Among educated, thoughtful, sophisticated NPR people, a lot of the time the argument goes meta:

Me: The bankrupt bankers are unbelievably arrogant. The beggars seem to think they still own the world.

Educated, thoughtful, sophisticated NPR person: Well, they’re in a tight situation. A lot of people are gunning for them, and they have to protect themselves somehow. Extorting several trillion dollars from the government by threatening to bring the world economy crashing down was really the only card they had in their hand. I’d say that they’ve played it remarkably well.

This is a good example of the difference between the apodictic reading of a proposition and the problematological reading. From the apodictic point of view, the sophisticated person’s response is adequate. It looks at the face of the proposition itself and answers it based on its meaning, in the context of the tacit (apodictic) background assumptions of the person answering.

Problematologically, however, this response is wrong. The unexpressed context is misread, possibly deliberately*. That is to say, the question to which my statement was an answer was not recognized.

My statement was not answering the question “What would a normally rational, self-interested person do if they were caught leeching billions of dollars from their supposed employer during a period when they were making enormous blunders causing the enterprise to go bankrupt and collapse?”

The question my statement was answering was instead “Why do a few bankers need to be impaled and left out in the hot sun until they expire, in order to give the remaining bankers a clearer understanding of their new place in the world?”

Thus, the educated, thoughtful, sophisticated NPR person’s response was mistaken.

In my first statement, I had left out the context — i.e., had made an apodictic statement — because I had assumed that every normal human being thought as I did. I found this assumption not to be true when the sophisticated person responded as they did. However, responding directly to the sophisticated person’s clueless statement would have been a big mistake, since doing so would have involved me in a pointless, interminable argument about the wrong question. What I needed to do instead was to explicate the problematological context of my original statement, making it explicit rather than apodictic (assumed).

And that’s what I just did.

* “Possibly deliberately” is inexact. It is true that for skilled, self-aware quibblers and confusionists, deliberately misreading the problematology of a question is a primary tactic. However, the phrase “possibly deliberately” makes it seem that the other alternatives are innocent — merely¬† accidental, careless, or ignorant. This is not usually the case. For educated, thoughtful, sophisticated NPR persons, the particular sort of problematological misreading I just exhibited is second nature, part of the very structure of their being, and in fact is the difference defining their species. This particular sort of problematological misreading is essential:¬† whenever we see it, we know that we are talking to an educated, thoughtful, sophisticated NPR person.


This has been a very brief introduction to the philosophy of Michel Meyer. Rhetoric, Language, and Reason (Penn State, 1994) is a good, still short, but considerably longer introduction. It should be noted, however, that Meyer does not advocate impaling anyone.**

**Nor do I! This has been a purely hypothetical example used entirely for the purpose of exhibiting an instance of problematological confusion. Naive commonfolk dabbling in philosophy customarily fixate on the arbitrary example and miss the real point — another instance of problematological error. They have to realize that the fat man and the trolley car are merely constructions of the mind and do not actually exist, and that the truth being expressed is on the higher, transcendent plane.

One well may wonder how Meyer feels about the fact that his most enthusiastic internet disciple is a scurrilous political polemicist.

About these ads