have found the answer by ourselves).

Ironically, what became absolutely useless are natural sciences and humanities, since answers are all readily available.

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  • 5
    Glares in continental. But yeah, your right. The arival of a box of answers wouldn't be the end of philosophy, it'd be the start of a whole new chapter. I should also note that a couple of thousand years of philosophers thought they had that box of answers in the Bible. That didn't stop them doing a heck of a lot of philosophy.
    – Shayne
    Jun 24 at 6:37
  • 5
    Good point. Wether it's the Bible, the Quran, the Tao Te King or Elon Musk's Twitter account, there is no shortage of texts who are claimed to have the answer to everything, and they require scholars for interpretation.
    – armand
    Jun 24 at 10:24
  • 4
    The box will explain itself: Anytime you are uncertain about a term it uses, simply turn it back as a question how this term is to be interpreted. I'm dead certain that philosophers would provide their own interpretations anyways, but that's irrelevant to anyone who's actually interested in truth. Jun 24 at 12:42
  • 3
    The natural sciences are still limited by what we can envision, and what we can practically engineer. So I can imagine an exploratory form of the natural sciences arising, simply probing the box for different directions in which to take technology and engineering. Jun 24 at 15:25
  • 7
    "what became absolutely useless are natural sciences and humanities, since answers are all readily available". Not at all. If you ask the box "how do I build a nuclear reactor" the box will speak for two years non-stop. Not very useful. We do have most science written down, but you still need experts to understand it and use it. Jun 24 at 17:05
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Such a box cannot exist

To begin with a bit of a story. At the end of the 19th century the mathematician Frege was developing a theory which could be used as a basis of all of mathematics. This theory was based on the idea of a set. A set is a simple object that either contains or does not contain every object. In Frege's construction of set theory any proposition about objects such as "It is green" or "It is an even number" would have a set that contained exactly all the things that satisfied it. So you could have the set of all green things or the set of all even numbers. This is a very straight forward system.

However there is an issue. The philosopher Bertrand Russel put forth a proposition

It is a set that does not contain itself.

Since this is indeed a proposition, in Frege's theory there must be a set that contains exactly all sets that do not contain themselves. The problem then is

Does that set contain itself?

If the set does contain itself then it fails the proposition so it can't be in the set. But if it doesn't then it passes the proposition and must be in the set. It's a paradox, there can be no correct answer to this question (technically both answers are correct, but that's another thing).

This spelled doom for Frege's theory. As it turns out a theory of sets must either allow paradoxes like above or there must be valid propositions which do not have sets.

Later set theories take the latter route.


Now returning to the question at hand. Let's say we have a box which produces the correct answer to every question that has a correct answer.

We can produce a question modeled after Russel's proposition:

Does the box produce a negative answer to this question?

This question has a correct answer. Either the box does or doesn't produce a negative answer.

However the box cannot produce the correct answer. If it answers "No", then it is wrong because "No" is a negative answer. If it produces "Yes", then it is wrong because "Yes" is not a negative answer.

The only way for the box to not be incorrect is for it to provide no answer at all. And in this case the answer is then "No" because it didn't produce a negative answer.

Any box must reject some sorts of answerable questions, if it wishes to always produce correct answers. If it is fine with producing wrong answers then it can accept every question, no problem, but such a box is probably not very useful.

More generally any box that produces answers to our questions, must either sometimes produce the wrong answer, or sometimes produce no answer at all.

And this leaves space for philosophers. Philosophers can of course answer the question quite easily. If the box is consistent, meaning it always produces correct answers, then the answer to this question is "No, it can't." easily provided by philosophers. There are other questions too that the box can't answer but we can. That doesn't mean that humans are particularly special or anything. There are questions philosophy can never answer as well and the box might be able to cover those, but the fact that there are still questions the box can't resolve for us.


The box in real life

I think very interesting to this question is the fact that at one point in history there almost was "the box" ... sort of.

In the early 20th century there was some legitimate concern that mathematicians may find a universal algorithm which could solve any mathematical question. If found then it could be executed by a person with a little training, or later a computer, to solve any mathematical problem. Mathematicians would be obsolete! This would be "the box" for mathematics.

However using the same structure above (albeit complicated enough I won't get into the details) it was shown that any algorithm must either sometimes produce the wrong answer or fail to produce an answer at all. This is called the Entscheidungsproblem and it is exactly equivalent to a much more famous problem the Halting problem.

And this same structure has been used to show even deeper truths.
Gödel demonstrated, using the same sort of self reference as Russel, that any system of math that can express basic arithmetic either allows you to prove some false statements to be true or is unable to prove some true statements (Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems). This result is considered by many to be one of the crowning achievements of modern mathematics.

There are of course partial solutions. Boxes that can solve many mathematical problems, but mathematicians are still around and busier than ever. So I think the future for philosophers bodes well.


Isn't this some sort of contradiction?

So one criticism I have received in the comments is that the question, while it may appear to be easily answerable contains a subtle contradiction, and actually can't be answered.

And well this is exactly true. The question as provided is contradictory. And so this is going to get a little technical, and I apologize, but feel free to ask for clarifications.

Let's start by showing why this question is contradictory.

Does the box produce a negative answer to this question?

Now here "the box" is a box that produces the correct answer to every question with a correct answer, so we can rephrase this as:

Does a box that produces the correct answer to every question with a correct answer produce a negative answer to this question?

That's a mouthful so we can simplify this:

Is the correct answer to this question a negative answer?

And this is clearly contradictory. There is no correct answer. We might as well be asking "What is the last digit of pi?" or other nonsense.

So what is the point then. The point is that this serves as a "proof by contradiction". We are assuming as part of our framing that such a box does exist. If the box does exist then the question, does have an answer since we can observe the box and get the answer. However as we have just shown this question is unanswerable. This is the contradiction and so our framing must be incorrect. Such a box is impossible.

And this is the exact same in the case of the other problems I presented. Russel's proposition is a nonsense proposition when "set" is taken to mean "Frege set". And similarly the proof that the halting problem is incomputable involves constructing a contradictory machine based on a hypothetical solution to the problem.

The point is to take a premise which may seem fine and to tease out a contradiction where it is clear for all to see.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jun 26 at 20:24
  • 1
    While it is an interesting take on it, the whole concept of "Either the box does or doesn't produce a negative answer" appears to me superficially a "false dilemma" If you ask me "what's the last digit of pi", me or the box could just as well respond "MU", or "that question is not even wrong", or undefined.
    – GettnDer
    Jun 28 at 18:32
  • (concretely, what prevents this box from answering any given question the same way any/all philosopher/s would ? )
    – GettnDer
    Jun 28 at 18:54
  • @GettnDer I'm not sure what options there are to doing or not doing something. There are multiple ways to not produce a negative answer, it doesn't have to give a positive answer, or even give an answer at all. I'm not sure about the rest of what you are saying. "What is the last digit of pi?" is a question without an answer, so it doesn't matter how we or the box respond to it. But if the box exists, the posed question must have an answer, so it does matter the response. Jun 28 at 21:04
  • > "What is the last digit of pi?" is a question without an answer It is not a question without answer, the answer might be that the question is unanswerable or "not even wrong". If we step out of the binary of "positive" or "negative" answer, we unlock a lot of things, just like mathematicians responded to Russell by redefining sets, maybe the answer is not what you hoped it to be, but there's an answer.
    – GettnDer
    Jun 28 at 21:32
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The box with anwsers is already there (besides the Google answerbox where you can ask any question but I'm not sure if the answer given is always true...). It's the world around you. It,s one big box containing all boxes you can imagine. There is a box for everyone. For the philosophers, for the religious people, for the scientists, for the Hopi, etc. The one and only box is the one containing them all. This one will give you all the answers indeed. The problem is not the box but to find the questions to be asked. What if the box answers to all ontological or existential questions "ýes"? What if asked does god exist or does x exist the answer is always yes?

How would the box answer where it's made of and if someone created it? Or how can it know al the answers?. And what if someone asked then if it speaks the truth? Because it always answers the truth what must one think if it answers that it sometimes tells us the wrong answer? It would still be telling the truth. The wrong answer could be given after we ask the wrong question. You can just state it can't give wrong answers but maybe a wrong answer tells the truth also (a wrong answer could be that there is only one god or that dreams are not real). We can always examine if the answers given are really telling us the truth. Again you can say that it always tells you the right answer but maybe there are more than one right answers.

The most important observation to make is that I see only one box in your story(and why should answers always be given in words?). Why shouldn't there be more of them? What is so special about the number one? That shows prejudice on the side of Nature! So maybe it's best to look ar your proposal criticially and question the very assumption you make. But if you really think that such a box exists, which is the same as asking if realty can give us only one answer if we question it anf if it can ever be known if the answers given are true. You can simply state that such a reality exists (as science or religion does, in general) but that's asking for trouble so to speak. How tells us which version of reality is the only right one? This approach has given much trouble in the world (Aboriginal children were taken away from their parents because they didn't give them the proper education corrrsponding to the real state of affairs). You can counter that it has brought enlightenment but that's only for the minds already biased. But let's for a moment that such a box exists (there must be of course such a box or more of them but the answers given are what matters; and the questions can influence the contents of the boxes ir reality if you wish).

Philosophers can always ask questions like:

"What determines the Nature of the box?"

"Is the box of any use to me?"

"Why should I be bothered about the box?"

"Is our life determined or even created by the box"

"Who created the box?"

"Must I take the answers for granted even if it says yes?"

"Shall we live a live in accordance with the answers?"

"Is the box a gift of the Gods or of Nature maybe?"

"Can we ask questions that the box can't answer even if it says no?"

"Should I always believe the box?"

"Why can we only ask one question"

"Can we find an anwer ourselves that is better than the answer given by the box?"

"Will our life be less meaningfull if we answer questions ourselves?"

"Can the box listen to our answers too?"

"Does the box change if our thoughts about it change?"

"Shall we see the box as an oracle in contact with gods who have the most complete list of answers and questions?"

"Will the box ever give an answer that we don't understand yet but that can be understood in the future after more questions have been asked?"

"Is the box a kind of black box containing all information about all possible universes?"

"Will asking one question influence the next question?"

"Are all answers existing before the question to the answer is asked?"

"If so then how can the box know all the answers?"

"How can all answers exist in such a small box?"

"Can we predict the behavior of the box, that is can we know the answers ourselves?"

"Is asking a question to the box determined by other questions and from where comes our first question?"

"Can we exist without the box?"

"How looks the box inside and can it answer that question itself?"

"Can we look inside the box?"

"Can we know how the box looks like an Sich?"

"Does the box understand every language?"

"Is the box real?"

Etcetera. Can the box answer all these questions and if so would all answers be understood?

Will we accept everything the box tells us ( this is the main point). The box might be thought to exist but why should we accept the true answers it gives? We can always make our own truth without lying. We are not bound to it and we can always say: "that's what yòu think". We will never know for sure, even if the box insists.

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  • 1
    Thank you for the idea, Since the box has all answers implies that there is no problem giving the philosophers the answer of these kind of questions, right? Jun 24 at 5:58
  • 3
    @HAMDIABDERRAHMENE But how do you know the answers are true or not meant to deceive you? How do you know that. Why is there only one box? If the box answers the last question and you dont like the answer why caring about the box. You can always think for yourself that the answers given are wrong. How would you know that the answers are always right? How would you know you interpret the answers correctly? Jun 24 at 6:57
  • I really wanted to make it clear that a Miracle happend, not believing that the box is real with such unhuman,outer miracles means that you are declining the truth. Jun 24 at 14:27
  • 3
    @HAMDIABDERRAHMENE I think you're missing the point. You're asking how philosophy would be useful given that we all just accept this box to be the source of infalliable truth. That assumption is where a large part of the philosophy lies, you can't just glaze over it. Believing in miracles may be how some people tackle it but others will question to truthfulness of the box, question its source and the implications this has on the nature of reality. The box isn't a reliable source for the answer to those questions. Jun 24 at 14:34
  • Arn't you simply ignoring the truth? If a ghost appears and talks to you and then disappears will you say that ghosts doesnt exist? And you start thinking are ghosts real? Was it an illusion? Obviously the questions them selves are meaningless here which means there are no questions about the truthfulness of the existance of ghosts. Jun 24 at 14:36
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There are boxes of answers!

They are called books. Nevertheless, people still ask questions that are already answered in those boxes. That's quite obvious: we all can't know each idea in all books.

So, the existence of a box of answers does not mean that we will able to get and understand all answers. So, philosophy will always exist.

The only way for a man to know all answers (supposing there would be a box will ALL answers) is for him to be a god. So, until the day we evolve into gods, we'll keep making philosophy.

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Inasmuch as philosophy is more about questions than answers, if anything the box would provide an occasion for much more philosophizing. For we would want to ask the box clever/interesting questions. Now, one might suppose then that we could ask the box, "What questions should we ask the box?" so...

You've stipulated that the box will not answer two questions, about God and the soul. Why wouldn't those be subjects that we could still philosophize about, then? You say that the box giving us true answers somehow implies that answers coming from some other source, are false. That's absurd.

Indeed the whole thought experiment is not very well-defined. A good thought experiment is fairly specific, after all. There is no explanation here for why the box's appearance being accompanied by a voice proclaiming the box's trustworthiness, actually establishes that the box is trustworthy.

Moreover, in relation to this website itself, this question is not very well-presented. Your responses to our answers belie this: there seems to be no answer that you can count as a fitting answer to your question. You just typed up an unclear scenario and asked us to... what?

EDIT: Note that we could ask this box, "Why are we not authorized to know the nature of God and the soul?" and, "Who decides what we are or are not authorized to know?" Suppose we ask the latter. The answer will at least be, "God," or, "Someone besides God." The latter answer seems unrealistic (waiving the issue of whether such authority could ever exist at all, then if it did exist, it would seem that God is the only candidate), and besides, you've said that the box "comes from the heavens," with "the heavens" implicitly being a divine realm (unless you really mean that it just falls out of the sky?). But now if the box answers the authority question with, "God," then guess what: we've bypassed the box's restriction, for now to the question, "What is God?" we can give the answer, "The one who authorizes the box to answer our questions."

3

tl;dr Optimal answers would be observer-subjective. If God would answer your questions via text-message, then you'd probably feel like you were being tutored on the stuff you're most interested in by a perfect tutor. It'd probably be a lot like learning in an idealized Philosophy course, tailored specifically to you.


Thought experiment: Text-messaging God.

Let's say that you can text-message God questions. And God'll respond with the perfect answers. Specifically:

  1. You text God a question.

  2. God considers your reaction to all possible answers.

  3. God responds with the possible answer that worked the best in that exact context.

Notes:

  • God only responds via text-message; for example, God doesn't rewire your brain for instant-cognition.

  • God is sincerely trying to help you. God understands exactly what you mean, to the extent that your question is meaningful, and optimally guides you toward understanding that you'd consider to fulfill your inquiry.

  • Technically, yes, you don't need to actually ask God a question, but rather just look at the text-message window. Because God knows exactly what you're thinking and can anticipate exactly how you'd feel about any possible responses, always delivering the best response possible that you'd most have liked without you needing to first prompt it. But for simplicity, let's pretend you're typing questions rather than just getting answers.

Then, imagine if you asked God, "What's mass in physics?". God would presumably respond with an exact description that's the best possible text-based response for you in that exact moment. ...which would be, what?

Here's the thing: a lot of kids understand physical-mass, e.g. as being basically the same thing as physical-weight (with a unit-conversion for gravity). But then mass gets more complicated in General-Relativity, and then there's the Higgs-boson, and then.. well, the universe seems unfathomably deep..

What if you could understand a notion of "physical-mass" well beyond the understanding touted by modern-physics? What if your brain could only understand a limited, imperfect explanation, as a fuller explanation would be of such vast complexity that you couldn't comprehend it even with God's perfect guidance?

Further, why would you bother asking so much about physical-mass when there'd be so many other things of curiosity?

I'd suggest: if you looked at the text-messages from God, then (noting that you don't actually need to prompt God for God to know what you want) God would just start sending messages, at a rate optimal for you, that'd best optimize what you could possibly see for what'd lead you toward what you'd consider to be the best possible outcome.

And through that process, you'd not really get simple, one-off answers, but rather God would build your understanding, guiding your mind to develop new modes of understanding.

In short, God would be teaching you Philosophy. Specifically, a philosophy tailored precisely to you.


Back to your question...

since there is an answer for each question will philosophy be useless?

In this scenario, the answers are a philosophy perfectly tailored to you.

Presumably you'd find other philosophy to be less useful as God's giving you the absolute best for you, personally, in that exact context – any alternative couldn't be better.

That said, you'd probably still perceive it as learning "philosophy", as short, simple answers wouldn't be able to convey but so much.

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No, it would not make philosophy unnecessary but it would change its nature.

Suppose that someone asks the box "What is the best governing system for our modern age"?

And the box answers "The system called Jealwocracy. It is a new governing system which was not yet invented by human beings". And the box would write a long tractate as the answer to this question, explaining in detail what the new system of Jealwocracy means.

This would give rise to philosophers beginning to discuss the pros and cons of Jealwocracy.

Furthermore, you don't take into account that understanding the answers given by the box can be very difficult. For example you ask the machine "What is the prime number theorem?" and the box answers enter image description here.

You would still need to understand it, and for this you would go to a mathematician. Just in the same way, to understand the answers of the box, you would go to a philosopher.

An even more important issue here is that suppose that someone asks the box "Why is Jealwocracy better than any other system? What are the reasons for this?".

An omniscient box would be able to give the reasons not only to state the final truth but also give the reasons why it is true.

Those reasons would be an incentive for people to study those answers. The answers would not be readily understood by anyone and philosophers would be needed for that. Just in the same way that if someone gives you the proof of the prime number theorem, you would not understand it without a mathematical background.

======================================

However, the nature of philosophy would change. Studying philosophy would become more similar to studying math.

When you study math theorems, you know that the theorems are true. But it takes a lot of work to master and understand the mathematical concepts. Furthermore, when you study math, you also study the proofs, you never just study the final answers.

When you have to pass a math exam, you are forbidden to use the textbook which has the answer. Just in the same way, if one would be examined on the box's answers, one would would not be able to consult the box. And for that one would be required to understand the box's reasons for himself, one would not be able to memorise the reasons without thinking. Philosophers would be trained in understanding and thinking about the proofs given by the box.

2

I think its important sometimes to look at a question like this and flip it on its head and examine the assumptions and implications for such a machine to determine if the question even makes sense, and this is important because if the question doesn't make sense, no answer will make sense either. Its premised on a faulty foundation.

So assuming this machine is basically the incarnation of the set of all answers, and its stated ALSO that it contains the answers to all questions (Not the same statement!).

So the basic logical form here is;-

If A is the box of all answers and Q is the box of all Questions, and we can say for every member of Q there exists (at least one) member of A. Theres a logical notation to this that involves an upside down A and a backwards E and its so damn long since I've studied logical notation that I couldn't for the life of me tell you how to notate the damn thng.

So heres a question: "List at least one question for which no answer can exist".

Since we say that all members of Q have an A, there is no answer to this question (Its not "None", because we specify there must be at least 1).

At the very least this question is itself a question that does not have an answer. But if it is an answer to the question, then its not a member of the set!

This is a terrible fuddle! We've found a proof that maybe there CANT be a box with the answers to all questions and now the box is on fire!

Which leaves a final question: How imperfect do we want this box to be, because we know it can't be truly perfect. And its in those imperfections we find a glimmer of hope for philosophy as a trade to continue, should such a wretched box ever present itself to us.

Oh and one more. What if the damn thing just replied that the answer to all questions is "42". That'd be interesting!

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  • If I asked the box: "Given the set of all sets which do not contain themselves, does that set contain itself?" the answer of the box should be the error message: "Error: This question is not self consistent." It is a grave mistake to ignore the possibility of faulty input, and a box of perfect answers to all questions would be perfect in handling errors. Jun 24 at 12:38
  • 1
    Update: O'Zaic has the same approach with an excellent example (philosophy.stackexchange.com/a/82524/38198). With a similar reply from me. Jun 24 at 12:54
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    The question is consistent, it just is unanswerable, thus demonstrating that you cant have a set of all answers and set of all questions with a simple mapping between them. And yeah Im I'm invoking russells paradox in a round about way. The whole thing about it error checking the input isn't stated in question, only that theres a box with ALL answers for ALL questions. The error checking thing is in some ways one of the solutions to "can god create a rock so heavy he cant lift it" paradox. Essentially saying "God can do anything logical". But thats not the god most religious folks invoke
    – Shayne
    Jun 24 at 13:43
  • Actually, the OP includes an example of error throwing when it says: 'And for the first time the box gave an unclear answer : "You are not authorized to know what is God" ' And yes, we can quip about whether the question with the self-including sets is invalid or unanswerable, in either case the box should throw an error. Jun 24 at 14:08
  • On a tangent, the "can god create a rock..." paradox: All that results from this argument is, that our definition of "almighty" is flawed. It does not imply anything about god, it cannot. A god who created the universe with its physical laws cannot create such a stone, precisely because he is almighty in the utmost sense: He could simply define a loophole in the physical laws to create a stone of any scale. He is not anymore forced to use logic than a video game designer. If they want pigs to fly in their game, they are gonna make their pigs fly. Jun 24 at 14:18
1

The box would change nothing at all for philosophers, and would be completely meaningless regarding the purpose or importance of philosophers.

There would be no way to discern whether the answers of the box were true (philosophers are not even sure what thruth is). There would be plenty of concerns that the box was fashioned by some kind of adversary, alien or terrestrial, just faking everything for their own benefit. There would be plenty of different cults and whole religions, all with different interpretation, all warring with each other, either verbally or physically. There would be scientists digging into it; there would be philosophers discussing endlessly what it all means.

In short, it would just be the same as it has been all the time.

Even if we restrict ourselves to scientific, verifyable, questions ("How do we cure cancer?"), this would not change the issue. It would be easy for an advanced, completely natural entity with a larger knowledge base than ours to simply give us those kinds of answers, but these are trivial anyways (from a philosophical standpoint). This would not change the fact that for philosophical questions like "What is reality?", "Does god exist?", "What is moral?" and so on (which are, almost by definition, not verifyable) we would still squabble.

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  • Though in fairness , we could probably take a few moments out of arguing over the damn thing to ask it "By the way, while we hash out the mind boggling implications of you, can you give us a sneaky answer to the question "whats the cure for cancer", cos my old pops had a few worrying run ins with that ugly beast lately.
    – Shayne
    Jun 24 at 7:11
  • Thanks @Shayne, I have added a paragraph which considers this.
    – AnoE
    Jun 24 at 7:21
  • The box would be far from meaningless, it would change everything in science and technology. "There would be no way to discern whether the answers of the box were true" - that's plain wrong. We can a) test the box by asking questions that we know the answer of, and b) test most of its answers with the scientific method. Only answers that can't be tested (the transcendental ones) would remain in the gray. Given an otherwise perfect track record of the box, we might be inclined to believe it on these answers or choose to disbelieve. Blimey, some people even disbelieve perfectly proven things... Jun 24 at 11:16
  • I understand the question in regards to Philosophy ("would philosophy or philosophers be useless"), and have made that clearer in the first sentence, to be synchronized with the last paragraph. Thanks for bringing that up, @cmaster-reinstatemonica (By the way, I see several user names with "reinstate monica" or something like that recently, what's up with that? ;) )
    – AnoE
    Jun 24 at 11:21
  • Yeah, that's better. The "reinstate monica" is actually a few years old already, and it was about a moderator who was treated badly by the company that runs this site. Caused quite a bit of an outcry at that time, with the effect that quite a few people who read themselves through what had happened decided to change their user names in this way. I might have changed it back, had it not been for my considerable inertia, and the fact that I find it a good idea to remind the people at the company that they should treat their community with respect. Jun 24 at 12:35
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Well, the question, "Is philosophy useless now that we have this box?" is itself a philosophical question, and one that the people in such a world would doubtless ask (I mean, you are asking, so it's obviously a conceivable question); so I think this alone is sufficient to show that the answer must be "no".

Furthermore, even if the box holds the answer to that question, it would've had to have been asked in the first place, thus also proving its usefulness.

There are many other reasons, such as the reasons detailed in the other answers, too, and they're all important; but I think this is the simplest path to a "no".

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Consider asking the box, "Is a hot dog a sandwich?" The box has a perspective on reality, and that perspective is biased, because whether hot dogs are sandwiches is a personal opinion and not an objective fact. Hot dogs and sandwiches are real, so the box's perspective on reality includes their answer to the question, and the answers to your metaphysical questions are also going to be biased.

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  • Unless the box knows more than objective facts only. Jun 27 at 2:52
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I think that philosophy would still be very useful. In the scenario that you have laid out before us all we can at least know that there are two questions to which no answers could be given due to a lack of some 'divine clearance'.

When trying to denote who and/or what God is some characteristics that I find are often ascribed to the epithet are omnipotency, omniscience, omnipresence, etc. leading to some pantheistic and/or panentheistic assertion about the natural world and our place in it. If authorization is required in order to know (since the response to such a question is not: "There is no God") then the next question would be "why?" and at that point the reason given as to why would, I think, lead to a dialectic.

If God knows everything because God is "everything" then knowledge of God would be essential in order to understand how all the other answers given to any other question that is asked about any other thing may all fit together. If one is looking for an "ultimate truth" of some sort anyway. Oh, how I reckon and surmise!

Like they say the more you know the more you don't know!

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