Why: Request for an
There is a tendency to distinguish between
questions asking how and questions
asking why, that usually comes with a tendency to insist that the
former are scientific questions and the latter metaphysical ones, but
that seems mostly a prejudice, since grammatically everything can be
questioned as every statement can be turned into a question why such and
such is so.
What is true is that not all questions that can be grammatically
posed can be rationally answered - or at least that some questions can
only be answered by the observation that they have no rational answer.
One example is the question Heidegger was so fond of: 'Why is there
anything at all (rather than nothing)?', that was also posed by Leibniz
and Voltaire, and indeed will be posed eventually by anybody who keeps
stubbornly asking 'Why?' to any explanation that is given.
For this fact, that there are some very general and as it were
ultimate questions that have no real sense, in that they have no
rational answer, there are two reasons.
First, embarking on an obvious infinite regress of questions will not
answer anything: To answer a question one needs in the end make some
form of assumption or insist on some
These assumptions or observations that answer the question may be
mistaken or unfounded, and may perfectly well be rationally questioned
by 'But why would I believe that?', but this is a request for specific
evidence rather than for a yet more
Second, 'Why is there anything at all?' invites some explanation,
that must propose something - "God willed
it"; "It's a chance occurence: a quantum
flux or Epicurean declination"; "There must be a training ground to
decide who deserves to go to hell", "So that this and other
Why-questions can be posed" or whatever - and therefore does not
answer the question.
And here it must also be remarked that the religious answer to 'Why
is there anything at all?' - say: The
because God willed it - makes very little sense, firstly because it can
be perfectly reasonably questioned ('Pray, why then does God exist? Who
made Him, and wherefore?'), and secondly because in the normal
supernatural form it makes no sense, as it then involves an argument
like 'There is everything that exists,
and that is nature, and besides that there
is ...' for this is a contradiction.
Finally, another observation that must be made about
Why-questions is that they are personal, in
the sense that they depend on some particular person's particular
combination of ignorance and knowledge. A why-question generally arises
because a person knows enough to know that he does not know the
explanation for something that he would like to see explained in terms
he can make sense of with his knowledge.