Bewilderment and the art of inquiry
by Andrew Taggart
For the foreseeable future, the focus of my philosophical practice and my work with organizations will be on the art of inquiry. One aim of the art of inquiry is to lead the inquirer into a state of mental confusion (aporia) or bewilderment. The bewilderment implies that the inquirer can no longer say for sure what is true, right, useful, or necessary to do. The pain is the pain of not-knowing.
Before, the organization was sure (or sure enough) where things were headed, what was to be done, what was worthy of thinking, what vision it subscribed to. At this stage, one hears from individuals at organizations:
- This is how we do things, have done things here.
- We have adopted this set of procedures, subscribe to this approach, apply this method, follow this script.
- There is no question but that we ‘must’, ‘have to,’ ‘need to’ follow through with this.
Questions tend to be ‘technical’ in genre: how to do something or other, how to bring about a particular effect, what steps are to be taken if the desired outcome is to be reached.
A good inquiry may call into question any or all of the following: whether this is the right or best way of doing things; whether there are irresolvable problems built into the very structure of the organizations, problems that will compel the organization to collapse in time; whether the highest aim is actually worth aiming at; whether this theory or approach is open to devastating anomalies, exceptions, and counterexamples; whether the vision makes sense and can be affirmed; whether the words ‘must’ and ‘have to’ are covering up important questions of a broader nature; whether–and this in the most general sense–many of these statements are actually unformulated philosophical questions.
After a good guided inquiry, one notices that fellow inquirers are confused and bewildered, recognizing that what they thought they knew is not actually the case but not knowing what really is the case. This state of confusion ‘purifies’ things and opens the inquirers up to the possibility of asking a novel question: “After the most important things have been shown not to be the most important and have thus fallen away, what now?” Now, we inquire in earnest, in search of greater clarity.