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Ferdinand Fellmann

Professor of Philosophy

Questions about Questions

Deutsche Version

Immanuel Kant’s canonical philosophical questions, “What can I know? What must I do? What might I hope?” also apply when transformed epistemologically in view of classical metaphysics. Thus, it is no wonder that academia is still preoccupied with these questions as if they were carved into stone for eternity.

From the standpoint of being-in-the-world, some of course wonder whether the classical canon has something to do with the questions plaguing us humans concerning the meaning of life. It appears to be a good time to question the philosophical questions themselves if they are to avoid losing their relevance in the changing world. 

In my opinion, the most important philosophical question of the 21st century is: “How should the questions be reformulated if they are to deliver useful answers for the future?”

The question of theoretical philosophy: “What can I know?” has lost its meaning in the presence of the modern disciplines and their technical applications. The sciences proceed regardless of whether philosophy as “foundational science” shows them the way or not. This leads to a new question which connects philosophy and the sociology of knowledge: How should we use our knowledge?

Kant’s question of practical philosophy, “What must I do?” is hardly asked in light of morality by anyone anymore. At most, it might be asked in situations which appear unclear, when one reaches an impasse and seeks advice. By asking, the aim is usually to find strategies in order to avoid becoming the fool or to get along with others. The ethical questioning thus moves into the direction of a philosophy of the art of living: In what kind of world do we want to live?

The question of “What might I hope?” in Kant is directed at the afterlife, which, for most people today, is not nearly as important as the future of life in this world. Even in our beautiful new world, hope dies last; it is usually focused on concrete things, such as the fulfillment of career-oriented goals or personal desires. The appropriate question becomes: “What are the chances?” Philosophy will never be able to find an ultimate answer to this question. But this is unnecessary, as our existence depends on the image that we make of ourselves (self-image). I therefore suggest a more modest formulation of the fundamental question of philosophy, “What can we make of our own lives?” Such questions are answered by the philosophy of life, which I view as a theory of self-experience.