A transliteration of the Greek ἀπορία, meaning without passage, is used to signify the mental state of doubt arising from consideration of a vexing problem or difficulty that causes anxiety and is apt to urge further inquiry or investigation. Aporia or mental impasse can arise from any set of difficult circumstances or considerations regarding either thought or action. It can also be aroused artfully by the dialectician who desires to make someone aware of a problem and perhaps help toward solving it. The Socratic method of question and answer, of argument and counter argument, was aimed at bringing attention to bear on a problem so that an aporia would result, which would stimulate further inquiry and lead to clarification. An aporia is thus a kind of methodical doubt that may be both real and positive, with probable arguments pro and con.
Aristotle approved and regularly employed the method of raising aporia while teaching. In the Metaphysics, he says that philosophical investigation should begin with consideration of the aporias that arise from the conflicting statements of other philosophers or from matters they have not treated (995a 22). An aporia does not spring from nowhere, but from imperfect knowledge of things and from the natural curiosity or drive of the mind. It urges one to consider carefully what is doubtful and what is not doubtful, and to find out why it is or is not so. Just as a hard knot can be untied only after one knows how it was tied in the first place, so also in the investigation of truth it is necessary to know beforehand the various reasons or causes of aporia. Otherwise in study or re-search one would not know what to look for and whether to stop or to continue the investigation. But this is manifest to one who knows his previous doubts and the reasons for them; he is thus better able to judge of the truth when it appears.
Thus aporia is not a skeptical doubt, nor does it lead to skepticism, because it presupposes that one already knows something and hopes to know something more or better. It does not take away all certitude, nor does it commit one to an aimless search; rather it urges him to proceed hopefully in the light of what he already knows toward the solution of a clearly formulated question or problem.
See Also: epistemology; knowledge
Bibliography: r. eisler, Wörterbuch der philosophischen Begriffe (4th ed. Berlin 1927–30) 1:77. g. faggin, Enciclopedia filosofica (Venice-Rome 1957) 1:302. l. m. rÉgis, Epistemology, tr. i. c. bryne (New York 1959) 21–26.
[w. h. kane]