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On What We Know We Don't Know cover

On What We Know We Don't Know

Explanation, Theory, Linguistics, and How Questions Shape Them

Sylvain Bromberger

The nine essays in this book, collected for the first time, are based on the presumption that scientific research represents the most reasonable and responsible way of satisfying our curiosity about questions whose answers we know we don't know. In this pursuit, science repeatedly struggles against limitations on our ability to conceive, formulate, connect, and asses questions and answers. These limitations must be understood if we want to appreciate fully what scientific inspiration and creative intelligence add to mere observations.

In this book, Sylvain Bromberger defends the controversial claim that a proper account of the nature of explanation, theory, theoretical concepts, the subject matter of linguistics, and scientific assessment must explore the consequences of the fact that questions play an essential role in shaping how we investigate the world. He argues that these consequences include the existence of constraints on rationality that represent profound but unavoidable aspects of human predicament.

Sylvain Bromberger is professor of philosophy in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


  • Introduction
  • 1 An Approach to Explanation
  • 2 A Theory about the Theory of Theory and about the Theory of Theories
  • 3 Why-Questions
  • 4 Questions
  • 5 Science and the Forms of Ignorance
  • 6 Rational Ignorance
  • 7 What We Don't Know When We Don't Know Why
  • 8 Types and Tokens in Linguistics
  • 9 The Onotology of Phonology
    with Morris Halle
  • Bibliography


ISBN (Paperback): 0226075400 (9780226075402)
ISBN (Cloth): 0226075397 (9780226075396)

Subject: Philosophy; Linguistics; Scientific Method

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