The Meta-Question

The Iconoclast: Preview I

A mind-numbing number of responses exist to the question: “What is philosophy?”. Some turn to ‘knowledge’, others give an account of human life but as far as I am aware few have attempted to respond using the apparatus of philosophy itself.

Philosophy is the question. Philosophy is the ultimate question, or, as I think it is technically accurate to say: the question of questions. I call this the meta-question.

All other fields of intellectual activity instantiate a foundation from which axiomatic footing can be found. Science asserts the primacy of empiricism along with an assumptive materialism, religion leverages metaphysical precepts as foundations for morality and even the various “schools” of philosophy are united by their first principles to the assertive or negative.1 I refer to these walled-gardens of intellectual activity as sub-questions.

Philosophy proper, however, is on the outside of all such cognitive enclosures. Philosophy's status as the meta-question can be demonstrated by the fact it emanates from and is cast upon everything simultaneously. It appears anything can be thought about philosophically. The apparatus of philosophy is what gives itself this unique and unbounded status:

For each and every x there is a philosophy of x.

e.g. Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Music, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Ethics, Philosophy of Canned Goods... Philosophy is the intellectual leviathan.

The meta-question contains the superset of sub-questions. The sub-question is a demoted reality revolving around its parameters and within its own rules. The subset of the meta-question is the theoretically infinite set of enumerable intellectual fields of inquiry hence discovered or with the future potential for generation through cognitive formalisation. Through their generation in cognition they snap into view becoming visible and explorable sub-questions the moment they are conceptualised. These are irrevocably amputated from the meta-question. Science is a philosophy but philosophy isn't a science.

We approach the meta-question with distinctly human questions in search of inhuman answers, having the audacity to wonder why we are consistently disappointed. Just as a philosopher appears to be on the cusp of finally decentering anthropomorphism they become swallowed back up into tacky sentimentality, constructing walls where there should be none. These human structures become evermore adorned by our fallibility with sub-questions of sub-questions along with overlaps of assumptions. These cathedrals of cognitive activity are pretenders to the sorts of ultimate ‘truth’ which the human intellect cries out for. Instead we find an anthropomorphic foundation, proceeding to draw a boarder around a domain constructing a paradisaical walled-garden of 'knowledge'. The terrain of the meta-question is littered with sub-questions:

We have ultimately restricted philosophy, under the pretense that it has any sort of basis, pretending that it can be taught. You can actually do physics or pottery, but it's an exceptional occurrence for somebody to actually do philosophy and even rarer that the effort is prolonged for a meaningful period.

What are we even expecting once Philosophy is done exactly? The point of telos is that there is actually a goal, isn't it? Just as the empirical sciences claim to be approaching their solution, philosophy simply generates more questions. The solution of sub-questions kindly provides nourishment for the graciously fortifying leviathan, resulting in the generation of an ever-increasing task for those willing to venture beyond the walls of more 'sensible' inquiry. As an uninhabitable space, the meta-question has a tenancy to solidify into 'schools' when inhabited by man. These adopt our natural tribalism and become warring sub-questions, fiefdoms of cognitive specialisation. They provide temporary shelter for injured travelers, philosophical retirement homes and amusements of novelty for those who merely like to dip their toes as 'an interest'.

Philosophy will never be done. It can't be done, least not by us. Many will never realise this, most will never care to approach the great meta-question in the first place.

Next Part: The Iconoclast →

This post is a preview for my upcoming book: The Iconoclast. Subscribe for more:


I understand this is a confusing use of language as I also call the meta-question “philosophy”. However the “schools” of philisophical activity are not philosophy proper. They are sub-groupings due to human intellectual limitation, deeper explaination on this is forthcoming.