• >YES..those which the laws of either logic or physics do not permit an answer. Time is one example and the third aspect of electricity is another. Harriet Harman however is understandable as an opportunistic, money grabbing, obsessive , misguided old bag!Prus

  • >Hi Prus, thanks for your answer. How do we know questions pertaining to time or electricity are unanswerable? Perhaps we can say that we don't have enough knowledge within this time to make a credible scientific answer, but what about in the future? Who's to say that in 1000 years we won't consider such questions basic? And even so we can still give answers to such questions, even if we're not 100% sure the answers are correct. In fact the most numerous answers to difficult questions come in the realm of theology, where no-one has undeniable proof that they have the 'correct' answer.

  • >A concrete example of what Rob is saying is the distinction between an empirical and a strict agnostic.An agnostic is, beyond the narrow religious sense, a person who considers the truth of certain claims (usually metaphysical, but also things like 'the meaning of history' or the origins of the universe) to be unknown. From Socrates to Kant, there's a very strong philosophical tradition of agnosticism though, arguably, not as (numerically) strong as philosophies of certainty.Now, an empirical agnostic would say that while truths may be currently unknown (to say otherwise would remove their agnosticism) but not unknowable. Such people, like Kant, place great value in human rational, scientific and other intellectual capacities. In fact, someone like Kant would (and did) argue that while mystic philosophy is largely a waste of time, his ire was most piqued (and he wrote Critique of Pure Reason) because if minds focused more on using reason and intellectual method to tackle problems, rather than mythically speculating aimlessly and romantically about metaphysics, we might actually come close to answering these big questions.A rigid agnostic (Socrates, I think, falls into this camp) has less of this faith in human reason. Of course, Socrates' love of discourse and dialectic marked him out as a man of reason, but he very much doubted the capacity of this reason to actually know everything. In fact, Socrates would argue for the paradox that the mark of a wise man is the humbling awareness of how much he does not know: i.e. the more you learn, the further one gets from 'truth'.In short, both would recognise that certain questions remain unanswered and are currently unknowable (in a way in which a Marxist, perhaps, would not) and hence they are both agnostics; where they differ, is that while one believes all questions are ultimately answerable the other does not.Rob seems to me an empirical agnostic and, with my head, that's where I am as well. However, I do like to find (like Socrates) beauty and awe in the vast unknowables, what Einstein once described as an immense library written in an unfathomable language: something deeply profound is going on, tangible and yet beyond our scope. I think it's about the only spirituality I have, so my heart is more with Socrates (and Einstein) than with Kant.

  • >'And even so we can still give answers to such questions, even if we're not 100% sure the answers are correct. In fact the most numerous answers to difficult questions come in the realm of theology, where no-one has undeniable proof that they have the 'correct' answer.'Technically, of course, you're right, but it's not in the spirit of things. I could say that the meaning of life is 42 (or that a carpenter rose from the dead 2000 years ago) and challenge the world to prove me wrong. On both counts I can't offer any conclusive refutations, and in the strictest sense the questions have been answered. But to really 'answer' a question, it needs to be supported by evidence and reason, solidly and rigorously reviewed, challenged and built upon. Of course, this doesn't mean 'certainty' (how can I possibly *know* that a stone would sink if it were dropped on *any* given square inch of ocean at *any* time, or that all life has evolved from a common ancestor?), but ultimately just as some questions are more answerable than others some explanations are better than others and, although not certain, are (to borrow legal parlance) 'beyond reasonable doubt' or, at the very least, more likely than not based on the 'balance of probabilities'. These may be classed as 'answers'. Most theology (particularly pertaining to metaphysics, I'm not going to consider ethics and morality here) does not offer 'answers' by this definition.I'm as relativist as the next man (pun not originally intended), but the implication (which, in all fairness, you very probably didn't mean) that you can give 'answers' to 'difficult' (i.e. thus far agnostic) questions and to hell with their rectitude, plausibility, reason or whatever just gives succour and legitimacy to cranks and charlatans. I could say that the universe is really one giant rabbit's eye, but surely that is not *really* an 'answer' (to a currently-unknowable question) just because I say so and, as nobody knows for certain anyway, that'll do for a start? If it is, then surely creationism will do just as well as evolution as an explanation of life until the latter (or, to be fair, the former) has been proven 100% and the other accordingly completely disproved; if it isn't, then all speculations are not necessarily 'answers' (in the sense outlined above).

  • >I have ventured far from the point. I think we (or I need to make a distinction here.(1) Can all questions be 'answered'? Yes, in the strict sense of the word, where an answer is a reply to a question with no qualitative value attached.e.g.Question: what is the meaning of life?Answer: 42I.e. there is no unanswerable question, in this sense.(2) However, I think there is (or ought to be) a qualitative value attached to this question. If not, then it's going to make for a dull debate as you simply can't deny what I've just said in answer to (1).That qualitative value, implied in the question I think, is 'is there anything unknowable'? (For which we should include 'beyond reasonable doubt' as knowable, for, technically, not even the laws of physics are 100% certain and/or unerring, nor can they be proven to be) .This is where my point about agnosticism comes in. Yes, there clearly is much that is unknown, but is it *unknowable*? As I suggested (some time ago now; I am going to be late for bed and anger my fiancee now), my head says, given time and reason and technological development and so on, probably not. My heart rather likes the idea of a great insolvable cosmic enigma, but my head's really not having it.So, yeah; nothing unanswerable, much unknown, nothing unknowable.

  • >Finally. This is the best thing I've ever read in a magazine. Read it about three years ago and have never forgotten it.http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1607298,00.html

  • >Excellent answer! I completely agree. This is a topic, as are many of those we discuss, that we could always take further. If we quantify the debate in terms of what answers are rational and logical then we can question how rational and logical anything actually is. Much theological reasoning is questionable to the athiest and vice versa. Yet as you rightly say it does need to be done simply to avoid answers like "42". And what about what is 'unknowable'? I agree with what you say you think I think i.e. that all (finite) things are knowable. Yet if things can be defined in whatever size exists then it is impossible for us (as individuals) to 'know', say, everything about dark matter. This is so simply because of the enormity of data needed to analyse. If we took humanity as a species it could even turn out to be impossible for we have a limited amount of time before evolving. And to take this further if 'everything' is infinite i.e. there is infinite time, space, energy etc then of course 'everything' is unknowable. Yet I could never imagine any finite thing being unknowable. In fact I can't even think an argument for that being the case.As for that link I didn't know Einstein was so weird, lol. Composing your own hymns and singing them on the way home from school? That is weird. Still, I guess I shouldn't be the one to talk.

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