The Status of Questions in the Ontology of Scientific Change

William Rawleigh


The currently accepted scientonomic ontology includes two classes of epistemic elements – theories and methods. However, the ontology underlying the Encyclopedia of Scientonomy includes questions/topics as a basic element of its semantic structure. Ideally there should be no discrepancy between the accepted ontology of theoretical scientonomy and that of the Encyclopedia.  I argue that questions constitute a distinct class of epistemic elements as they are not reducible to other elements that undergo scientific change – theories or methods. I discuss and reject two attempts at reducing questions to either descriptive or normative theories. According to the descriptive-epistemic account, scientific questions can be logically reduced to descriptive propositions, while according to the normative-epistemic account, they can be reduced to normative propositions. I show that these interpretations are incapable of capturing the propositional content expressed by questions; any possible reduction is carried at the expense of losing the essential characteristic of questions. Further, I find that the attempts to reduce questions to theories introduce an infinite regress, where a theory is an attempt to answer a question, which is itself a theory which answers another question, ad infintum. Instead, I propose to incorporate the question-answer semantic structure from erotetic logic in which questions constitute a distinct class of elements irreducible to propositions. An acceptance of questions into scientonomic ontology as a separate class of epistemic elements suggests a new avenue of research into the mechanism of question acceptance and rejection, i.e. how epistemic communities come to accept certain questions as legitimate and others as illegitimate.

Suggested Modifications

[Sciento-2018-0001]: Accept the following definition of question:

  • Question ≡ a topic of inquiry.

[Sciento-2018-0002]: Accept the ontology of epistemic elements with theories, methods, and questions as distinct epistemic elements. Reject the previously accepted ontology of epistemic elements.

[Sciento-2018-0003]: Provided that modification [Sciento-2018-0002] is accepted, accept that the epistemic stance that can be taken by an epistemic agent towards a question is question acceptance (the opposite is unacceptance), defined as follows: 

  • Question Acceptance ≡ a question is said to be accepted if it is taken as a legitimate topic of inquiry.

[Sciento-2018-0004]: Provided that modifications [Sciento-2018-0002] and [Sciento-2018-0003] are accepted, accept the following question as legitimate topics of scientonomic inquiry: 

  • Mechanism of Question Acceptance: How do questions become accepted as legitimate? What is the mechanism of question acceptance? 
  • Indicators of Question Acceptance: What are the historical indicators of theory acceptance? How can observational scientonomists establish that such-and-such a question was accepted as a legitimate topic of inquiry by a certain epistemic agent at a certain time?


ontology of epistemic elements; question; status of questions; theory; proposition; semantics; question acceptance

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