Rather than providing us with easy answers, philosophers tend to raise a lot of questions. Evert van der Zweerde, himself a philosopher, understands that such a critical attitude can sometimes be annoying. “But reality is complex; simple questions, quick answers and ready-made opinions will not lead to the heart of complex problems.”National or international politics, the climate crisis, the burqa ban – there are always societal debates, and these are often reduced to one or, at most, two questions: “How do you feel about this?” and “Are you in favour or against?”“Simplification is necessary if you want to engage in vigorous debate,” acknowledges Evert van der Zweerde, professor of Practical Philosophy at Radboud University. “However, the added value of philosophy is that it does not stop there. We need to retain a critical distance and look for the underlying questions. Then you will often notice that what initially appeared to be the question is often not even half the question.”Clear questions, better debatesTake the burqa or niqab ban, for example. “Before you restrict people’s freedom, it should be clear whether this will lead to what you want to achieve, and you must therefore clarify your question. Is this about religion, the oppression of women or, conversely, about an almost provocative expression of an individual’s autonomous choice for clothing that covers the face or the entire body? Upon deeper reflection, you may perhaps conclude that a ban is not really what you want. And you may have a better idea of what exactly is bothering you when you see a woman wearing a burqa…”Van der Zweerde regards conceptual clarification as a philosopher’s task. He warns us of having overly high expectations since a better understanding of what social issues are really about will not lead to less controversy. “It is a misconception that cosy consensus is the yardstick and disagreement the unpleasant exception. On the contrary, it's a fact that society is divided and people have different opinions. However, clarification of these points of view may lead to better debates that do address the heart of the matter.”Other perspectivesAnd what keeps the philosophers themselves on their toes? Their colleagues, says Van der Zweerde, their sources and their students. “Even in philosophy, nothing is eternally true, and even the greatest thinkers can be approached with a critical eye. Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, who for years were known themselves as the ‘Masters of Suspicion’ because they dug deeper than others, are now being scrutinised because their points of view are perhaps too Western and too male. This does not make their opinions void but it is clear that other perspectives are necessary."You have a part to playOur society is facing major challenges. Radboud University wants to contribute to a healthy, free world with equal chances for everyone. With ‘Je bent nodig’ (You have a part to play), Radboud University aims to reach people who want to contribute to that goal. At Jebentnodig.nl you’ll find more articles and a link to our job opportunities.Do you want to be kept updated of our articles? Register at Radboud Recharge.Image by Yeshi Kangrang via Unsplash.