Knowledge Organisation


Kim H. Veltman

Questions and Choices

Unpublished, Toronto, 1996.

How do we learn? We ask questions. The basic questions: who, what, where, when, how, why have been around since recorded civilization. Yet the relative emphasis given to these questions and the resulting answers have changed enormously in the course of the past two thousand years.

Plato, for example, as a student of Socrates, was famous for asking questions. Perhaps because he was a philosopher he focussed on why questions. He dabbled in what questions (philosophy, law), in how questions (rhetoric, politics) and made passing references to matters involving when, where and who questions. It is noteworthy that he wrote no biography, geography or history in the way that we know it today. Plato's why questions led him to focus on abstract concepts and to leave out much of physical reality and almost all personal reality.

Plato’s most famous student, Aristotle, was more wide ranging in his questions. He too wrote minimal biography (who), little history (when) and some geography (where). Aristotle focussed on three questions who, what and why (fig. 1). It is striking how most of these concepts are static.

It can reasonably be argued that his systematic approach to these three questions established the disciplines of metaphysics, physics, philosophy, and logic (fig. 2). In most of these Quality dominates over Quantity. Even in those cases where Quantity is in play, it is almost strictly in terms of proportion rather than in terms of measurement. This is particularly true of his treatment of space and time. For the next fifteen hundred, some would say nearly two thousand years, Aristotle’s model exercised an amazing hold on the western world. With the rise of Christianity why questions continued to be in the foreground. A quiet change also took place. The crystallization of scientific subjects under the rubric of the quadrivium led to a gradual emphasis on Quantity (fig. 3).

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