Deleuze and Analytic Philosophy

My good friend and Camus scholar/political theorist colleague Pete Petrakis has always said that despite my work in continental philosophy he long suspected I was a closet analytic philosopher. I have not vigorously denied these claims, which has no doubt fueled Pete’s suspicions. I did present a paper at the SEP-FEP conference in Dundee in 2006 on Deleuze and analytic philosophy. The paper (which can be had here for those who are interested) led to a nice conversation with John Llewelyn right after the talk and later that night at dinner. I’ve also had long discussions with James Williams about these issues, and James has done some great work connecting Deleuze’s thought to issues and problems that are important within the analytic tradition (especially on Davidson and Lewis). A good example of James’ work, along with others who take up similar themes, can be found in the edited collection of essays, Postanalytic and Metacontinental. With Llewelyn’s and Williams’ encouragement I had long planned to pursue the implications of Deleuzian thought for analytic philosophy but then I got caught up with the Hume book and I put that project aside.

Having read Protevi’s recent interview with Jason Stanley over at New APPS (here) I was reminded of a few insights I had had several years ago after reading Jason Stanley and Timothy Williamson’s excellent essay, “Knowing How” (Journal of Philosophy 98.8 [2001]) which in turn reminded me of Stanley’s book Knowledge and Practical Interests, which I’ve had but not read since I first came to it while working on what eventually became the Hume book. I’m now working my way through Stanley’s book, which is excellent, and remarkably lucid. Early on in the preface Stanley notes that the conclusions he draws in this book were found to be ‘unsurprising’ to ‘friends and family members more at home with non-analytic traditions.’ In particular, at least from my own perspective, I found this especially to be the case in Stanley’s critique of contextualism. The critique, in short, draws on what Stanley sees as a disanalogy between gradable expressions such as tall, really tall, flat, really flat, and knowledge attributions such as know, really know, etc. In the first case such expressions do draw much of their gradability from their context and this determines whether the attribution is correct or not, such that to attribute “really tall” might be appropriate when speaking of fifth graders but a completely different scale comes into play when speaking of professional basketball players or Tutsi tribesmen. The contextualists argue that it is the context that provides the appropriate scale for determining which attributions are appropriate. Stanley argues, however, that ‘attempts to treat “know” as a gradable expression’ in the same sense as tall, strong, etc., ‘fails’.

Knowledge, in short, does not admit of differences of degree. Stanley is quite forthright on this point, arguing that ‘propositional knowledge ascriptions are not gradable at all.’ It is at this point where I begin to see connections with the Deleuzian theory I’m developing which argues that concepts are to be understood as intensive automata, where intensive is used, in the Deleuzian sense, in contrast to extensive, which involves differences of degree and/or differences of kind. As it comes together I may arrive at a Deleuzian theory of concepts Deleuze would find monstrous, but then this in its own way could be very Deleuzian. There are, however, some clear headwinds to such a project. For one thing, Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari were uninterested in theories regarding propositional knowledge, quite unlike Stanley, and they found that in general these theories were built upon the most uninteresting of examples (e.g., “Scott is the author of Waverly,” “the cat is on the mat,” etc.). More crucially, perhaps, whereas Stanley sees his project as one that remains true to our common intuitions – as he puts it, “My philosophical tendency is to preserve as much as possible of common-sense intuition” – Deleuze, by contrast, seeks to create a philosophy and philosophical concepts that problematizes common sense, that makes the common of common sense the issue to be understood rather than taking it to be the given upon which everything else is to be understood. Despite these headwinds, it seems to me there are some significant connections and parallels to be drawn. When I get a rough draft finished I’ll post a link to it at this blog. I will also present what I come up with at the Deleuze Studies conference in Copenhagen and would be more than happy to talk about these and other Deleuze-related matters with those who are so inclined (preferably over coffee [morning] or beer [evening]).

3 thoughts on “Deleuze and Analytic Philosophy

  1. I’m finding this strand of research very helpful for my own work – arts practice based research on ecological change. As I’m interested in presenting arts practice as a form of knowledge in itself (rather than the illustration of knowledge derived from analytically framed practices, such as natural science), relating these traditions is very relevant.
    I had the pleasure of talking with Tim, who commented above, at a conference in Cornwall, UK recently and he expressed an attitude towards philosophical traditions and tools that I liked very much; ie that we can work at assembling our own populations of insight (my recollection, not his words). Obviously such use must be coherent in its parts, but this way of thinking about concepts, which I interpret through DeLanda’s population thinking, both connects the continental/analytic separation with the work of Deleuze, yet also offers insights into the formation and change of philosophical traditions as virtual machines, or intensive automata themselves, as you point out.
    Clearly, no philosophical system has been extended without failure. They all wear out towards the edge, as evidenced by the fact that the work isn’t done. Equally, every body of work, from the most extensive and foundational to more niche, has its centre of applicability. Its utility perhaps. To talk in this way seems to mirror Deleuzian treatments of the abstract – not enough, yet too much at the same time.
    The artist in me sees the endless line described by a strange attractor – a suitably anaylitical/DeLanda-esque figure – tracing the ever changing appetites of our researches. In a world of continual change, this angle of enquiry is never going to replicate its path through history exactly, even though it follows habits.

    Anything we construct along this line will offer contingent value.

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