I've read my fair share of philosophers. Now I won't say that proper philosophical texts are ever easy to understand, but it seems that French postmodern philosophers like Baudrillard are extremely hard to understand.

Now this might just be me. To me their texts seem more like poetry. Like they're hinting towards meaning, but don't want to be explicit. Am I missing something? Or are they just very vague?

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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obscurantism :D
    – Lukas
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 17:38
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    What other 20th century continental philosophy are you familiar with ?
    – J. LS
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 22:01
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    There was a question a while ago on basically the same topic... philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/21292/…
    – virmaior
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 1:55
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    @J.LS Thanks. And as for Baudrillard, I can sympathise with your statement, in a way whilst reading him I felt that the subject matter wasn't that complicated. But his writing almost made me feel like there should be more, and I just wasn't understanding it properly. Opaque and somewhat superficial would be an apt description of what my experience was reading him, and confirms my suspicions (that the writing style was quite prozaic, but not necessarily alluding to deeper, hidden meaning). I'll try Foucault. Commented Apr 4, 2015 at 11:24
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    @J.LS Funny that that was cowritten by Sokal, who also got a nonsensical paper published in a famous journal to make a statement about those kinds of texts :) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 20:41

6 Answers 6


John Searle apparently asked Michel Foucault, and Pierre Bourdieu, why they wrote so badly. (Apparently they were both much clearer in conversation or when lecturing, and Searle respected them both greatly.) He says that Foucault told him,

If I wrote as clearly as you do, people in Paris wouldn't take me seriously, they would think it's child-like, it's naive... En France, il faut avoir au moins 10% incomprehensible.

[Searle adds: "This translates to 'In France you gotta have 10% incomprehensible.' Otherwise people won't think it's deep, they won't think you're a profound thinker!"]

And that when he told this story to Pierre Bourdieu, he answered,

It's worse than 10%, more like 20%.

I don't know why that's the case, assuming that the story is true. (Searle blames the legacy of German philosophy, maybe Hegel.)

[Edit: actually never mind, I think he was probably referring to the German phenomenologists Husserl and Heidegger, who also wrote badly. These philosophers directly influenced French existentialism e.g. Merleau-Ponty and Sartre, against which post-structuralism was partly a reaction. So I guess French post-structuralist philosophers would have been quite familiar with German phenomenology.]

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    I think that Searl made up that story - easy to do, both Foucault and Bourdieu are dead. Bourdieu, for instance, is easy to understand, from "les Héritiers" to "l'Emprise du journalisme", there's nothing difficult with his work.
    – Opposum
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 18:19

There was a moment in France, where all the philosopher tried to use some psychoanalysis in their works. Lacan was one of the really, most famous psychoanalyst, and was known to be really difficult to read. Actually, a lots of peoples start to speak like him, and a lot of philosophers were really influenced by this. One of the main point was to use a lot of references to science and a lot of analogies.

I am trying to give you a decent, not opinion based answer but it's difficult. If the first comment talks about obscurantism it's not meaningless. Some people started to criticize the postmodern philosopher. Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont published a book, "impostures intellectuelles" (intellectual imposture, or fashionable nonsense), which ... well the title says it all. They receive some supports. Michel Onfray also published some works against psychoanalysis, for reasons closely related to obscurantism.

I have some doubts for some of this author. I don't think all of the work they have done is bad, or not interesting. For what I understand it was some sort of fashion, a way to act, to appear smart.

Onfray : Twilight of an idol (Crépuscule d'une idole) Sokal Bricmont : Fashionable nonsense / Intellectual imposture (Impostures intellectuelles)

I just found also that there is a wikipedia page on this topic : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_postmodernism Apparently Noam Chomsky is cited here.

By the way I don't know if you read them in french or a translation, but even for french people it's really hard to read.

  1. In defense of what is sometimes called "obscurantism", particularly in philosophy, it can be said that reason proceeds sometimes by disruption, radical irreverence, noise. It is easy to see that not all said obscurantists are of the same caliber. The same can be said of the defenders of clarity.
  2. That said, this is not what the authors you collectively refer to as "postmodern" (a denomination that is, itself, quite... obscuring), particularly Baudrillard, are advancing in their work. They are writing at a time when their readership has largely assumed that consensus in philosophy has already failed as a project, so it can be said that criticism of their work as "hard to read" largely misses the point.

  3. Poetry was never a stranger to philosophical thinking.


First of all, you will have to be more specific when you are talking about "French postmodern philosophers", because anglo-saxon intellectuals tend to put a lot of people in that category - even people who are not philosophers, like Lacan and Bourdieu !

Second, it's not an easy reading in French but so what ? I do not understand all the people like Dawkins or Chomsky who are saying something like : "it's difficult to understand, therefore it's gibberish, therefore the author is a fraud." Ever read Spinoza ? Difficult, eh ? Well, is Spinoza a fraud ?

Plus "French postmodern philosophers" are not always difficult to understand. Take Baudrillard for instance, in "Simulacres et Simulations", his reasoning is easy to follow and after twenty pages, you know what his point is.


I find analytic philosophy that uses logical notation too difficult, as I never bothered learning that.

The analogy with continental philosophy is their literariness. But that's actually much more googleable than 'logic'. The issue seems to be that many continental philosophers aren't just itemising an argument, but that their presentation is part of why you are meant to believe them. Which makes e.g. paraphrase difficult.

Roger Foster quotes Adorno on jargon and philosophy

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It is a tightrope, I suppose. What you could call the difference between jargon, and the aestheticisation of argument.


Because they're mostly liars. They pretend to be left-wing, and have even been adopted as neo-marxists in many countries. But any serious examination of their "thoughts" reveal the many flaws therein. So, one point in being so "hard to read" is that they can always flee saying "that's not what I've meant". So they keep on misleading so many "developing countries", against any chance of real revolution, which was their goal, from the beginning.

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