How do we handle questions when the asker's problem is that they are confused or proceeding under a misconception?
Most often the asker can't write a self-aware statement of the actual problem because lacking that self-awareness is their problem in the first place. Sometimes the question is logically inconsistent or otherwise demonstrates clearly what their underlying problem is, but the explicit question is something we can't answer.
(Assume for the sake of this discussion that the asker's confusion is the problem, and therefore no amount of nicely asking for clarification will result in a clarified question. If that assumption is wrong for a certain question, it's not a question that has this problem and it will get clarified fine. My only concern is dealing with the questions that do have this problem.)
These questions are an odd special case of poorly-framed or XY Problem questions. In a normal question with an XY assumption, we can use comments to tease our their real, underlying problem. In this type of question though, we can't: misunderstanding their problem is their problem. They don't have an underlying problem they can clarify for us, because the problem they're having will stop existing when their confusion is removed.
The friction comes from there being two possible reactions our experts can have:
- "Aha! You have demonstrated your misconception quite clearly, and now let me untangle your conceptual knot." These users will want to answer the question.
- "What the hell, this question doesn't make any sense." These users will vote to close/hold the question.
The answering users will annoy the closing users, because we all know quite well that we shouldn't answer bad questions. The closing users will annoy the answering users, because solving the obvious problem isn't hard at all and the OP can always ask a solid follow-up question after they've been enlightened.
Possibly, resolving their confusion in comments is a solution... but this is effectively using comments to answer the question to those who think that "misunderstanding their problem is the problem". Since the users who see the confusion know better than to answer in comments, they won't (they'll just answer). Meanwhile the users who don't see the confusion are, for that very reason, less likely to ask useful clarifying questions.
Should these questions be closed as unclear? This may save the site from conflict that we are better off avoiding, even if we could in theory help this person. Attempting to clarify in comments will either not work (and the question will remain closed), or end up answering-in-comments (and find out that there's no other question worth reopening for). Permanently consigning questions from confused askers to the trash bin may be justified. If this is what we decide, then users tempted to answer will know to "answer" in comments to remove the confusion.
Should these questions remain open to allow answers? One or more of the answers is likely to solve their problem by correcting the misconception, at the expense of some of the answers guessing wrong in some particulars. The votes on such answers are likely to reflect more on the guesses of the community about the nature of the confusion, than on the fitness to their exact confusion-problem. Helping a thoroughly-confused asker may be worth hosting low-quality questions (as the downvote arrow is for). If this is what we decide, then we'll be able to point to this decision to ward off well-meaning but interfering close votes.
Related reading is, How do we handle a desire to challenge the frame of a question? This problem is related, but distinct in that this type of framing problem is caused when the asker's problem is why they're unable to reframe their problem.
A possible example of a question of this type: