Believing that digital technology retrieves the inquisitive spirit of medieval scholasticism, all Lyceum Institute members are encouraged to participate in the Quaestiones Disputatae program. This program consists in three continual phases and a fourth concluding state.
First, participants craft a provisional question, or quaestio, concerning some topic of philosophical interest. This can be vague, such as, “What is rhetoric and why is it important?”, or it can be very particular, such as “Why are there four species of the category of quality?” This should be elaborated in a discussion thread, stating the reason for one’s interest, the perceived difficulty or obstruction of clarity, and some goal which is sought. This process of elaboration may be quick or lengthy, taking as long as it needs to develop rightly. Other members and Faculty will contribute as well, suggesting ideas and readings, engaging one another in a dialectical process.
Second, participants engage with one another and Faculty in semi-formal discussions–called Inquirere sessions–where a report on progress is given and further issues are worked out in real time conversation, with more specific feedback and details being given.
Third, participants prepare a quaestio. This, ideally, should capture something of the medieval disputed question format. This need not comprise the specific “objection–response” structure, but should in principle explain the difficulty and propose a resolution to it. This prepared quaestio can be of any length, and should be presented in some format to the Lyceum Institute as a whole.
Fourth, participants defend their prepared quaestio to participating faculty and other members in a live session, called a Defensione. Defensiones are held during two weeks of the year: once in summer and once in winter.
Crafting a Question
What is a question? As is the case all too often, we have a familiarity with questions but not a knowledge of questions. This entails taking our ability to ask questions for granted–and, thus, frequently, a deficient habit toward forming questions themselves. We are taught from ages before our recollection that questions are ordered towards receiving things that we want: food, drink, play, affection, toys, and so on. As we get older, we are taught to incline this inquiring towards information we want: where things are, how to do things, the satisfaction of curiosity, and so on.
Only the last of these, however, touches upon the essential relation of questioning itself: for questioning–inquiry–belongs to us by nature, from our nature; to our activity, from our faculties–and specifically, the faculty of intellect which seeks not to impose upon the world, but to receive from it: to attain understanding of what, of the intelligibility of things.
Any question the crafting of which does not begin with or keep in sight this inclination will stray from the path of its innate ordering. This does not mean how and why, by what means, and so on, cannot form a part of one’s inquiry; only that these necessarily take a subordinate role. While answering them may be the proximate goal of one’s inquiry here, it should always be recognized within the larger context of questioning to which ultimately it belongs.
Thus, to give an example, let us say I pose the question to myself–provisionally–of “how does social media impact our psychology?” This no doubt seems a worthy question, and one in need of resolution. And yet at least two other questions necessarily precede its asking: namely, “what is our psychology?” and “what is social media?” The first question itself comprises many others and demands an extensive inquiry–one which the asker of social media’s impact need not work out entirely for himself, but which needs reliable, logical, and convincing sources nonetheless. The second question does not admit of so great a complexity, but nevertheless does demand understanding something of socialization paradigms, means, the nature of media, the technologies themselves, and the nature of environment (which corresponds to the questions concerning psychology). As can be seen in this lattermost point, a particular convergence occurs which can then be used to structure the original question, of “how does social media impact our psychology?”
Atimes, we discover in the attempted crafting of our questions that their antecedents which we need to understand are too complex or outside a reasonable scope somehow for us to proceed with the original question. This in itself serves a fruitful purpose, for coming to know something of what we do not know profits us more than most realize.
Thus the stage of crafting a question consists, we could say, in three smaller steps:
- Musement. This is a term taken from Charles Sanders Peirce (cf. 1908: “A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God” in The Essential Peirce, vol.2), and signifies our capacity to allow the mind, by a rigorous abstention from distractions, to play with different ideas, observing their relations, seeking out their possible causes, wondering about their possible effects, taking note of their varied similarities and differences from other ideas, and so on. This give rise to the initial inquiring stance: why are these things as they are? Which leads quite often to the fundamental question which answer we are truly seeking: what are these things?
- Articulation. Now that you know what it is you want to say, how do you say it–and does saying it show to you something you did not see before? This is the step of making public, somehow, your question: giving a name to it (however vague), writing up why you are interested in asking it, what thoughts you have had about it heretofore; where you find yourself still lacking certainty, and so on.
- Revision. Based upon your initial attempts at articulation, the feedback you’ve received, the further reading you’ve done, and continued reflection (perhaps even a new instance of musement), you will likely find that you initial question needs tweaking, wholesale revision, or perhaps outright abandonment.
These sessions, lasting anywhere from 30-90 minutes, allow us to work out our questions communally in a live chat. There are three ways in which someone may participate in an Inquirere session: as an Inquirer, as a Responder, or as an Observer. An Inquirer is seeking to define and develop a question. A Responder brings updates to their question and works in a live dialectic on what updates have been brought. Observers listen and comment on the inquiries and responses given.
Each session proceeds semi-formally, with Dr. Kemple structuring the discussion by asking for updates, pressing on specifics which seem to need more attention, and giving suggestions or general feedback. Each session is recorded and saved for posterity.
Preparing a Quaestio
The preparation of one’s quaestio occurs through the process of preparation and inquiring, and results in a written production of suitably readable text. Here, one’s chief concern should be making the nature of the dispute clear to an unfamiliar audience. This will be the principal task which spans both articulation and revision. One may present a quaestio at an Inquirere session at any stage of development. When it is finished, it can be presented at a Defensione session.
There are two preferred styles for the format of one’s quaestio: the classical disputation and the expository disputation. The former is more familiar and falls into the format of: brief preface, objections, sed contra, response, and responses to the objections. The second is more complex and takes the format of an exposition of the difficulty, followed by the positing of conclusions, their defenses, and subsequently the dialectic of objections and their resolutions. In many ways, this latter format fits better a modern way of thinking: we are more familiar with expository writing than with the classical format, and more accustomed to thinking of objections and their responses immediately juxtaposed one to the other.
Quaestiones Disputatae can be defended twice per year: one can schedule to defend one’s quaestio with Dr. Kemple in the last weeks of January and July. The complete written quaestio must be submitted in writing at least 2 weeks prior to the defense date. Successfully defended quaestiones will be included in a volume published once per year (in PDF, possibly in print as well).
The defense will consist in a series of prepared challenges and questions, concerning both research quality and philosophical quality of the argument, from Dr. Kemple and any others who submit them in advance in the Meeting thread established for one’s defense, which questions the defender will answer in order. In addition, there will be a live Q&A session open to the audience after the prepared questions have been answered.