“DECONSTRUCTING THE QUESTION” EXPLAINED

Justin Weinberg at the DAILYNOUS links to my post on 16 TRAITS OF CONTINENTAL PHILOSOPHY and cites as obscure the phrase: “deconstructing the question already includes constructing the subjacent problematic of the view one is responding to”, I am sorry for the jargon, but I think it corresponds to an easy to understand quality and to a familiar experience one may have in reading Continental philosophy.

A couple of years ago a French artist was talking to me about her difficulties in reading Bernard Stiegler. She showed me a long interview with him on the subject of belief in God, and told me that she could not understand why he took so long to get to the point. He talked for several pages about the history of religion and of philosophy, about the history of society and the economy in the 20th Century, and said many interesting things but she could not see the link with the initial question and with the rest of the interview.

I explained to her that no French philosopher would be caught dead just directly answering a question. He would examine the presuppositions contained in the formulation of the question, and the concepts embodied in those presuppositions, and look at other ways of conceiving and of formulating the question, and probably replace the initial formulation as containing undue, perhaps unconscious, constraints on the type of answer that could be given. In short he would first “deconstruct” the question to give him greater freedom in the type of reply he could give.

The idea is that a question may “look simple”, but most often it presupposes a host of assumptions about the world and its understanding that belong to a paradigm that needs to be made explicit if we want to avoid being caught inside the blinkered view of that paradigm when what we want to say introduces a new point of view. The vartist was quite excited and told me that not only did this resolve her difficulties with this text, but that it illuminated a lot of other texts that she had read by Stiegler, whose thought she likes a lot, and others. I always remembered this conversation and so included the point as important for understanding Continental philosophy.

Note: the post cited is just a point summary of a series of posts, and they contain lengthy (but still a little jargony) explanations for each point. Deconstructing the question is covered here.

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