The perversity in contextualization

A reflexion about the problem in the intellectual phenomenon of contextualization.

I define the contextualization as the intellectual process of continuous aggregation of external variables, with the purpose of an unbiased understanding of a social event. This process of contextualization is commonly linked with a behavior called an open-mind — behavior expected in our society today.

The will to impartially understand a social event (with an open-mind and using contextualization) is commonly considered as a good thing in the society as I’ve said before, and I will not discuss about that; but I’ll try to demonstrate how the constant aim of neutrality using the phenomenon of contextualization may lead to the birth of a intellectual chimera.


Beginning the demonstration by the given definition, the process of contextualization is built from the aggregation of many external variables.

For example, if you want to have an impartial opinion about the discussion between two of your friends, you will first listen to the point of view of one and then the second. And if the discussion concerns more people than just your two friends, you will try to think about it as if you were another person.

By doing this, you will consider various factors and some that you never thought of before. This is what I call ‘aggregation of external variables’.

The second main word of the given definition is the adjective ‘continuous’. By the goal of an unbiased reasoning, you’ll try to aggregate as many factors as possible to achieve a neutral decision. But achieving a perfect neutrality is considered as impossible. As said my professor in epistemology: when you try to understand an event, your understanding will always be biased, incomplete and fragmented. In contrast, if it’s not possible to really be neutral, it should be possible to be ‘more’ neutral — and here is the trap. Indeed, when the value of your ‘neutral’ opinion depends on the ‘more’, your reasoning begins the mad and continuous race of ‘always more contextualization’ and ‘always more factors/data’. The problem with the doing of aggregating more and more data to contextualize a situation is that — because of our cognitive limitation — it takes you in an intellectual impasse.

To give an example, if I tell you to mentally calculate 2 exponent 20, you will probably be able to calculate until exponent 16 but not beyond.

It’s is exactly the same things with contextualizing more and more data: after a certain amount, you will not be able to contextualize more.

Now you’re probably asking me: so what? So I’ll tell you another thing.

To maintain my last example: imagine you are around a table with some of your friends, and you’re asked to answer the same calculation which is 2 exponent 20. But before you give your answer, you listen to your friends’ answers. Because you were not able to calculate until 2 exponent 20, but just 2 exponent 16, and you have to give an answer, you will probably give a hypothetic number based on your calculation of 2 exponent 16 and the answer of the friend you think is more able to achieve successfully this calculation.

In other words, you give credit to the answer of another person, based on his legitimacy to be able to achieve the reasoning.

It is the same thing with the action of contextualization to achieve an impartial reasoning. When you’re constantly required to contextualize more and more (because people told you: “you don’t think enough”, “think twice”, etc.) at a certain point, you will not be able to do so, and you will adopt the answer of the person you judge legitimate.

Now, how do you give the legitimacy? I’ll give you another example:

If a doctor speaks with you about the cancer, takes time to explain you what it is and how to cure it; and after that, he tells you that you have a cancer. Who will you go to cure you cancer? To the doctor obviously.

It’s the same thing when reasoning by contextualization. The legitimacy is given to the group of person which teaches us what is contextualization and neutrality. And again, the problem is here: it’s the same group of person who teaches us to think with contextualization, and the same group of person who gives us the answer of problems which are to complexes to be reasoning by ourselves.

Now, you’re probably thinking about the fact that is normal to have ‘experts’ and legitimate people to think about complex situations, because we are not all able to achieve the same reasoning: some people are more qualified (by experience or by study) to respond to different type of problems. And you’re right.

However here it is perversity: if you don’t trust the doctor who told you about the cancer, you can go to learn medicine through books and the faculty, and after years of practice you will be able to know if yes or no you have a cancer and how to cure it; but with the aim of thinking with contextualization to think in a way which is said more ‘intelligent’, ‘mature’, etc., you will have to contextualize more and more, which leads (as demonstrated) to an intellectual impasse. There will always be a person who will tell you to think more again, because you’re not thinking enough; and finally you’ll give an answer based, not on your reasoning, but on the reasoning of the legitimate person. This is important, the more you be asked to contextualize, the more you lose control on the result of your reasoning.

So again, what? Contextualize to understand a social event is not a good thing? Sure it is.
It’s important to take into account different points of view to better understand a situation, but you have to put limits into your contextualization.

Lastly, after all I’ve said, I’d like to make a clear difference between the verb ‘contextualize’ and the noun ‘contextualization’. The last is a chimera like the word Ethic with a capital ‘e’. There is no one ethic, but there are many conceptions of what is ethic. In the same way, the contextualization as a target is impossible, and this word may be used by a group of actors to impose a ‘good’ way of thinking.
So it is necessary to be careful about the construction of a reasoning, and what methods can lead to an impass — do not be fooled by a false target like the ‘contextualization’, focus on the process of thinking: how do you want to contextualize a situation? And mainly, what limits to fixe when you contextualize?

Thanks for reading, and I apologize about my English, it is not my native speaking.