Sponsored by Socrates:

  • Alcibiades 113, b

    SOCRATES: Come then, give me the general principle. When there’s a question and an answer, who is the one saying things--the questioner or the answerer? ALCIBIADES: The answerer, I think, Socrates. SOCRATES: Wasn’t I the questioner in everything just now? ALCIBIADES: Yes. SOCRATES: And weren’t you the answerer? ALCIBIADES: I certainly was. SOCRATES: Well then, which of us said what was said? ALCIBIADES: From what we’ve agreed, Socrates, it seems that I did

  • Alcibiades 106, b

    SOCRATES: Do you think it’s hard to answer questions? ALCIBIADES: No, I don’t. SOCRATES: Then answer me. ALCIBIADES: Ask me.

Socrates was known for asking "What is F?". I would be curious if this is self-predicative in some way, such as "What is 'What is F?'?" and so forth, if that makes sense.

I suppose I am questioning the means and method of both elenchus and his priority of definition principle.

The essence of questions, not just a brief definition, is what is sought here.

  • 2
    The issue of "self predication" is known in the literature as Third Man Argument: "Self-predication: Every form of F-ness is itself F." Thus, the "essence" of questions is itself a question? Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 13:19
  • "I have an answer, do you have the question?" - Woody Allen (allegedly)
    – Nikos M.
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 18:28
  • 2
    More recent than Socrates is Jean-Yves Girard's book, The Blind Spot. See, e.g., the review at ems-ph.org/books/… where it says, in part, "The question at stake is the nature of mathematical knowledge and the difference between a question and an answer, i.e., the implicit and the explicit. The problem is delicate mathematically and philosophically as well: the relation between a question and its answer is a sort of equality where one side is 'more equal than the other': one thus discovers essentialist blind spots."
    – eigengrau
    Commented Jan 25, 2023 at 11:16
  • One should distinguish between impure and pure modes of thought. The procedural (recursive) constructive explanation of the infinite thus identifies it with the unfinished, is of the impure type. But is impurity itself pure? Thus one should see the questions-in-themselves are always impure, perennial, many and unfinished, while their felicitous answers-in-themselves are necessarily pure, compressed and complete. As the ancient Flower Adornment sutra hinted long ago:... Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 5:44
  • Seeing what is true as true, Seeing what is not true as not true: Such ultimate understanding Is the reason for the name of Buddha. The Buddhadharma cannot be realized: Understanding this is called realizing the Dharma. All Buddhas cultivate in this way... Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 5:44

5 Answers 5


'Questions' defined as 'action' in my field.

The free energy principle in computational neuroscience states that the brain is in a constant state of trying to reduce surprise by actively seeking out information and forming models of the environment. The surprise is measured by calculating the difference between the expected value for a given event and the actual outcome: the prediction error. The greater the discrepancy between these two values, the greater the surprise. This allows the brain to identify and address any unexpected events or results that may impact its ability to form accurate expectations of the environment: an accurate model.

All human action and perception is in service of maximizing model evidence and reducing prediction error. Any action is changing the incoming environmental sensations to match or make alterations to the model; questions are a form of action.

Questions are essential for helping the brain acquire new information and connecting different pieces of knowledge together to create an accurate and complete model of the world. This helps the brain generate expectations about likely outcomes so that it can make better decisions and take the optimal action, which in our case is what ultimately leads to a continued existence.

  • 1
    +1 Fascinating. At the psychological level, it's called expectancy-reality discrepancy. I read and enjoyed Brains as Engines of Association by Purves. Do you have an recommendations for a reference on computational neuroscience in regards to these sorts of teleological characterizations?
    – J D
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 23:34
  • 1
    Anything w/ Karl Friston. He formulated the free-energy principle; there's an extraordinary amount of complex math involved, which reductively explains the physics behind 'emergent phenomena,' (i.e. from atoms -> molecules -> people -> society). Conceptually different tho all highly-ordered hydrogen, self-organizing to minimize free-energy. I'm writing a book right now to provide a life philosophy for the layman using the premise. Teleology implies purpose; reductivism is more my cup of tea. Commented Jan 25, 2023 at 9:40
  • 1
    Thanks. This is exactly what I find fascinating.
    – J D
    Commented Jan 25, 2023 at 18:25

Have you read the SEP article Questions? The author addresses two areas of philosophical intersectionality:

After going over some preliminaries we will focus on three lines of work on questions: one located at the intersection of philosophy of language and formal semantics, focusing on the semantics of what Belnap and Steel (1976) call elementary questions; a second located at the intersection of philosophy of language and philosophy of science, focusing on why-questions and the notion of explanation; and a third located at the intersection of philosophy of language and epistemology, focusing on embedded questions.

The TLDR is a question is an utterance that, although not assertoric by nature as it exerts no propositional attitudes towards truth, is in a way an implicature as it has world-to-mind fit. That is, knowledge, like language itself, is mostly constructed in a society, as per Wittegensteinian notions of language-games. In logic and grammar, sometimes questions are reduced to propositional form, for instance, in traditional sentence diagramming, the interrogative is placed as an object in a sentence; in pragmatics, the critical eye is placed on the context, and therefore is related to ideas about the cooperative principle. Like all utterances, one has to examine both the syntax and the semantics to fully resolve understanding of the question. For instance, some syntactical questions are actually statements and are known as rhetorical questions. Sometimes, questions can be uttered as performative acts. A simple example is when people utter "How are you?" and really just mean "Hello, I see and acknowledge you."

Frege and Tarski were both big on truth-conditional semantics, and as they were developing theories a hundred years ago, set questions somewhat aside, to focus on logical propositions, definitions, sense and reference, and the relationship between truth and meaning. Questions themselves, are one of the simplest ways to do philosophy, and Socrates use his zetetic method because much of cognition, prior to rigorous study relies on intuition. By asking questions, a person is then required to express sentences which themselves are taken to exist as representations of thought. The Greeks of course pioneered democracy and political science, and as such, needed to ask questions because unlike a tyranny where the will of the tyrannt is truth and law, a collective of people needs a way to resolve matters. As the article mentions, both inquiry and explanation are contingent upon questions, and questions themselves play a central role in the epistemological mechanisms, because such mechanisms are aspects of collective intentionality.


From my days in high school.


  1. SAQs (short answer questions)
  2. LAQs (long answer questions)
  3. MCQs (multiple choice questions)
  4. Match the following
  5. Fill in the blanks

From an information theoretic (to the best of my knowledge), a question like "Who wrote Lolita? can be rephrased as a disjunction statement Adam Smith wrote Lolita OR John Lennon wrote Lolita OR Charlie Chaplin wrote Lolita OR Vladimir Nabokov wrote Lolita. [Any question can be rewritten as an MCQ it seems].

A question is also the cardinal sign of ignorance ["I neither know nor think I know" ~ Socrates (Socratic paradox)], genuine or feigned and too a test of knowledge/understanding (remember school - questions, questions, questions).

  • I really like this approach but wish it could be expanded further. This is somewhat of an enumerative denotative definition whereby it depends on all the potential objects of knowledge and in what way, or what resolution level, can be asked upon. A similar list might be the 5 W's of 1. Who 2. What 3. Where 4. When 5. Why. At this point then, is "what is a question?" dependent on epistemology itself and the types of knowledge? (ah, hope that makes sense)
    – Xeon
    Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 0:09
  • Dear agent Smith, you can't MCQ if you don't know answer on it or if you something another that you already have. Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 21:11
  • @άνθρωπος, yep, but usually, there's a finite list of answers. If I ask "who drank the beer?", it's got to be someone im the house.
    – Hudjefa
    Commented Jan 31, 2023 at 2:27
  • Why do you think that house inhabitants are beer drinking? Commented Jan 31, 2023 at 4:45

A question is the advertisement of a hole in a real or hypothetical mental model. For example, in asking -- why am I writing this? -- I am suggesting the existence of a known unknown, where I recognise a potentially pertinent piece of information hypothetically knowable yet mentally unfilled. When testing or expanding someone's knowledge, the question asked may correspond to the hypothetical model of a mind with missing pieces. Rhetorical questions are similar, where a hole is placed into the reader's mind, leaving them yearning for filling.

In practice, asking questions, such as what happens here, is essentially transmitting holes from one mind to another. One must be careful about asking heavy questions unsolicited, as this may bore too great a gap in the unsuspecting mind. If one should ask, ask wisely.


A Question skill is a self-mind method for constructing or destructing of reflective continuity. A Q is stop the standard reaction, stop reflexes chain, and starting the new reflexes base. So a Q needed to start or reset ur brain algorithms, and reprogramming them, or reset them. That is why Q skill is most important, cuz if u don't Q ourself, you can't control ur reflexes and do only subconscious moves and thoughts - you are manipulated. U came home and ur mother or wife told to u: where were u?... And U start to apologize. U had some thoughts, or etc., but for now u know only where u are and what role you have to play. U is speaking with friend: -Hello -Hi -How are u!? - Stop. Starting programmer "friend meeting". Or explain this dialog: -Hi -Hi -Good day -Yes, good day -It is Sunny today -Yep -... -... ? /// I need to go, bye... No quest key no relationships.

There are some more deep quests, that hack the brain base system, like why. That is why child like this quest - it is hacking adults, and they notice new little mind new through their virtual problems.

  • 1
    There are some interesting ideas here, but they need to be developed and explained much more. Your examples and your final observation could both be starting-points for an interesting discussion, but as they stand they are not helpful. But the relevance of any of this to the actual question, which is about Socratic elenchus, is at best marginal.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 13:10
  • Okey my friend, i had read and thought for a several time, and i can give you half-exhaustive answer, what is a question and what is Socratic elenchus method. But i guess that my answer ll be deleted in several hours after, cuz this resource filled with refer on philosophy but not accept philosophy. So if you say time and time zone i ll try to publish it, and you will see it. I ll write it on your request. Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 20:15
  • That's a kind offer. I was sure that there was more behind your answer. You are a little too cautious guessing that your answer would be deleted. There are guidelines in the the help pages and if you stick to those, there shouldn't be a problem. I found that the best way is to look at what others are doing and then have a go. This site is based on analytic philosophy, but a very wide range of philosophers are discussed on it, so it seems quite hospitable. I'm afraid that although the elenchus is a valid and important topic, and I'm not able to pursue it at the moment.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Jan 31, 2023 at 10:51
  • thank you for your concern, but i m too young for hospital(able) rules, may be later. and don't be afraid. Commented Jan 31, 2023 at 14:06

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