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From time to time, I encounter some questions starting with .. "In what sense"

For example :

In what sense does the public need to understand global climate change?

I've also seen this expression in many other examples. I don't understand the expression. Can anyone rephrase this question?

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  • To simplify "in what sense" to its most basic sense, you can understand "In what sense [...]?" as "Why [...]?" If asked by the listener, it would generally mean, "On what ground do you propose such an idea? Tell us more so we can really trust, or at least understand, what you have just said." -- On second thought, I think rephrasing it as "Why?" doesn't always work. In some cases, "In what way [...]?" would have a closer meaning. Nov 15, 2014 at 11:59

2 Answers 2

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It essentially acts as a prompt for an explanation.

The question "Does the public need to understand global climate change?" can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no", which is not what the questioner wants to know.

By adding In what sense, the questioner is asking for clarification or context about the question, not an answer to the question itself.

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  • Here is the point. clarification from which aspect?.. what does the the questioner expect me to say?
    – Maher
    Nov 14, 2014 at 22:27
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The phrase "In what sense..." is asking for information about the information (that it assumes has already been given). Take the two following examples:

  • What does the public need to understand...?
    This is asking a question about what facts the public needs to understand, or the data the public needs to understand.
  • In what sense does the public need to understand...?
    This is asking the question of what information surrounds those facts, or the metadata (data about the data) the public needs to understand.

As Eric Hauenstein notes in their own answer, the questioner isn't asking for the answer to the question, but for a greater understanding of that answer.

So, tying that back to the two questions you pose in your question:

  1. Can you say "In what sense does the public need to understand global climate change?" in a different way?
    • Could you please explain to me what your point of view is with regards to what the public needs to understand global climate change?
    • Why do you believe that these [things that you've otherwise mentioned] are what the public needs to understand global climate change?
  2. What should the answer be like?
    • It is my personal view that the public needs to understand [these facts] because of this reason / these reasons ....
    • I believe that these things are important to understand because ....

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