Thursday, September 03, 2009

Inquiry and Error

Inquiry would be pointless without the possibility of error. However, the quest for accuracy, a modality of care which Corradi Fiumara justifiably identifies as a saliency of human thought (if it isn't perhaps the punctum saliens of inquiry in the main), seemingly contravenes a bona fide acceptance of error at any point during the course of inquiry. Once we admit the possibility of error the quashing of express errors during the course of inquiry becomes problematical. By disallowing for the appearance of error itself we betray error and so therefore implicitly compromise any commitment to inquiry, or else we follow a path away from noncontradictory reason—we error in refusing to accept error.

Perhaps the possibility of error resides in answers and not in questions? Yet the question envelops the answer. Dialogue, response, is as keenly an element of the question as oxygen is an element of water. To close the question against error by dismissal of wrong answers is to stray from inquiry in its dialogic essence, which isn't to say one can't reasonably dismiss any given answer as wrong, but simply to posit that such dismissals can't close the question as such against error.

Roughly I'm concerned with the flightpaths of inquiry here, at the expense, perhaps, of fixing boundaries. Are our expectations about inquiry altered as an investigation makes its way to its destination—we haven't yet settled questions of destinations, the manner in which questions are folded into an investigatory itinerary, causes of the question, consuetudinal structurations—or over the span of a career of philosophical inquiry, inquiry that calls itself into question? Do we start a philosophical inquiry with a question and then allow some latitude for error on the way to an answer? Does an initial question guide all subsequent questioning, set a trajectory that constrains all possible deviations? Do questions metamorphose under scrutiny? Are questions in the process of an inquiry like hinges, small joints that allow the doors of inquiry to swing shut and open? If inquiry is a revisionary process is the model of inquiry then also open to revision? Revisability as a facet of inquiry may imply the correction of errors but by the same token it would have to also imply the possibility of error.

While I can't wholeheartedly recommend an erratic pursuit of inquiries, neither can I recommend against it, and I can't quite see the reason why an erratic style of questioning need be regarded as inimical to philosophy. Avowedly I favor the peregrination, despite a few reservations and embarrassments. The adventure of philosophy must at some point pass through the ambiguity of the errant, acknowledge its existence rather than attempt to wish it out of being. As Corradi Fiumara argues, we must inquire into the unbearability of ambiguity, for surely "a measure of ambiguity allows for a constant search for ever greater accuracy" (Metaphoric, p. 80). The acknowledgment of ambiguity folds back on itself, methectically folds back into knowledge. The philosophical question offers not one single immiscible meaning but a multitude of perplications, the opening of a thousand paths of inquiry, a thousand exploits. There is no philosophical journey without exposure to error—and yet, yet, this conclusion is too comfortable. It feels wrong. If the inquiry comes full circle has it genuinely exposed itself to error?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:18 AM.


Blogger Beth said...

I think the process must be editable, assessable, at least as much as the questions asked during the process. Although increased ambiguity can be distressing (and even inappropriate perhaps in scientific research, such as clinical trials, or other areas where life or death data is being pursued) I believe that the knowledge gained, the information gathered during the process must inform the process itself as well as provide the answers, so to speak. One always has to be open to the possibility that the wrong question is on the table, or that it’s being asked in the wrong way.

September 03, 2009 9:15 AM  

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