Inquiry begins when an automatic routine or normal course of activity is interrupted and agents are thrown into doubt concerning what is best to do next and what is really true of their situation. If this interruptive aspect of inquiry applies at the level of self-application then occasions for inquiry into inquiry arise when an ongoing inquiry into any subject becomes obstructed and agents are obliged to initiate a new order of inquiry in order to overcome the obstacle.
At such moments agents must acknowledge the higher order of uncertainty that has intervened and accept the interruption of the initial inquiry in order to examine their accepted conventions and antecedent convictions regarding the appropriate conduct of any inquiry at all. The new order demands that agents pause and reflect on the assumptions embodied in their previous inquiry, criticizing with a deliberate and reconstructive intent aspects of an activity that formerly proceeded through its paces untroubled by any articulate concern.
An agent may be able to articulate these apprehensions in the form of a pair of questions:
- What actions are advisable to adopt and apply in order to achieve the aim of the current activity?
- What assumptions among those accepted already are ready to be adapted or abandoned in order to advance this course of affairs?
Thus there is an obstinately negative aspect to the object of inquiry, a feature captured in the Greek word pragma for object, whose manifold of senses and derivatives includes among its connotations the ideas of purposeful objectives and problematic objections, and not too incidentally both inquiries and expositions.
The fact that an episode of inquiry bears the stamp of an interlude, that it begins and ends in medias res with respect to a circumstantial action, is a feature of inquiry that is important to remember and a contingency of its process that has a couple of consequences:
First, it means that genuine inquiry does not touch on the inciting action at points of total doubt or absolute certainty. An incident of inquiry does not begin or end in absolute totalities but only in the differential and relative measures that actually occasion its departures and resolutions. Inquiry is not a process that demands an absolutely secure foundation from which to set out or any place to stand from which to judge the totality of onrushing events. It never requires more than it does in fact have at the outset: assumptions that were not in practice doubted just a moment before and a circumstance of conflict that will force the whole situation to be reviewed before returning to the normal course of affairs.
Second, the interruptive character or escapist interpretation of inquiry is especially significant when contemplating programs of inquiry with recursive definitions, like the motivating case of inquiry into inquiry. It means that the termination criterion for an inquiry subprocess is whatever allows continuation of the calling process.