Talk:why

Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to: navigation, search

I believe that, for further clarity, this definition should include some mention that there are two (and only two) ways of looking at the question "Why?". The first is: As a result of what cause? The second is: For what purpose? This difference is evident in the two different ways of asking the question "Why?" in Spanish. The first is por qué. The second is para qué. These can be roughly translated into my first and second English definitions respectively. Despite the fact that the definition "For what reason?" may cover both of my definitions, I believe it is important to mention both here, as the two ways of thinking are quite opposite. For instance: Why did I go to the store? I went to the store because I ran out of milk. or I went to the store to buy milk. They may be similar, but they embody two very different ways of thinking. Or consider the philosophical question Why?: We exist as the result of what cause? or We exist for what purpose? Those are two very different discussions. --Alancurrie78 01:30, 3 February 2007 (UTC)

The dual meaning of "Why"[edit]

This same thought has occurred to me about this word, and to other words that touch on the concepts of cause and effect. I am intrigued by the fact that I've yet to see a dictionary that differentiates between simple causality and purpose. The use of the word reason in the current definition in Wiktionary does not solve that problem at all, it simply exacerbates it, because the word reason itself possesses the same dual meaning. The real difference between these two meanings is that causality and intentional action are, in a sense, polar opposites. With causality, the question of "why" asks what was the antecedent condition, the "cause", that gives rise to a particular outcome, the "effect". With intention, the question is about what effect was desired that an agent (usually a person), was attempting to cause. Intention looks at the cause/effect relationship by looking at the cause, and wondering about the intended effect ... something quite different, and more complex, because it incorporates the idea of an intentional actor.

I think that dictionary-writers generally overlook this duality because they, as human beings, are mostly concerned about intention, because that's what being a conscious being is all about. We're always manipulating the world around us, and pay little attention to things that just happen, or instead imagine that everything that happens is, in some way, intentional. Maybe it's time someone broke away from the herd and boldly indicated the dual meaning of this word, all all of the other words which conflate causality with purpose. RussH 18:02, 29 February 2008 (UTC) (edited to identify with name)