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The Best Question

Varzi, Achille C.

Question-answer contexts are prone to self-reference and ungroundedness, as when we ask: "What is your answer to this question?" Or when we respond: "This is the answer to your question." This sort of phenomenon is familiar from the literature on erotetic logic and provides good evidence for Belnap and Steel’s celebrated Hauptsatz: "Ask a foolish question and you get a foolish answer." The trouble is that sometimes our foolishness escapes us. Here is a way of putting the problem, which Ned Markosian calls the “paradox of the question”. An angel shows up at a conference of the world’s leading philosophers and gives them a unique opportunity to ask a question of their choice. The angel comes to them as a messenger from God and will answer their question truthfully—but she will only answer one question. What should the philosophers ask to make the most of their opportunity? Clearly they want to learn something about a truly important and intrinsically interesting subject. But which subject they should address is itself something they would like to know. After much debating, the proposal of a bright young logician is approved.



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Journal of Philosophical Logic

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November 24, 2014