The paradox of the question
Published online: 30 January 2011
Ó Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011
Abstract What is the best question to ask an omniscient being? The question is
intriguing; is it also paradoxical? We discuss several versions of what Ned
Markosian calls ‘‘the paradox of the question’’ and suggest solutions to each of
those puzzles. We then offer some practical advice about what do if you ever have
the opportunity to query an omniscient being.
Keywords Paradox Á Question Á Markosian Á Self-reference
Markosian (1997) tells the tale of some befuddled philosophers. The philosophers
are approached by an angel who promises them a truthful answer to a question of
their choosing. After much debate, the philosophers settle on the following:
(Q1) What is the ordered pair \x, y[, where x = the best question to ask, and
y = the answer to that question?
In response, the angel answers: ‘‘It is the ordered pair whose ﬁrst member is the
question you just asked me, and whose second member is this answer I am giving
you’’ (1997, p. 96). That is, he offers the following answer:
(A1) \Q1, A1[
The problem is that Q1 seems like a very good question to ask, but A1 seems like a
very bad answer to receive. Markosian asks: ‘‘What went wrong?’’ (p. 97).
R. Wasserman (&) Á D. Whitcomb
Department of Philosophy, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA 98225-9062, USA
In Markosian’s paper, the question appears as Q4.
Philos Stud (2011) 154:149–159