A philosophical essay, written at the Italian Philosophy Olympiad.
The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951) makes an interesting point in his Tractatus logico-philosophicus: He compares the problems in science to human problems of life.
Here’s the quote we’ll be talking about:
“We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched. Of course there are then no questions left, and this itself is the answer.“
— Wittgenstein, Ludwig
Wittgenstein argues that if we imagined that we would have found a solution for every single scientific question, problems of life would still be there, unanswered.
Is our life really that estranged from the science itself?
For science, I think he means all the common faculties for example mathematics, biology, psychology, etc. For problems of life, on the other hand, he could have thought of stereotypical questions like “what if I want a divorce but do not want to separate because of our children?” or “what is the meaning of life?”
After declaring that life’s difficulties remain untouched when scientific problems have been solved, Wittgenstein goes on and says that at this point there are no more questions.
Then, the fact of the absence of questions is for him the answer.
For me, Wittgenstein leaves open, what this answer actually is.
Is it that science is everything we could ask questions about?
And what about philosophy, is it a science where at some point you would know all the answers? But does philosophy itself not contain life’s questions?
I agree with the philosopher using the argument that although questions in science would be answered, problems of life would be unanswered.
In my opinion, science is limited and problems of life aren’t. The philosopher Wittgenstein speaks about an event that has not happened yet — namely the solution of all unknown scientific problems. Well, there may be some time in the future where this event will happen, but we cannot be sure about that.
We need to believe that we’ll find answers to all scientific questions, to make sense of Wittgenstein’s reasoning.
If we look back in history, there was often a great scientist who developed a new theory for something, but some other scientists came after that and revoked the whole argumentation of the first one. A good example could be concerning the physicists Newton and Einstein, who revolutionized Newton’s theory of gravity.
But for me, there are some good scientific explanations which won’t ever be revoked, namely that the earth is round and not flat. I guess we can agree on that.
Anyway, we could assume that someday we reach an end where science has come to a definite solution.
I even think we need to believe that science could come to an end with all questions answered in order to make sense of Wittgenstein’s reasoning.
Life’s questions are endless
Life’s questions, on the other hand, won’t come to an end. Because I think no human who is alive will stop at some point in his life and say: “Well, I solved all my problems and I won’t have any problems until the rest of my life.” If someone would say that for real, probably it would just mean someone’s denying their problems.
We’re naturally conditioned to strive for more and more, just as this cliché saying suggests: “What will make you happy today won’t make you happy tomorrow.” So, if you’re problem-free at the moment, I guess this state won’t last very long.
Also, if you solve a problem, you replace it automatically with — in your opinion — a slightly better problem. For instance, if you define for yourself the problem that you are living unhealthy, and you choose to solve the problem by cooking at home and going to the gym every morning — well, then you have just created other problems like the struggle with accomplishing those resolutions, namely cooking healthy, getting up earlier, and exercising.
All that being said, I support the philosopher’s theory that life’s problems remain unsolved in the long term.
But as he goes on, I cannot understand the point that he makes, that then there are no questions left, and this fact is the answer to all the unsolved life questions.
In the beginning, it doesn’t make sense. Why wouldn’t there be any questions left, if you only answered the scientific ones, but not the life questions?
Why would knowing that the earth is not flat extinguish my life difficulties?
Although scientific questions have been answered, it doesn’t mean that life’s problems aren’t present anymore.
In my opinion, life’s questions remain and define everyone’s everyday struggles, as solved problems become replaced by new problems, which emerge from the solution of the old problem.
Therefore, answering scientific questions is just one problem in human life.
This solution would just give birth to another problem, for example:
What should the scientists now do if they have answered all the questions in science?
So you see, I don’t think that there wouldn’t be any problems left.
Which brings me to the last thing the philosopher Wittgenstein mentions in this quote: With no questions left, that’s the answer. If you look at it carefully, it’ll make sense, I promise.
It all makes sense in the end
Wittgenstein said: “There are then no questions left, and this itself is the answer.”
But he doesn’t specify which questions don’t exist anymore. Scientific questions or life’s questions?
For me, there are no more scientific questions. It’s kind of obvious because the philosopher stated prior that they all have been solved.
In my opinion, what he was trying to say is that with all scientific questions solved, life’s questions are not covered by that. That means, there are still a lot of unanswered questions regarding life. And at the end, he states that “this itself is the answer.”
It’s the answer to all unsolved life’s questions.
Of course, it isn’t the answer for literally solving all problems, but for understanding that there are always unresolved problems. That means:
Being comfortable with knowing there are no absolute, evergreen solutions for our life’s problems.
Different situations require different answers. In the end, everything life consists of is solving problems, again and again, until the day we die.