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What is a question ?

  1. May 19, 2007 #1
    One day I was sitting down to write a series of interesting questions, and then to try to find answers to them, this could be interesting questions like "what is time", "what is existence", etc, etc.

    But then suddenly one realy basic question struck me: "What is a question ?" I can find a lot of excamples of questions, I can ask them, and out of that I can also generate series of answers.

    But if I ask: "What is a question", I have to admit: I don't know - I can make a lot of questions, but I'm not able to explain what a question is. As I don't know what a question is I also don't know what an answer is, exept for that it might be something like the opposite of a question ?

    How can that be - I can ask questions and questions, without knowing what a question is, and I can make answers and answers, without knowing what a answer is ?

    In this way, I can ask questions and questions, and I can get answers and answers, but I will not be any smarter, as I really don't know what a question or an answer is.

    Anybody that can help me - "What is a question", and "What is an answer" ??

    This is a website about questions and answers - is it not ?
     
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  3. May 19, 2007 #2
  4. May 19, 2007 #3

    DaveC426913

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    A question is a form of communication that contains an expression (possibly implicit) of the desire for someone else to provide infrmation directly relevant to the subjects mentioned.

    I believe there are only three (?) types of speech:
    - the statement (I say this for all to hear. Period.)
    - the command (I say this with the expectation that you will act on it)
    - the interrogative (I state this with the expectation that it will be addressed by a statement from someone else)

    An answer is a statement that directly addresses the issues in a posed question (if there was no question preceding it, then it is not an answer; it is simply a statement.)
     
  5. May 19, 2007 #4

    loseyourname

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    There's a fourth type of speech: performative. Take, for example, the swearing in of a president at his inaugaration, which actually makes him the president. Sometimes exclamatory language is considered a separate type of speech as well, like saying "crap" when you hit your shin against the coffee table.
     
  6. May 19, 2007 #5

    honestrosewater

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    I feel obliged to try to introduce you to the wonderful world of linguistics. What is a question?. See also illocutionary point and proposition.

    Are any of the explanations in this thread satisfactory? What would a satisfactory explanation need to include?
     
  7. May 19, 2007 #6

    DaveC426913

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    I suppose, though to me that seems subsumed by the 'statement' type.

    eg. "I will do this thing."
     
  8. May 20, 2007 #7

    honestrosewater

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    Do you see a difference between, say, giving birth and claiming to give birth? A performative (or an utterance with a declarative point), by being uttered, makes its propositional content true. A declarative (or an utterance with an assertive point) merely claims that its propositional content is true. So, for one thing, the propositional content of the latter can be false, whereas that of the former cannot.

    But everyone is of course free to split things up however they want to.
     
  9. May 20, 2007 #8
    Thanks for interesting answers ! (Even though I don't know precisely what an answer is.)

    The problems of asking questions (Even though I don't know precisely what a question is.) is that "answers" very often leads to new questions.

    After asking only one question it is rather easy to come up with ten new questions from the answer.

    What I woild like to know is an answer that contains as few as possible new questions, something like "the final answer" that does not contain just new questions.

    I like the answer of DaveC426913 because it is rather short and precise, and I short it down even a bit more, hopefully without loosing the central meaning.

    Question: "What is a question ?"
    Answer: "A question is an expression of the desire to obtain information relevant to a subject."

    Qestion: "What is a answer ?"
    Answer: "An answer is a statement that addresses the issues in a question".

    Is this still right ?

    I think that these answers leaves out just a few new questions:
    "What is an expression ?", "What is desire ?", ""What will it mean to obtain ?", "What is information ?", "What wil it mean to be relevant" and "What is a subject" ?

    One other question is that "Does questions in general neccesarly need to contain words ?" (.. and what is then a "word")

    If you come home one day and you meet the cat, you can see that the cat is running to its food provision and signalling quite clearly "I am hungry, please give me some food", is this a question ?

    If I send som food to the cat according to the request is it then an "answer" ? (Where are the words, where are the lingvistics and where are the statement ?)

    If my dog goes out in the hall, finding the equioment we normally will be using for a walk, taking this equipment in it's mouth and showing it to me, while waving it's tail, and looking at me in the meaning "should we go out for a walk ?", is it then a question ?

    If I answer with words that the dog are able to understand "Yes, lets go for a walk", the dog shows wery clearly that it is happy, does the dog understand my answer as an "answer" ?

    If the dog is showing the equipment for making a walk, while waving its tail, does it: "express the desire to obtain information" ?

    When the dog receives information: "Let's go out for a walk", and it understands this information, has it then got an "answer" ?

    Will the definition be valid: "An answer is a statement that addresses the issues in a question". Yes/No ?

    What about the cat, you just give it the food as an response to the cats first request. Is this an answer ? Did the cat ask the question about having some food ?

    May be the anwer to what an answer it could be adjusted to catch up with the cat situation:

    Answer: "An answer is INFORMATION that addresses the issues in a question".
    If the request for food is an question, then the information "yes there is food om my plate" might be an anwer (?)

    One other interesting question: When humans make questions to each other, do they allways use "words" ?

    And the other: When humans make questions and answers to each other, do they allways use words ?

    And the in the end I think it is wery interesting to take a look at the simplified definition again .. :

    "A question is an expression of the desire .."
    A question is allways connected to "desire" ? - No "disere", no questions - is it like that ? Does it work the other way: "If there is desire, there will allways be questions" ? Why not ?

    And then one interesting one: "what really is desire ?" and "Why does anybody have desire ?" - What is the reason for this ?

    I started up with a simple question "What is a question", and I still don't know.

    And then there is this other interesting question "What is desire" as the answer to the first question about question seems to be dependent of the answer about desire.

    Can a dog ask questions ?

    And .. How can I ask questions without really knowing what a question is ?
     
  10. May 20, 2007 #9

    Mk

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    So does an answer necessarily have to have a partnered question?

    No. One can form questions for oneself mentally without using "words," or a sequence of changes in frequency, volume, and amplitude generated by human vocal cords that represent an idea or part of an idea. Written words are symbols used to indicate words. Spoken language came before written.

    That's not a question, because if a human said "Please give me some food," it isn't. That is a polite command, is it not?

    Perhaps it is not a question but also a request. The dog is not asking you if you want to take it for a walk, the dog wishes for itself to be walked. Perhaps "take me for a walk" can be phrased as "Will you take me for a walk?" But that's adding "Will you" as if the original were "take me for a walk, will you [take me for a walk]?" "Will you please take me for a walk?" is specifically asking the question of if in the [near] future "you will take me for a walk." However, due to manners and politeness, this actually has turned into a request, instead of a question.

    It does not understand your words as a human would. I think the specificity is lost, but it may recognize, remember or associate your sounds and movements? This particular subject seems very susceptible to false positive.

    No! Have you ever tried to ask somebody who cannot speak your language how to say something in their own language? Body movements and facial expressions are used.

    Words are the most efficient and convenient way I think humans have produced for communication, be it be orders, statements, or questions.

    Hm. Right. "Desire is the want for something" can be said that "Desire is the desire for something." We could go the opposite way instead of going from the bottom up to working backwards? Desire can be a lot of things though:

    Desire as an interpersonal attraction (lust, particularly)
    Desire as a preference in activities or goods and services
    Desire as a motivation, a thought that leads to an action (or inaction, as in desiring not to do something which could also be seen as actively not doing), or at least creates a desire for action (or inaction).

    Does a dog have the capacity to ask questions? We may never know what a dog is actually thinking (or not being able to think) or emotionally feeling (or not being able to feel emotions). I think people are very susceptible to extra anthropomorphization.
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2007
  11. May 20, 2007 #10

    honestrosewater

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    I would call the animal communications that you mention directives rather than questions. They are trying to get you to do something. (Edit: Oh, haha, actually, questions, as I would like to define them, are directives. Some were calling questions interrogatives. I'm thinking in two different terminology sets and mixing form with point. Woops.) You might call them questions, but a question normally requests specifically that information be supplied rather than requesting any kind of action whatsoever, e.g., giving food or taking for a walk. Also, the point of an utterance doesn't tell you the form that it might take.

    I don't see why there needs to be any desire. I can write a program that generates English sentences from a set of phrases and a set of rules. I can select these somewhat randomly, at least without giving any forethought to what the results will be. Some of the generated sentences could be interpreted by you as questions. There is no desire there, unless you count your possible perception of some desire. It seems to me that a question can be simply a prompt for an answer. (Note that you could also misinterpret something as a question that was not meant to be one. Where is the desire there?)

    No, humans don't have to use a language (meaning a natural language like English) to communicate their questions. They, along with animals, can use any type of communication system, which I imagine you would regard as a sign system.

    As for your regressive definition-seeking, that is just how definitions usually work. You define some words in terms of other words. I think your issue there is with definitions, not with questions per se.

    If you want to start with nothing and end up with a final answer, I suggest that you look into math.
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2007
  12. May 20, 2007 #11
    This is really an ineterresting one:

    "I don't see why there needs to be any desire. I can write a program that generates English sentences from a set of phrases and a set of rules. I can select these somewhat randomly, at least without giving any forethought to what the results will be. Some of the generated sentences could be interpreted by you as questions."

    If you reade a "question" more or less randomly in a book that is not written to you particularly, or someone you know is asking you something, is this the same ?

    I think it is two completely different things. May be I would relate more the content and the meaning of the question as an intrument for communicating against me, more, than the sequence of words, grammar, spelling, etc.

    Maybe it is right to distinguish between the words that build up a sentence as more or less "physical buliding blocs" and the content and meaning that is carried via theese "physical building blocs".

    From my point of wiev I think I wold rather relate the meaning and content of a question and the more or less meaningsfull information that is carried in it as the central part of that sentence, rather than the sequence of words.

    As I would see it a question that is a question can not be asked whitout some desire, without loosing its function as a question.

    Then there is this interesting question: Can a question exist as a question, without the meaning and function as a question, just to be a linguistic sequence of words ?

    I think I would say "no", this might be a question from a linguistic point of wiev, but it is not a question from a comunicative, or a philosofical point of wiev. It just just look like a question, but it does not carry out the function of a question.

    Computers migt be able to gather information, but I believe, but they can not ask questions.

    As I would tend to se it: "A question is an expression of the desire to obtain information relevant to a subject."

    .. and .. no desire .. no question at all, even though the sequence of words still might be there.

    As I would se it: A "question" is more related to the meaning and the function as a question than the "technical linguistical part of it".

    As I would see it: The language does not have any meaning by itself allone.

    The function of the language is capability to comunicate meaningfull information and meaningfull contexts.

    .. But that is just as I would see it.
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2007
  13. May 20, 2007 #12

    honestrosewater

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    Sure, that was not an original idea of mine. The form of the message and what you interpret the message to mean are separate things.

    What difference does it make whether the sentence was put together by a human computer or a non-human computer? I just thought it might let me avoid what I'm about to say now. I can say words that I believe you will interpret as a question, and I can do so without experiencing any desire for the question to be answered. See: Is Paris the capital of France?

    What does "linguistic" mean to you? To me, it means something related to language, or it might possibly refer to linguistics, the field that studies human language, which includes the study of semantics and pragmatics. Either way, it includes meaning. Perhaps you mean it to mean "syntactic"?

    If you define "question" to mean a certain syntactic form, then yes, "question" can refer to just a certain syntactic form.

    I don't see why you would drag experience into this. How are you even to know whether the asker of the question has experienced a given emotion or has had any experience at all? And why is it relevant? If you are instead interested in the emotion or conscious experience, why bring questions into it?

    Actually, let me back up a second. It seems that you have two meanings of "question" here. One takes a question to be an object of some language, and the other takes a question to be an object of conscious experience (or thought or whatever).

    It doesn't seem that you are actually interested in considering a question to be a linguistic object and distinguishing the syntactic part from the semantic part. I think you instead want to consider a question to be an object of conscious experience, in which case, the whole trip into language was just a wrong turn.

    The meaning is usually considered to be part of the language.
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2007
  14. May 20, 2007 #13
    "What does "linguistic" mean to you? "

    I don't know exactly, I must admit.

    As i can se from som web based dictionaries, they don't now etiher.

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/linguistic

    "The meaning is part of the language."

    If more or less perfect language is generated by a machine, a computer or something, is it then meaningsfull ?

    If I type in to the machine "How do I grow coconuts" and the machine then give me an answer how to grow coconuts, is this a meaningsfull information from the machine to me as his friend ?

    What if the machine generates sentences randomly like this: In Lonodon they grows the most delicious coconuts, that should allways be eaten with umberella and suggar on. Is it language ? Does it have a meaning ?

    "What difference does it make whether the sentence was put together by a human computer or a non-human computer ?"

    But does a human work like a computer at all ? Does it exist such a thing like a "human computer" ?

    Is there any reason to believe that computers and humans ar building or generating sentences the same way ?

    What is the argument for believing this ?

    By the way, the word lingustic, as I would understand it, has something to do with "the rules" how sentences are buildt and expressed, and not particularly with the more meaningfull content carried in it.

    As I will se it "linguistic" will have to do with more with "the technical protocol" that makes communications possible more than the more or less meaningsfull content that is transfered via this "protocol".

    As I will tend to see it the language does not neccessaly contain a meaningfull content or communication, it's more like a high level protocol that makes communication possible.
     
  15. May 20, 2007 #14

    honestrosewater

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    That link gives the same two definitions that I gave.

    What is "perfect language"?

    It sounds like you are still mixing up conscious experience with semantics. Granted, you are free to use your own personal meanings of these words and analyze things the way that you want to. But people have already defined these words and considered what language and consciousness are, and I have no interest in ignoring their work.

    How are these questions relevant? That was my question: what difference does it make?

    You don't have direct access to my experiences, do you? All you get are the physical forms. What difference does it make to your interpretation whether or not I was experiencing some desire when I asked the question? Does your identification of some utterance as a question depend on your knowledge of the experiences of the asker? I seriously doubt that it does. In fact, I can't imagine how it could. You have to make assumptions either way.

    As I suggested earlier, I think you want syntax.

    Why do you think meaning is transferred with the forms? Why don't you think it is mapped to and from the forms before and after transmission, by the speaker and hearer, respectively?

    Also, do you seriously not think of meaning as being part of language (and other sign systems)? In what contexts outside of language do you encounter or deal with meaning?
     
  16. May 20, 2007 #15

    honestrosewater

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    Wait, I have an idea. I will make two utterances below. I desire an answer for exactly one of them, so according to you, only one of them will be a question, yes? Your job is to identify the question.

    1) Is this the question?
    2) Is this the question?
     
  17. May 20, 2007 #16
    Answer to tha last one.

    From a comunitative way of looking at things, the two sentences pluss the the two alternatives, all together forms a question about identifying questions.
     
  18. May 20, 2007 #17

    honestrosewater

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    Hahaha... so... does that mean that you give up? :tongue2:

    The point is that a speaker does not communicate their desire to a hearer simply by experiencing the desire. Or that is not how language works, anyway (perhaps you want ESP or something). The speaker communicates the desire by selecting the appropriate form.
     
  19. May 20, 2007 #18
    No, not giving up at all, but the adsl line was hanging for a while. The last one got a misspelling but it's ok.

    Give up what ? No I think that the responce about "what is a question" is fantastic :-)

    By the way you have some very interresting arguments somwhere above that I have not comletely looked into .. Will do ..
     
  20. May 20, 2007 #19
    From somwhere above:

    "I can say words that I believe you will interpret as a question, and I can do so without experiencing any desire for the question to be answered. See: Is Paris the capital of France?"

    No, I will not call that a question at all. I would rather call it an explanation.

    "Is Paris the capital of France ?" is written as a questions, but from the context it is to be understood that the fuction of this sentence is to be understood as part of an explanation.

    From a linguistic point of view I guess it will be right to call it a question, but from a comunicative way of looking at it it is not a question.

    To say it like this: It is a question without the meaning or the function of a question.

    One can also say the from the linguistcal or semantical way of looking at things, this is a question. From a comunative way of looking at the same situation it is not a question.

    So the question "Is Paris the capital of France ?" is a question and it is not a question.

    In this case it is not a question of "to be or not to be" but rather about "to be and to be."

    At first sight it might look like the two conditions "to be a question" and "not to be a question" contradicts each other.

    As I will se it, it this not the case. "to be a question" and "not to be a question" does not contradict each other, they are just complemtary conditions, that exist relative to standards or those definisions that you use as an reference.
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2007
  21. May 20, 2007 #20
    "From a linguistic point of view I guess it will be right to call it a question"

    (Is Paris the capital of France ?)

    Do you agree that speaking about semantics this is a question and that the meaning of the question ralated to the semantics as a refference is about the capial in France while comunicated meaning from the context is something completely different ?

    So in this case the word "meaning" related to semantics means something like the opposite of the real and true meaning.
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2007
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