Pseudo problem

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The word pseudo-problem is usually used in everyday parlance with a critical intention to question the attention that someone pays to solving a particular problem. The criticism expressed by the word is that this problem does not actually arise. Whoever tries to solve it has either not realized how easily this problem would actually be solvable, or he is investing efforts on a hardly solvable problem in order not to deal with the problems whose solution would be much more important for him.

Sham problems in philosophy

Karl Popper traces the pseudo-problem procedure back to Ludwig Wittgenstein . According to Wittgenstein there are basically no philosophical problems; either a problem is a sham problem or it can be solved scientifically. According to Popper, however, one should not be satisfied with the statement that a problem is a pseudo problem (for example the problem of universals ) or merely look for a psychological explanation as to why the question arose in this form at all. Rather, one should look for the real problem behind the wrongly posed problem , which is usually an epistemological one.

Within philosophy, the term has become a fighting term, with which the various representatives of positivism in particular distance themselves from such debates that they do not intend to continue within their own philosophy.

The question of whether there is life after death sparked a quarrel between adherents of the religions and materialists, who claim that man has no soul and is made up of matter, and therefore dissolves again into unconscious matter after death. From a positivist point of view, premises are already set in this dispute that can hardly be substantiated. All we have is sensory data that we organize and interpret. Whether there is a soul that does this or a matter from which sensations emanate is already part of the respective interpretation. With sensory data, however, we will foreseeably never get to the point where the problem posed by the question arises.

In Wittgenstein's turn of thinking about statements, the same option of excluding problems reappears: One can think about whether it is possible to completely describe the world as we perceive it with statements - and this can be justified in the affirmative. In the same evidence process, however, one will come to the conclusion that statements about good and bad and causality cannot be made with comparable investigations. The sentences on causality and on good and bad do not allow an agreement to the same extent as to what should be the case when they are true or false. In the case of causality statements, for example, it is not possible to say what additional informative value they should have compared to statements that certain things always happen when other things happen. With moral statements, we only arrive at statements with a view to goals that we set ourselves: something may be good in order to achieve a certain goal, but it remains a question of the decision - and not of the knowledge - whether it is good, that achieve overall goal.

From a positivist point of view, this does not necessarily make it uninteresting to ask questions of morality , but the problem shifts: One cannot expect an answer from the sciences if one obliges them to describe the world as simply as possible. From the question of whether true or untrue, and thus from the question of knowledge of the world, questions begin to be decoupled, which up to now one hoped to be able to answer them with greater certainty in this area. One can criticize an attitude of refusal, the unwillingness of philosophies that suspect pseudo-problems to deal with existing problems - or an intensification of the debate, because decisions have to be made with a completely different responsibility if science, philosophy or religion demonstrably does not determine privileged Answer questions.


  • Max Planck : Sham Problems of Science: Lecture , 7th edition, Leipzig: JA Barth 1967 (first 1947, lecture from 1946)
  • Rudolf Carnap : Sham Problems in Philosophy: The Foreign Psychic and the Realism Controversy , Berlin-Schlachtensee: Weltkreis-Verlag 1928, most recently as: Sham Problems in Philosophy and Other Metaphysical Critical Writings , Hamburg, Meiner 2005, ISBN 3-7873-1728-7 .


  1. Ludwig Wittgenstein: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1918/1922), sentence 6.53
  2. ^ Karl Popper: The two basic problems of epistemology. Ed. Von Troels Eggers Hansen, Tübingen 2nd edition 1994. ISBN 3-16-145774-9 , p. 246