Bobby George


Invent Your Own Questions.


This interview with philosopher Miguel de Beistegui intersected my life at a really interesting time.

When asked if philosophy can contribute to the resolution of concrete problems, de Beistegui answered passionately: 

"I feel quite strongly about this," he explained. "The singularity and task of philosophy is not, as Popper famously said, to solve problems, whether of an epistemological or social nature. It is to construct problems."

I think this distinction, between "solving problems" and "constructing problems", is a really important differentiation, one that is often overlooked or willfully ignored.

More boldly, this focus on constructing problems is a paradigm shift in how we think about the role philosophy plays in everyday life, and perhaps more specifically, how we can think concretely about figuring out problems.

One thing is clear.

Philosophy has a fundamental role to play.

While there may be readymade answers for readymade problems - literally ready at hand - when you construct a problem and examine its very composition, an entirely different landscape is at work. 

What does this mean?

Well, "as Deleuze says", de Beistegui articulates, "we always get the answers and solutions we deserve on the basis of the problems we construct."

Asking the right questions, then, and finding a way to construct a problem, becomes of critical and necessary import. If you have an answer, it might mean that it's a poorly posed question.

All too often, the landscapes we visit are all-too familiar. We feel comfortable with the answers, because we don't examine the questions. 

The role of philosophy is to construct problems. This approach flips the widely accepted reliance on answers squarely on their perfectly rounded heads.

Miguel de Beistegui goes on to address the politics of philosophy. He states that philosophy must refuse the structure of thinking in terms of solutions, and resist the false powers that hold us hostage.

"The politics of philosophy consist first and foremost, and initially, in not allowing power – political, scientific, mediatic, etc. – to impose problems on us."

Quite literally, we must resist the manufactured conditions by which a solution is arrived at by approaching the problem with a question. As de Beistegui expounds, "We need to ask," upfront, "in whose interest is it to formulate the problem in that way, to emphasize this or that problem, and to then demand that we think of a solution."

One of my absolutely favorite quotes, which speaks directly to this line of thinking, and is a philosophy I have stoutheartedly adopted myself, comes from Deleuze:

"Most of the time, when someone asks me a question, even one which relations to me, I see that, strictly, I don't have anything to say. Questions are invented, like anything else. If you aren't allowed to invent your questions, with elements from all over the place, from nevermind where, if people "pose" them to you, you haven't much to say. The art of constructing a problem is very important: you invent a problem, a problem-position, before finding a solution."

Invent your own questions.

P.S. I have been thinking a lot lately about mentors and how they rarely know how they affect our lives. It's only later, when the lessons they taught us are fully incorporated into our everyday lives. Miguel de Beistegui, perhaps unbeknownst to himself, directly impacted my life in a very positive, meaningful way, by teaching me the power of failure and giving me the courage to overcome my mistakes.

Bobby George