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There are some philosophers that are considered post-structuralists for they oppose the idea that the structure has predominance over the individual. They criticize structuralists’ reliance on the idea of structure as a definitive answer, as a general explanation for everything.

Exactly in this sense, i think those philosophers are structuralists and not post- or para- or meta- anything. I do believe that this attitude, this non-acceptance of an absolute referential point for all ideas, is precisely what defines structuralism. So, post-structuralists are, in my view, real structuralists that oppose pseudo-structuralists, philosophers that accept the title (so to say) without accepting the role.

It is a common strategy in the pursuit of knowledge to enlist some form of epistemological capital as being the crucial matter in respect to the value of any idea. Those are the masons of knowledge: they start a house by it’s foundations. Foundations are solid. They last. With a good foundation you can be pretty sure that your house will not crumble easily.

Cartesius sought the simplest thing so that he could not (he hoped) be mistaken. Plato sought the unchangeable (he believed) world of ideas. Bacon advocated the test as the only unquestionable (he proposed) argument. This attempt to find safety in ideas lead easily to reductionism. The small thing does not seem to need much explanation. So the smallest thing should not need any. It should therefore be the safe idea. So everything should only be explained in terms of whatever is smaller than it: astronomy by physics, physics by chemistry, chemistry by quantum, and so on.

Nevertheless, this search for safety also lead to the other extreme: theology. If nothing is bigger than God, nothing can escape being explained by it. Ergo, dogma. The scriptures (or the Q’ram) should have the ultimate explanation for everything.

But foundations are rigid, inaccessible and invisible (being buried on the ground). They are expensive to fix or change. They provide stability at the cost of fixity.

In this explanation, structuralists are sailors. Instead of finding safety in a firm foundation, they seek safety in navigation. They seek to enhance their buoyancy, their capacity to sail. Instead of explaining everything in terms of other things that would (supposedly) not need further explanations, they try to show the tides and currents, to see the regularities in the midst of the flow, to explain everything in terms of it’s own organization, it’s own form, it’s own structure.

The structuralists were the ones that stopped trying to find human nature and instead described the intricacies of society and it’s exchanges. Who tried to study self-organization principles. Who sought to understand the mind without finding it’s basic components. Who spoke of language not in terms of truth and falsehood but of combinations and interpretations.

To take this attempt and believe that it says that the structure is the foundation of knowledge is an easy, but foolish, mistake. Inverting a pyramid does not make it any less pyramidal. If one builds his foundations on the heavens, one is still building, one is still a mason, even if a catholic one.

Post-structuralism, while it tried to fix some misleading assumptions that were fruit of the non-structuralist academic body absorbing it’s first attempts, were not really departing from the basic strategy.

But, after all, it is still a strategy. And so, neither structuralism nor fundamentalism (both of them) are really right or wrong. They are merely attempts. Approaches. Bets. And so, the real question is not one of belonging, of who is or is not a structuralist, but instead of consequences: what can we expect of following this or that approach? Because, after all, we can not know what will be the consequences.

Masonry is more useful when you know were you are and will be staying. Sailing is more useful when you need to go somewhere else, and also when you have to find new places to go. The very rise of structuralism reflects the fact that our “place” in the world has being explored to a great level, that we are using it with all the intensity that is possible (and i don’t mean exhausting it, though this is a valid line of research). It indicates that we, as a culture, are ready (or in need) to cross the very frontiers we created for ourselves.

In this sense, structuralism is also a return to a more basal, more primal stance in the world. A stance where you are not the owner of land (the agriculturalist), but the explorer (the hunter-gatherer).

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  1. By Laplace Daemon « Truth of the Lesser Men on 05 Oct 2010 at 7:26 pm

    […] form of betrayal is no monopoly of Laplace. For example, initially Structuralism had the aim of giving up static explanations of society, but it got corrupted into the claim that Structure itself is the (static) explanation […]

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