On the surface, ‘how?' is mechanical, it is asking about method, whereas ‘why?’ is more philosophical, it is asking about purpose. It seems conceivable, then, that the answers to the questions of 'how?' and 'why?' might not overlap. And in common usage this works, as long as you assume that in regards to the subject at hand, method and purpose are things divisible from each other.

But is it right to make that assumption? Is it not reasonable to suggest that ‘how?’ depends upon ‘why?’, and vice-versa? At the very least, shouldn’t ‘how?’ should reveal something about the ‘why’?

To illustrate:

“Why was the novel written?”

Because the author wanted to tell a story.

“How was the novel written?”

The author pushed on the keys of a typewriter to form words on paper.

Here, the ‘how’ has a reference to the being of intentionality that forms the crux of the ‘why’ - that is to say, it mentions the author. Any answer to ‘how was the novel written’ would be incomplete without some direct reference to the author. And what's more, a truly complete answer will go into the research that the author did and how he came up with his ideas. From this you will learn ‘why’ he wrote the novel.

For some context, I often hear people mention that science and religion operate in two separate spheres; science asks 'how' and religion asks 'why'. I just don't see this distinction as being useful. It seems to relegate religion to the realm of 'god-of-the-gaps', to the questions where science has not yet discovered the mechanism of 'how', because if we knew the how we would know the why.

  • We can certainly ask "why" on "how". That is, why is how (your method) correct?
    – Ajax
    Apr 26, 2022 at 5:38
  • See Aristotle: "He further insists that science (epistêmê)—a comparatively broad term in his usage, since it extends to fields of inquiry like mathematics and metaphysics no less than the empirical sciences—not only reports the facts but also explains them by displaying their priority relations (A.Po. 78a22–28). That is, science explains what is less well known by what is better known and more fundamental". Thus, we may say that it is "natural" for humans to understand the reason/cause "why". Apr 26, 2022 at 7:10
  • In Aristotelian language, the "how" is the efficient cause, the process by which a thing came about. The "why" is the final cause, the purpose for which the thing came about. There is no reason these causes should have any overlap other than the the mention of the one who initiated them. The two causes don't even need to be in the same domain. The "how" can be a purely mechanical explanation while the "why" is, for example, moral or aesthetic or abstract in nature. Apr 26, 2022 at 12:38
  • @DavidGudeman -- Indeed, why is about values. It maps an event to a known or suspected value of an agent. In this context, a desire would be a specific instantiation of value. To answer this question, one would need to find the origin of values, which I touch in my answer on the nature of values.
    – Michael
    Apr 26, 2022 at 12:56
  • @DavidGudeman If I create something for an aesthetic reason, then why shouldn't that process of having an aesthetic idea be included in some completely informative description of 'how'? E.G. "How did I create the sculpture?" It started with seeing (mechanical) a beautiful woman, which (mechanically) triggered lust within me, which led to the urge to resurrect her body in permanently stone, which lead to me grabbing a chisel, and so on, etc. etc. It seems that the very act of asking "why" presupposes a dualistic conception of the mind, where its justified in drawing a line betwn mat. and mind.
    – user58662
    Apr 26, 2022 at 13:45


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