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BRAIN Journal – Questioning, Context-Sensitiveness and Philosophical Inquiry

Inquiry is an official process to discover the facts about something bad that has happened. In this paper the authors aim to explain that context-sensitiveness is a very important aspect of philosophical inquiry, specifically through the activity of questioning. The activity of questioning fulfills a number of epistemic tasks; In revealing what is relevant for formulating questions it is also noted that fallibilism enters the picture of the establishing of a questioning activity: it shows us that the road of inquiry is relentless and we ought to not block it by context-insensitive questioning.

In the first chapter of this paper, the authors Paniel Reyes-Cárdenas and J. Martín Castro-Manzano talk about the aims of inquiry. The authors state that we can focus in two aims in the goal-directed process: we can either concentrate in finding a proposition p that fits the purpose of being the response to a relevant and pungent question or we can try to find ways of settling the kind of propositions that would make the question to settle upon, in both cases we are in the search for a belief that needs to be fixed, but the emphasis can be on the proposition to achieve or in the context that will make that proposition become salient. In order to perform inquiries that will allow us to settle genuine doubts by a belief, the authors think that we need to have impinging doubts. (big questions) We have to know that through questions we can formulate cognitive goals, i.e., we can establish what kind of responses to those questions actually will work as answers, and whether more questions have to be asked in this process. Also, questions are used to have indirect complements in reflection, to exercise regulative control over inquires (Hintikka 2007). A question always brings another, and the authors give the example of asking how far a galaxy is from us. If we address this type of question we might also be interested in questioning for the methods to find out that distance and other scientifically interesting questions: We could use that information in a creative way perhaps by questioning if that distance is actually stable or changing due the alleged expansion of the universe, or whether the distances represent some stage of the universe’s development and the like. Also, even if sometimes we have a settled answer, we can change our minds if we find better solutions while asking the right questions.

The next chapter, “questioning as inquiring”, refers to the fact that questions establish our cognitive goals, so therefore our progress in inquiry can be monitored and traced if we can discover to what extend we have answered a relevant question. The authors give the example of a murder: “If I am a detective it won’t be any wise to ask: “who killed x?” I rather ask: who had any relevant relationship R that was relevant as a cause for the murder of x?”

The fourth chapter called “epistemic contextualism” deals with contextualism. Contextualism is a strand of epistemology that focuses knowledge-attribution not only in the proposition itself, but also in the situation in which the attributor of the proposition is. The authors tried to show the readers that taking seriously our context can help us to be more sensitive to what a real doubt prompts. Contextualism, so understood, is the proposition that “knowing” is an activity that ought to be relevant to a context, the context is the situation that will require higher or lesser standards for some belief to count as knowledge.

In the next chapter the authors talk about how questions connect to contexts. We can consider the value of questions in two ways: one of them is to look at the semantic content of the question itself; in which case we need to see whether is a “who-question”, “why-question” etc. The other way is to see how they relate to contexts: if a question is relevant that will not be revealed by its semantic content, but the pragmatic considerations that the question releases. The author states that “the activity of questioning, in my opinion, is the best way to find out what is relevant for a context, and how the knowledge-attribution gets its main property: salience. Salience is the fact that there is a relevant relation between a proposition and how an inquiry can be pushed forward.”

The last chapter is about fallibilism and context-sensitiveness. Fallibilism helps us to distinguish when a question is logically real and relevant as a real doubt prompting inquiry.  “Fallibilism is the negation that knowledge works as a fixed body of beliefs that remains unaltered and can be contemplated back without change.”

This very interesting paper managed to depict the relationship between inquiry, the context-sensitiveness of beliefs and the importance of questioning. I invite you all to read the paper which is full with interesting examples for a better understanding.

Ekaterina Filimon