In English I can think of 7 main “question words” that you commonly find at the beginning of a question, indicating a certain type of question.

They are: who, what, which, when, where, why and how. (how is it not whow? - “w” not being its first letter is such an anti-climax at the end of that list, no?)

(i) You also get questions that reverse the order of a noun and its corresponding verb, such as “are you?” instead of “you are”. Although, of course, “you are?” can be a question on its own when not followed by any more words - unless you want to sound foreign.
(ii) Some questions begin with “Can/could, will/would and shall/should/ought?” - they are alternatives to the above, though verb-specific. “Can” is just “are you able?” and “will” is just “are you willing?”. “Shall” is equivalent to “ought” though from a different word derivation - which is where we get our word “owe” or “own” (be owing). So “shall” is just “are you owing?” in the sense of “are you obliged to do so in return?” Would/could/should are the respective conditional forms.
(iii) The parenthesised sentence near the beginning of this post turns a statement into a question requesting verification in just the same way - just by adding a proposed answer onto the end of a sentence and shoving a question mark after it.
(iv) There are also 1-word questions of verification like “huh?” and “pardon?” - though they are interchangable with any of the main 7.

All the above can be summed up as questions of verification.

Turning attention to the main 7, we can whittle them down to fewer:

“Where” can be subsumed by “what”, only with the concentration on spatial location: “what place?”.
“When” can be likewise subsumed by “what”, only with the concentration on temporal location: “what time?”.
“Which” is basically another “what”, though restricted to a particular selection: within which “which one?” = “what one?”.
“Who” is also another “what”, though generally referring to people as distinct from things: “what/which person?”.

Whilst “how” can be subsumed by "what: “in what way?” and “why” can be subsumed as “for what purpose?” I don’t think “what” portrays the movement in “how” and “why”. So we can essentially narrow down questions to verification, “what”, “how” and “why”.

“What” is a question of identification description, “how” is a question of behavioural description and/or explanation, “why” is a question of where that behaviour ends up.
Looked at in this way, there appears to be some kind of systemising “start, process, finish” feel to each of these 3 types of question.

Questions of identification description (what) and behavioural description (how) are generally distinct like noun to verb, static to dynamic, quanta to qualia. Each assumes distinct definition or limits of an object or its quality of behaviour: definite separation between things and degrees/extents.

When “how” is being used to request explanation, it is based in questioning “what” goes on (behavioural description) when looked at in a different way.
(a) Spatially (where), objects (whats) can be looked at from different angles, more closely and further away (magnification).
(b) Temporally (when), objects (whats) can be looked at before and after (requiring memory).

If one thing happens consistently before another that happens after, if smaller things are going on at the same time as larger things, “causation” can be called upon - wherein description turns to explanation by connecting descriptions.

(a) If a substance, identified as magnesium, comes into contact with a substance, identified as hydrochloric acid, the reaction can be said to be caused by the smaller atoms of chlorine bonding with with the magnesium atoms, and letting the hydrogen atoms free (looked at from a spatially different, magnified point of view - going on at the same time as the reaction).

(b) If a billiard ball travels toward another, changes its motion once it is next to the other, a sound is heard, and the other changes its motion - these descriptions of identification and behaviour can be turned into explanations by linking the descriptions together. The first ball could be said to cause the second ball to move as it does. And the second ball would be the cause of the first changing direction. Their mutual contact would cause the sound (all looked at from temporally different points of view on the same level of spatial magnification).

Such explanations assume causation, within a spatio-temporal structure - applied to assumed definitely distinct objects of identifiable description.

The question of “why” assumes all of this, taking an identified description (a “what”) as an end-point.

All of the above can be applied to people too ("who"s). A temporally different point of view can identify the description (what) of what was intended by the person before they acted, and connected with the person’s action. Such intensions are taken as the intended end “cause” (the “why” explanation) of any intentional action. Here, the person’s will (a “what”) is identified as the starting condition, and through some process (“how”) or other they arrive at their intentional consequence (“why”). One’s will is the imagined associated consequence, that precedes the real consequence (if successful).

The “why” of this post is to describe how all the many types of question words are tied up with all our understandings and rational structures of the world, and how they assume some combination of definition and causation within a spatio-temporal structure.

When you do so much as to even ask a question, know that you are already assuming many things.

Whither not good enough for you? No whence? Wherefore? I ask you, the youth of today. :slight_smile:

Questions that start with a verb usually require a solid answer: “yes” or “no”, for example. Questions that start with a wh* are usually more open.

Except “what one?” is not correct. If a student said it, a teacher would correct it to “which one?”

Knowing what, knowing how and knowing why are all different, too.

Absolutely. Sit in a class full of toddlers for an hour :slight_smile:

Lol sorry, I forgot you were 300 years old, Master David Hume :wink: I did actually consider putting in Ye Olde English… :stuck_out_tongue:
Whither means where, whence means when and wherefore means why, right? :neutral_face:

Yes this is what I meant by summing them up as verification questions. I possibly ought to have put a clarification of the yes/no quality of answers to verification questions in my summation of question-asking-assumptions.

Ya, I was trying to get across the subsuming of “which” into “what” by straying from grammatical correctness.

You mean epistemological questions rather than ontological? The types of question are the same regardless of subject.

I wish the philosophers (and people in general) that I’ve engaged with were more childlike… some of those older folk are a nightmare to get through to.

I do think it’s interesting to focus on how we formulate questions in a language (or in different languages) and note that lots of assumptions are required to constructing question.

It means that our questioning (and following thought/reasoning/logic/etc) is already launched and framed by subconscious assumptions.
So, it’s more or less natural to focus on what is going on in subconscious if we want to understand how we think and/or if we want to think with different/better/less assumption.
I mean, philosophy, science, religion, etc, etc are “molded” by the way we think (by how we get/make/change assumptions) and the keys for understanding some strange tendencies found in our thought pattern can be found by bringing up subconscious to the surface of awareness (as much as we can).
Otherwise, we might be thinking more or less robotically within very limited frame of mind.

This is why I’m interested in what Damasio is studying, as his theories (at least some part) seem to be similar to what I’ve been thinking by observing how we feel/think.

In addition, I think that questioning/thinking from assumption goes together with how some of us think from the impression/position of “knowing”.
And I think it’s a bit easier to learn when we are aware that we don’t know much.
It’s much easier to teach a real novice compared to someone who has got bad habit and/or wrong idea.

Whither is “to where” and whence is “from where”. Whither you go I will follow, even back to the place whence you came (these days, people say “from whence he came”, but that’s incorrect). There’s also hither and hence (the latter’s meaning has changed to an argumentative “from here” rather than a locational) and thither and thence. It’s a hangover from a much more case-based language, where dative and ablative and locative were grammatically different, but that’s long gone. Hence (well, almost gone) the question terms being dropped, I guess.

As a question, wherefore can always be replaced by why, I think. I’m not sure if the reverse is true… the phrase “the whys and wherefores” indicate there may be some difference.

Not quite. Knowing how to ride your bike is different to knowing that you ride your bike. How refers to skills, procedures, events; what refers more to facts and states of things. Although language is flexible enough to work things around a little clumsily:
How do you ride a bike? = what do you have to do to ride a bike?
What is the capital of France? = How do you refer to the capital of France?

Presumably “to where” is accusative? I think “from where” is ablative - I learnt all this case stuff in Latin class over 10 years ago so it’s pretty rusty.
I remember the handy “by, with, from, in or on” for ablative. Accusative is just the object, which can include motion “to” it, but not giving to - that would be dative. I thought it was accusative that was easy to mix up with dative? Locative is the one that’s easily subsumed into ablative I think.

All these prepositions became externalised from words, somewhere along the way. And then in good old commoner streamlining of communication, they will have been frequently dropped and mixed up. Language loses its precision in terms of word relations.

I wonder if that’s philosophically significant? A lack of word connectivity could be an unconsciously sublimated result of people becoming individualised in the oncoming of Capitalist individualism. The timing would be consistent at least.

Yeah ok, I sort of covered that kinda thing briefly when I said " “how” can be subsumed by “what”: “in what way?” and “why” can be subsumed as “for what purpose?” ".

I divided up “how” into descriptions of quality and behaviour (as opposed to “what” that was generally a description of static identity) and the use of “how” when requesting an explanation, which required assumptions about connection between descriptions as “causation”.

Your bike and France examples show a flexibility in language between the former use of “how” and its comparative similarity with questions of “what” - both descriptions that can have qualifications of stasis or motion added onto them to make them mutually interchangable.

I think what I have bolded is an interesting slant to this thread. If anyone knows some question formulations that don’t fit into my OP model of the English language, then it would be interesting for them to share and explain.

I would say that science started from the assumptions - needing a solid basis upon which to build solid knowledge.
I would say that philosophy started from the same assumptions but went the other way, underneath the solid starting base. However, the only way to do this is by using the same assumptions, because they are the necessary ones to structure our basic understanding (so it is also building on the same assumptions as science, but in a different way). This allows such basic assumptions to be recognised, though working outside of them is tricky to say the least - as one no longer makes normal sense. One has to become an artist or poet to do so.

This is where I am interested in sense behind “nonsense” or contradiction. I also believe that artistry and poetry can shape in abnormally philosophical ways - such as with Nietzsche. Without doing so, remaining within normal sense, one maintains philosophy as more similar to science or in line with science. I believe this to be very limited as it cannot sufficiently look beneath its foundations in any ways that have not been done countless times before. You just end up with analytical philosophy and the like, which makes plenty of sense - it just doesn’t really say anything.

I would say that religion perhaps goes in a third way to science and philosophy, though overlaps with them. The solid base of religion is similar to that of science with its proposed forces and laws, though it is an older version. Philosophy is the only way to understand this (covering history too) - religion can attempt to do the same, ending up in mysticism - though mysticism does not sufficiently connect with science in order to understand it where philosophy can. And philosophy can also comprehend and subsume mysticism.

We see the same questions in all of these pursuits, they broadly connect them all. This is why questioning the questions is of such importance - without which philosophy does not really earn its position of underlying and connecting all pursuits.

I made my version of resume, with the twist on the perspective of “assumption”, as I think basic and common assumption in pretty much all questioning is that we can have the certainty (in the form of the answer).

Verification/Yes-No question.
(generic true/false, binary uncertainty. Ambiguity/ambivalence)
Is it …? Are you …?
Shall we …? Would you …?

Assumption of (simple and/or absolute) certainty

Identification/Focus question:
(uncertainty in choosing, identifying within possible selections)
Who …? (person)
Which …? (choice)
What is …? (matter)
When …? (time)
Where is …? (space)
Wohin… ? Woher…? (German: vector/direction)

Assumption of identification certainty (that we can know/identify)

Evaluation/measurement question:
(uncertainty of measurement)
How long…? How cold …? How old …? (degree, measurement)

Assumption of evaluation certainty (that we can measure/evaluate)

Method/Technic question:
(uncertainty in achieving, attaining the goal)
How can we do…?

Assumption of method certainty (that we can know how to achieve)

Reasoning question:
(uncertainty of logic, reasoning, cause of problem/trouble shooting)
Why …?

Assumption of reasoning certainty (that we can reason/think)


I guess certain language may contain more detailed attention/focus in some area.
But I do think many languages share common uncertainty types that bring up common question type.

This is why I talked about subconscious a bit in the previous post.
I mean, to understand questioning process, we need to understand what triggered it.
As our attention is usually supported/propelled by opposed (and often negatively perceived) concepts, we can usually understand underlying assumptions by looking at the opposite side of the subject matter (of question and answer).
I sometime call this as motivational analysis.
And I do think it can be done (more or less) systematic/analytic manner.
So, digging underneath can be done without resorting to poetic method.
Also, mysticism doesn’t have to be mysterious/poetic, etc.
I’d say the choice of linguistic mode is just a matter of preference and ability of each person.

Now, as far as I’ve observed, the basic desire and assumption common in philosophy/science/religion is the certainty, and absolute certainty to be exact.
Science tries to be certain by limiting the scope and by adhering more or less strict methodology.
In philosophy, I guess anything goes. Many of them (in west) were just disguised theological attempts, for example.
In religion, God (or the belief in god) is supposed to be the base for the absolute certainty.
I mean, if people don’t assume that they an attain some type of certainty, I don’t think they ask questions.
We think/reason to attain certainty of some sort.

But the certainty (a.k.a fixation) IS a limiting factor for us and the cause for inner conflict/contradiction and narrow mindedness, too.
So, some people go to the direction of more and more unknowing instead of trying to know more based on things we already know (or we pretend/presume to know).
I do think Socrates was a crazy fellow who knew too well that he didn’t know much and different from most “philosophers”, while Plato-Aristotle-followers were academic people who taught and who pretended to know (probably too much).

Decomposing question has been a favorite method of mystics, by the way.
They may ask a question like “What is the W of what?” and “What is before WHAT?”
It can be seen as another mean of orienting attention/focus back to the stem/root of the focus for the subject matter.

I wrote about questioning process in this thread, last year.
Fixation => Contradiction => Question => Answer => Fixation

My take on answers for questions is that they are rephrased versions of the same thing: only one said with doubt and the other with certainty. Though by certainty I don’t mean objective certainty, but rather emotional certainty - much like confidence.

Method is a means by which to reduce to components and structure for the purposes of checking place and purpose, after which we can feel more certain of our conclusion - obviously this is all very emotion-based. I see all speech as an expression of emotion, much like a smile or laugh.

I don’t think absolute certainty is necessarily the intention or assumption of all questioning. You seem to have touched on this by mentioning how some, in their quest for certainty, move away from it - like Socrates. Philosophy can cover both - desiring both doubt as well as certainty. The paradox is that in order to continually confirm certainty, one must always be in doubt - yet if one is always in doubt, one never has a chance to be certain.
I think that certainty does not complete the process, with prediction being the point of asking questions such that one may act in order to best achieve an outcome. Certainty does provide an emotional reward in itself, yet it is not the completion of the intention behind questioning - action is.

I agree with much of what you’ve done with your version, and the German addition is good. I’m tempted lump that in with “space”, as in where questions.
From what I’ve seen, other languages don’t really diverge from the English language (what with its largely shared roots in Latin and Greek) in what/how they question.

I’m also tempted to equate your “Assumption of evaluation certainty (that we can measure/evaluate)” with my qualitative behavioural version of “how” that assumes distinct definition in degree/extent, and your “Assumption of method certainty (that we can know how to achieve)” with my explanation version of “how” that must assume causation. The question I raised was also can we assume definition, causation etc. - a yes/no type question.
For your “Assumption of reasoning certainty (that we can reason/think)” I think we know we can reason/think. Questioning questions is such that we question what we are assuming when we reason/think. Reason and think are just words to identify our dividing and sorting of conscious mental concepts - this is just our awareness.

I have to point out that in asking “what triggered it”, we are assuming “what”-assumptions in order to evaluate questions. There is also an implication of “how”-assumptions in the use of the causative process word, trigger. I spoke about this - in that this is all philosophy can really do without turning to poetry and art.

I find the notion of the “subconscious” an interesting one. It is meant to be a realm that we are never conscious of (that we can only consciously observe through brain-examination). Conscious behaviour can be consciously linked since we are aware of what we intend and our associations with the expected result of acting in a certain way in order to fulfill our intention. Subconscious behaviour is when we just perform the action without the same awareness and fulfill things we often intend when consciously analysed in hindsight. The concept of the “subconscious” is that there must be some similar kind of conscious origin to such behaviour, and to pose such a realm is useful. Thus the concept of the subconscious is born - which, when you look at it, is a bizarre concept to accept since it is directly opposed to conscious evidence: it has been logically induced without conscious confirmation (beyond a 3rd-person perspective of a brain monitor).

Such methods beg the question!

Btw, your “Fixation => Contradiction => Question => Answer => Fixation” model is a good one.

I do think we are pretty much “emotional based” animal, even in thinking/questioning, although some people don’t seem to like the idea.
The Damasio guy I talked about showed something similar from neuro-science.
Again, Damasio link: viewtopic.php?f=4&t=175718

I think that many of us has innate presumption for the absolute certainty.
I mean, when we are very small, our parents usually “assure us” and comfort us so that we feel nice and feel with the certainty that everything is safe and cozy.
But I guess this assuring of absolute certainty is important at the stage because we may develop even more craving for certainty (in our subconscious) if the desire is left unfilled when we are not so conscious yet.

Later, we learn that it’s not that safe nor cozy.
And it may trigger questioning in some of us.
Other may try to put the uneasiness away by using beliefs and other means (including religion, ideology, etc, including science and philosophy).

But I do think we can learn to live with the uneasiness of uncertainty when we start learn that most of certainty we have can be a sort of presumption, unexamined beliefs, things we take for granted, results of worshiping and hoping/expecting too much, and so on.
And it’s not necessarily living in “doubt” continuously.
It’s mostly learning that certainties we had weren’t absolute/unconditional but they are very limited and conditional.
I mean, the lack of absolute unit of measurement doesn’t mean we can’t measure things using different units depending on the context/purpose.
It’s somewhat loosing the naive assumption that things we think we know are absolute and independent of context/perspective/limitation/condition/etc.

In the case of “prediction” type of question, I think the sense certainty of future outcome is usually very comforting for many people.
We (at least some of us) tend to get very uneasy when the future is uncertain.

What I wrote is a quick resume that please feel free to reject/adopt/use in any way.

I tend to think that we are terrible thinker to the point I dare to say we are stupid and insane. So, from such perspective, I think we tend to assume a lot about our ability in reasoning and thinking.
Similarly, I don’t think we are that aware, very often.

I usually blame religion (mainly monotheism: Christianity, Islam, Judaism) for our pretension of being intelligent and aware and all that nonsense.

In my case, the assumption of something triggering the question comes from the observation and recollected memory of questioning event (of mostly myself but also including that of others).
I did notice that I had some sort of uneasy feeling/sensation right before questioning process, consistently.
So, I observed and analyzed these sensation/feeling.
And my conclusion, so far, is that these feeling/sensation are the sense of contradiction/conflict/inconsistency/incoherence among perspective I had (often subconsciously).
I don’t recollect questioning without these, so far.

I see subconscious, differently.
Although it’s not usually very accessible, by definition and by nature, I don’t think the division/separation between conscious and subconscious is fixed/solid/permanent.
So, I think we can bring things in subconscious to the surface and also we can push things in the surface down into subconscious.
It’s like remembering things we forgot. As long as we don’t remember, it’s not in the conscious, but it’s not totally gone. By remembering, it resurfaces into conscious.

And I tend to think that the separation of conscious and subconscious is made of our assumptions.
I mean, our attention (focus of awareness) is directed/supported by assumptions and its the positive end. An arrowhead, so to say. And since we are aware of it, it’s in the conscious side.
The opposite end is supported by negatively perceived things, and make up subconscious side together with assumptions that we are not aware.

The sum of arrowhead, or the area surrounded by arrows is conscious and the rest is subconscious.

As we can become aware of assumptions and even negative back plane (of the focus arrow), we can access to subconscious especially when we can bear the negative feeling/sensation associated with much of subconscious region.

As you might have seen, my way of seeing subconscious is different, although I do think we can find parallel element in conscious and subconscious, too.
However, they would be parallel but in opposite direction, most probably.

How our thought (may) evolve

This one explains more (and from different angles) about how I see.
It shows the matter of conscious/subconscious and certainty, too.

A statement becomes a question by saying it with a rising tone of voice. There are nonverbal questions conveyed by looks. The daily news criteria of who, what, when, where, etc. seldom delve into the depths of why.
A good semantics expert once noted “A map is not the territory”. A word is not your experience with what you are naming; nor is it a full description of your question. Poets and prophets dig a bit deeper.