Answers, Questioned

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

“Judge a man by his questions, rather than his answers,” said the great Voltaire, according to, and, and, and a thousand other places across the Internet.

But where did Voltaire say this, or write it? Pursue that question a short distance, and you’ll come across Wikiquote, which says the source of this expression wasn’t, in fact, Voltaire, but a book of maxims by Pierre Marc Gaston de Lévis. And sure enough, there it is: “Il est encore plus facile de juger de l’esprit d’un homme par ses questions que par ses réponses.” (“It is easier to judge the mind of a man by his questions rather than his answers.”)

The Internet is filled with answers to life’s conundrums. Many of those answers are helpful, and a great many are suspect, or insufficient, or just wrong. How to figure out which is which? Perhaps by taking the answers as a starting point, rather than the destination.

Over the next few weeks, we’re trying a spin on a long-loved format for journalism: the A&Q. We’re taking the classic Q&A and turning it on its head, beginning with some of the most frequently posed solutions to pressing matters of policy and complicating those answers with thoughtful questions. Here are the first eight, published today:

You can peruse all the A&Qs (as well as forthcoming topics to be addressed) here. If you know of a good answer we haven’t questioned, send it along: And if you’d like us to take on more topics in this format, send us those ideas too.