Spreading the Word: No Such Thing as Absolute Clarity

Many of us are taught at school that we should know the right answers, that that is a sign of knowledge. As children grow, they learn that society expects certain things of them and that those are the right things. Right answers, right behaviour, right thoughts. And the opposite is, of course, wrong. This approach paints a fairly straightforward picture of life. There are opposites where one side is right, and the other is wrong. All clear. In some instances, it seems reasonable enough – for example, 2 + 2 really is 4, not 5 or anything else. True. But if we think of daily human lives, of the social and cultural worlds we inhabit, this neat picture of oppositions with clear right and wrong answers looks more and more like a caricature.

The fascinating and daring philosopher Jacques Derrida saw this as a deep-rooted issue pervading the entire heritage of Western intellectual tradition. He devised an alternative approach to thinking – deconstruction – that aims to illuminate the arbitrariness of our seemingly straightforward right-and-wrong oppositions. Importantly, Derrida’s deconstruction is not the same as destruction of meaning as such or claiming that anything goes because nothing is true anyway. Rather, it is an invitation to acknowledge the messiness and uncertainty as part and parcel of our social and cultural lives and recognise the naivety of insisting on absolute clarity of any and all meanings.

“Derrida identifies his ‘final intention’ in the work undertaken in “Of Grammatology” (but certainly not only there) to be ‘to make enigmatic’ what one thinks one understands by words like ‘immediacy’ or ‘proximity’ or ‘presence’. Perhaps especially what we like to think we understand by them immediately.”

Simon Glendinning in his “Derrida: A Very Short Introduction” (2011)

There are two videos I would like to share with you here. Both explore some of Derrida’s ideas in an engaging and, in my view, highly instructive way: No One Ever Gets To Clarity (by Victor Gijsbers, lecturer in philosophy at Leiden University) and Deconstruction And Differance (by philosophy professor Ellie Anderson). Enjoy!

photo of diverging railroad tracks on a foggy day

Keeping up the “Spreading the Word” tradition, I hope to share an insightful and thought-provoking article, podcast episode or video every weekend. Humans have always turned and returned to storytelling to find meaning. My weekends’ “Spreading the Word” posts are an online version of sharing meaningful stories.   

keep exploring and storytelling!

P.S. If you enjoyed this post and are interested in philosophical content, you are always welcome on humanfactor.blog – feel free to explore, leave a comment, like, and subscribe to get notified of new posts (twice a week). If you prefer a more engaged discussion of intellectually stimulating questions, you may be interested in the blog’s Telegram channel and my Instagram. You will find additional short-form content there (3-4 times a week), and we can exchange thoughts on it. Finally, the blog has a Facebook page where I share all blog posts and occasionally sprinkle reflection prompts to keep it interesting. Thank you for visiting me here on humanfactor.blog, I hope to see you again!

Image credit: Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

3 thoughts on “Spreading the Word: No Such Thing as Absolute Clarity

  1. Pingback: What Is A Good Book? Philosophical Response – humanfactor

  2. Pingback: To Speak A Language Is To Participate In A World – humanfactor

  3. Pingback: Buried Giant and Forgotten Memories – humanfactor

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