This short essay concerns what I call the problem of problematicality. The problem addresses the standards and rules we employ when identifying problems. In other words, how we answer the question: when is a theory problematic? It is important to note, that by the word 'theory' I mean any theory, hypothesis, statement, observation, proposition, idea, axiom, assumption, guess, presupposition, conjecture, position, thought, presumption, suggestion, concept, notion, definition, intuition, etc.
I believe the problem of problematicality is a central problem of rationology i.e. the study of rationality, and that different theories of rationality can be broadly understood as different responses to this problem. The two to be considered here are justificationism and critical rationalism (hereafter: 'criticalism'). The purpose of a theory of rationality is to provide a context in which rational debate can take place, which allows for the identification of problems and solutions, so that we may demarcate between good theories and bad theories. (It is also worth noting that even irrationalists have a theory of rationality, or else how would they recognise themselves as irrationalists?).
I therefore suggest that every theory submitted for rational discussion is assigned a problem-value, either unproblematic or problematic, but not both, and not neither, nor are there any other problem-values. I think problem-values can be understood to behave very much like truth-values, though are not intended to replace or determine the assignment of truth-values. This however, raises a question. If every theory submitted for rational discussion is assigned a problem-value, then what value do we assign to a theory that has been submitted, but not yet scrutinised? or to put it another way: what is the default problem-value?
How this question is answered has profound consequences for the resulting theory of rationality, for what makes a theory problematic, the goals of rational discussion and the results that follow.
(1) we may consider a theory of rationality which by default assigns the value problematic to every theory submitted into rational discussion. In such a theory of rationality, any theory will be problematic until it is made unproblematic. The goal of rational discussion is to identify some criterion or rule, by which we might make some theories unproblematic, and justify them.
(2) we may consider a theory of rationality which by default assigns the value unproblematic to every theory submitted into rational discussion. In this theory of rationality, any theory will be unproblematic until it is made problematic. The goal of rational discussion is to identify and apply standards of criticism, so that competing theories are made problematic by a survival of the fittest.
The first response to our question can be represented by justificationism, and the second by criticalism. It can be shown, by applying the two theories of rationality to the same statement, different problem-values are returned. In other words, justificationism and criticalism have different answers to the question: when is a theory problematic? To demonstrate, we can take the problem of induction, which originally arose in response to statements like "the sun will rise tomorrow" or "all swans are white."
In the context of justificationism, the statement "the sun will rise tomorrow" is by default problematic, and so must be made unproblematic. To that end a justificationist uses a series of tests, which if passed successfully, provide justification for theories, thus making them unproblematic. Traditionally, the tests used to justify theories have been a check for logical validity and a check for empirical observation. The statement "the sun will rise tomorrow" passes the check for logical validity, but does not pass the check of empirical observation. No matter how many times we observe the sun rise, it does not follow that the sun will rise tomorrow. In other words, our criterion, or criterions, which were intended to provision justification, thus making an problematic theory (by default) into an unproblematic theory, are logically inadequate. The statement "the sun will rise tomorrow" must remain problematic.
In the context of criticalism, the statement "the sun will rise tomorrow" is by default unproblematic. To that end a criticalists uses a series of tests, which if not passed, successfully criticise theories, thus making them problematic. The tests used to criticise theories are the same as those used to justify, but used differently. The statement "the sun will rise tomorrow" passes the check of logical validity as in justificationism, but then also passes the check of empirical observation. The difference is that where the justificationist was trying to make the theory unproblematic by deriving it from sense observation, the criticalist is trying to make the theory problematic by falsifying it by sense observation. In consequence, it follows that the statement "the sun will rise tomorrow" is not problematic, and so there is never any need to postulate a logic of induction, or principle of induction in the first place. If there is no need to postulate induction then there is no problem of induction!
It is important to realise that this short essay is not comprehensive. I have omitted many interesting problems and questions which arise here, simply for clarity and brevity. Moreover, the problem of induction is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the differences which can be exposed between justificationism and criticalism. This essay is intended to simply introduce the problem of problematicality, and its importance to any theory of rationality.