I bought a copy of Susanne Langer's 1942 book "Philosophy In A New Key" for fifty cents at The Word Bookstore in Montreal the other day. I had never heard of her before, but the work looks interesting. She seems to be an early philosopher of mind who was interested in applying philosophical logic to symbolism, art and music.
McGill's Semantics Research Group is shaping its reading group this summer around the theme of questions. So I thought it was fitting that the first page of Susanne Langer's book makes philosophical hay out of the existential presupposition of questions:
'The way a question is asked limits and disposes the ways in which any answer to it—right or wrong—may be given. If we are asked: "Who made the world?" we may answer: "God made it," "Chance made it," "Love and hate made it," or what you will. We may be right or we may be wrong. But if we reply: "Nobody made it," we will be accused of trying to be cryptic, smart, or "unsympathetic." For in this last instance, we have only seemingly given an answer; in reality we have rejected the question. The questioner feels called upon to repeat his problem. "Then how did the world become as it is?" If now we answer: "It has not 'become' at all," he will be really disturbed. This "answer" clearly repudiates the very framework of his thinking, the orientation of his mind, the basic assumptions he has always entertained as common-sense notions about things in general. Everything has become what it is; everything has a cause; every change must be to some end; the world is a thing, and must have been made by some agency, out of some original stuff, for some reason. These are natural ways of thinking. Such implicit "ways" are not avowed by the average man, but simply followed. He is not conscious of assuming any basic principles. They are what a German would call his "Weltanschauung," his attitude of mind, rather than specific articles of faith. They constitute his outlook; they are deeper than facts he may note or propositions he may moot.
'But, though they are not stated, they find expression in the forms of his questions. A question is really an ambiguous proposition; the answer is its determination. There can be only a certain number of alternatives that will complete its sense. In this way the intellectual treatment of any datum, any experience, any subject, is determined by the nature of our questions, and only carried out in the answers.
'In philosophy this disposition of problems is the most important thing that a school, a movement, or an age contributes. This is the "genius" of a great philosophy; in its light, systems arise and rule and die.'