The Hidden Assumptions of “Why” Questions

Why are we here?
Because we’re here.
Roll the bones!
– Rush

As a philosopher and armchair scientist, I live for the Why. My curiosity is ravenous and devours anything remotely piquing it.  In pursuit of knowledge I am constantly asking Why this or Why that, neither of which ever gets fully answered, but instead sends me scurrying off into other Why pastures.

Why is the most powerful question in the world, foreshadowing What and How and Where and When and all the other wonderful one-word thought-starters.

But  with that power comes the dark side of assumption that can jeopardize the integrity of our line of questioning and subsequently our answers.

Some examples:

  • Why are you queer?
  • Why are we here?
  • Why don’t you eat meat?
  • Why is there something rather nothing?

What do the above four “Why?” questions have in common?

Each seems to hold an assumed (that is, biased) standard that the question Is playing against. This means that instead of being an objective, knowledge-seeking question that it appears to be on the surface, it is a leading one.

Why are you queer, for example, seems to assume not being queer is the default,  axiomatic even, and contrastedly that being queer requires “explanation”. So by asking the question  in such a fashion, we are already shaping the answer into being a certain kind of answer: one that offers explanatory value only within the narrow confines of its assumption.

And renders any so-derived answer questionable.