Deleuze on Learning and Skill

When it comes to learning, Deleuze argues that “it is so difficult to say how someone learns.” (DR 23). More dramatically, Deleuze adds, there “is something amorous – but also something fatal – about all education.” (DR 23). In learning to drive a stick shift car, for example, it is not sufficient simply to be told by the instructor to “do as I do,” or to follow the rule as they have stated and/or exemplified it in their actions. Learning is not a matter of following a rule or of doing what someone else does; to the contrary, what one encounters in learning to drive a stick shift car is the task of connecting various elements – namely, the hand, foot, clutch, accelerator, slope of the road, etc.—and of connecting them systematically so that the foot releases from the clutch right when the accelerator is being pressed, etc. Similarly in learning to swim it is a matter of establishing connections between the various parts and motions of one’s body with the resistance, currents, and buoyancy of the water. As Deleuze puts it, “To learn to swim is to conjugate the distinctive points of our bodies with the singular points of the Objective Idea in order to form a problematic field.” (DR 165)

In clarifying what Deleuze means by conjugating the distinctive points “in order to form a problematic field” will offer, I argue, what I take to be a helpful perspective from which to understand Merleau-Ponty’s example of the expert organist as well as Jason Stanley’s recent work on skill.

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Discursive and Non-Discursive Philosophy

In his very kind and generous response to my post Eric is right that in the passages I cite from the Treatise and the Enquiry I do “not remark upon” Hume’s claims that “custom and practice…have settled the just value of everything.” My concerns in this post were to sketch the manner in which a Deleuzian metaphysics of multiplicity offers a rapprochement of Spinozist monism and a Humean affirmation of multiplicity. But since Eric is correct to point out that Hume’s comment occurs both in one of the passages I cite and yet again in his dissertation on the passions, it’s worth exploring the implications of Hume’s comments.

What Eric finds surprising in Hume’s claim is that, contrary to what Hume says, it appears that “custom and practice” will not always “produce just values in philosophy” Eric offers an example from early on in the Treatise where Hume claims that in his opinion there has arisen a “common prejudice against metaphysical reasonings of all kinds,” an opinion that can be justified only by “the most determined skepticism, along with a great degree of indolence.” For Hume this prejudice is not justified, and this is for the reason, Hume will conclude a few passages later, because “‘Tis evident, that all the sciences have a relation, greater or less, to human, nature.”

It is this relation that I’ll turn to in order to uncover what gives rise to the apparently conflicting claims that Eric finds surprising.

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I’ll be giving a series of lectures at the Deleuze Camp (Workshop) in Osaka at the end of May. Here are the abstracts of the lectures. Any comments or feedback are welcome.

“Learning to Think: Deleuze and the Art of Philosophy”

Lecture 1: The Problem with Solutions

In this first of three lectures I will begin to defend what I take to be Deleuze’s metephysics of multiplicity, a metaphysics that combines both an affirmation of Humean multiplicity and a Spinozist affirmation of monism. A guiding theme in these lectures will be Hume’s theory of taste, as found in his essay “Of the Standard of Taste.” This theme is not arbitrary, for in Chapter 3 of What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari argue that it is taste that is the “philosophical faculty of coadaptation” that  relates the three elements that “constitute the philosophical trinity”—namely, the plane of immanence, conceptual personae, and concepts. This lecture will take up the theme of problems and argue that what is distinctive about philosophy is that it has a taste for the problems that are immanent to the solutions that supposedly resolve and displace them.

Lecture 2: Where there’s a will, there’s a way

In this lecture I will revisit the problem that Deleuze takes to be central to Hume’s philosophical project—that is, the problem of how a “subject transcending the given [can] be constituted in the given.” For Hume this was the problem of accounting for how one comes to the belief that A causes B when there is nothing in A, nor in the succession of A and B, that necessitates the causal relationship between A and B. For Deleuze this emerges as the problem of accounting for how an identity that is irreducible to difference is nonetheless constituted in difference. In short, how does difference-in-itself serve as the principle of sufficient reason for any and all individuated identities. The concept of conceptual personae, we will see, needs to be understood in the context of Deleuze’s efforts to respond to this problem.

Lecture 3: Learning to Think

The focus of the final lecture will be Deleuze’s claim, in Difference and Repetition, that “to think is to create – there is no other creation—but to create is first of all to engender ‘thinking’ within thought.” (DR 147) The first two lectures will have begun to lay out the conditions necessary for engendering thinking in thought. In this lecture we will look further at the relationship between thought and thinking. Learning to think, I will argue, entails a taste for the problems within thought itself, and both Hume and Deleuze had a taste for such problems; or, both were adept at learning to think.

“fourfold root” of representation

Since much of the impetus for Deleuze’s approach to the PSR stems from a critique of representation, I thought it would be good to post a quick summary of this critique. In short, Deleuze argues that for representational modes of thought difference is always mediated by an already presupposed identity, when it is precisely the conditions for the possibility of identity itself that most concerns Deleuze. The mediation of representation by identity occurs in four ways, what Deleuze calls the “fourfold root” (see DR 29): namely, identity, analogy, opposition, and resemblance.

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Strange Encounters II

As I concluded the previous post, I argued that the Deleuzian extension of Hume’s project entailed both the affirmation of monism (Spinoza) and multiplicity (Hume). This point is made crystal clear in A Thousand Plateaus when Deleuze and Guattari announce that “pluralism = monism” (ATP, p. 2; see this earlier post where I discuss this theme in the context of William James’ radical empiricism). This effort to bring Hume and Spinoza together, however, is fraught with difficulty, or at least apparently so, in a philosophical landscape that has been forever altered by Kant’s project. Since Kant was woken from his dogmatic slumber, Hume and Spinoza have come to be rethought, if rethought at all, in the context of the conditions for the possibility of experience. In the case of Hume, this has largely led his philosophy to be read as a project in epistemology. Hume comes to be seen as a precursor of a Bayesian epistemology whereby knowledge comes to be constituted through a process of induction that constitutes degrees of belief. Spinoza, at worst, is thrown into the refuse pile of philosophical dogmatists, one of the philosophers who accepted, without question, that guarantees of our knowledge. Spinoza, in fact, goes much further than either Descartes and Leibniz in that while they accept God as the unquestioned guarantor of our knowledge of the world (Descartes) as well as the harmony of the world itself (Leibniz), God remains inaccessible and unknowable; Spinoza, by contrast, argues in the last half of Part 5 of the Ethics that even God can be known.

To state the contrast between Spinoza the dogmatist and Hume the skeptic, one could say that Spinoza presupposes the identity that grounds knowledge while Hume argues that this identity comes to be constituted. Husserl remarked upon this aspect of Hume’s thought, and it is for this reason that I have argued for a Humean phenomenology (see this). So how then can one bring Hume and Spinoza together? Put simply, through a rethinking of the principle of sufficient reason (PSR). And this brings me back to the issue that in part spawned the New Hume debate – to wit, Hume’s claim that the “particular powers, by which all natural operations are performed” are powers that provide the reason for the regularities of nature but these powers “never appear to the senses.” What are these powers? The simple answer to this question is that these are the laws of nature that are the subject of natural science, and it is precisely the nature of these powers that are revealed, over time, through the process of scientific enquiry. We could say that this is a scientific explanation of facts. That which appears to the senses, therefore, would bring in our mental faculties and the epistemological problems of how we come to know the “particular powers” of nature. With this we have an epistemological explanation, and form here we are not too far from the Bayesian epistemology mentioned above.

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Continental Connections

I’ve begun a weekly blog post over at New APPS, what I’m calling Continental Connections Thursday. My intention is to write much along the lines of what I’ve written over here at Aberrant Monism (and I will likely do riffs and variations upon what I have written here). I’ll write from my broadly Deleuzo-Humean perspective on issues that connect to concerns of analytic philosophy and beyond. Today’s post is titled White Light/White Heat after the Velvet Underground album of the same name. I take off from a brief discussion of the band, Lou Reed and his fascination with white noise, to explore the Deleuzian notion of a concrete universal (of which Deleuze gives white noise as an example), arguing (however briefly) that despite the nominalist, Humean trajectory of Deleuze’s thought he maintains a healthy Platonism, at least if this is the Platonism of the late dialogues (especially the Philebus). I assume the Humean strand of Deleuze’s thought, which I’ve argued for here and in my published writings, but the Platonism of Deleuze’s thought is not as well addressed, so the post is primarily on Plato for that reason. This most recent post follows another I wrote on the incredulous stare a week or so ago. The traffic over at Newapps is such that I get much more feedback than I do over here, so I’ve decided for the time being to devote most of my blogging energy to Newapps. I’ll still post at Aberrant Monism when I deem it to be too far off the mainstream diet of the blogosphere – which probably will be pretty often. In the meantime, if anyone stumbles upon any of my old posts I’m always open to comments, no matter how long after the post was written.

conceptual automata

With midterms out of the way I’ve been able to begin preparing for some upcoming events. In particular, I’ll be one of the lecturers at this year’s Deleuze Camp, along with Ian Buchanan, Dan Smith, and Ron Bogue (there are a couple others as well, I believe, but that’s all I know for now), and so I’m busy preparing for what I’ll do there. I’m also editing a book with Levi Bryant and have finally gotten together my proposed abstract for that project. I post the abstract here since I’ve already posted on this blog many of the ideas that will eventually appear in that essay. This work is also related to what I’ll be doing at the Deleuze Camp so any feedback or suggestions are welcome. As is the nature of abstracts, they often make broad sweeping claims and promises with only an indication, if that, of how successful the arguments will be in the end. I would hope that combined with previous posts some of these inherent problems in abstracts will be alleviated. Regardless, comments are welcome. The tentative title for the essay is ‘Conceptual Automata’.

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Dewey…the most important philosopher of the twentieth century

At the Leiter blog there was an interesting thread (here) concerning Philip Kitcher’s recent essay, “Philosophy Inside Out” (here). Given the current state of support for philosophy (or lack thereof) within the academy, it was not surprising that many of the comments were in support of Kitcher’s basic claim that philosophy ought to reconsider or reflect upon its core mission, although not everyone agreed with how such a reconsideration would look in practice, or what has put philosophy into the state it is in.

Kitcher’s basic argument stems from his reading of Dewey, who he ‘take[s] to be the most important philosopher of the twentieth century.’ In particular, Kitcher analogizes much of the “core” work that is most highly valued in philosophy today, by which Kitcher means epistemology, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind, with placing the highest musical value upon those who can perform an ‘ornamented Quadruple Temolo 41 with an extra trill.’ In short, much of the core work in philosophy Kitcher claims is increasingly devoted to making finer and finer distinctions, the relevance of which is apparent to an ever-dwindling number of fellow neo-scholastics (referring here to Ladyman and Ross’s critique of contemporary analytic metaphysics, as discussed here). The overall message: it’s no wonder philosophy programs are at risk. It’s time to take stock of what we philosophers are doing and whether it is worth doing.

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the relevance of philosophy (Frege or Spinoza)

Frege’s famous essay, “On Sinn and Bedeutung,” begins with the problem of identity, or equality. If a and b designate the same thing, Frege argues, then ‘it would seem that a = b could not differ from a = a.’ But the latter, as Kant argued, is an analytic statement while the former may ‘contain very valuable extensions of our knowledge’ and cannot be validated a priori. This problem sets the stage for Frege’s well-known solution: ‘a = b’ and ‘a = a’ differ in sense (Sinn) while they are identical with respect to reference (Bedeutung). More to the point, for Frege one may grasp the sense of a statement, word, thought, etc., but ‘one is not,’ he claims, ‘thereby assured of a Bedeutung.’ For Frege fiction is an example wherein one may grasp the sense of the story, follow the adventures of Odysseus for example, and yet this sense does not have a Bedeutung. As Frege puts it, ‘The thought remains the same whether “Odysseus” has a Bedeutung or not.’ In fiction, therefore, it is only the sense or thought that matters. But for Frege whatever ‘aesthetic delight’ we may derive from the thoughts associated with such fictional accounts, the will to truth (to borrow a phrase from Nietzsche) will lead us to move beyond them: ‘The question of truth would cause us to abandon aesthetic delight for an attitude of scientific investigation.’ Or again: ‘It is the striving for truth that drives us always to advance from the sense to the Bedeutung.’ It is this striving for truth, this will to truth, that drove Heinrich Schliemann on his quest to determine whether story of the Iliad were merely a story or whether Troy actually existed – that is, he sought to determine whether or not the Sinn of ‘Troy’ had a Bedeutung.

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real patterns all the way down

After hearing and reading about Ladyman and Ross for some time now, with opinions ranging from volatile dislike to euphoric endorsement, I’ve finally taken the time to read Every Thing Must Go and come to my own conclusions. I’ll use this post to sketch my reading of the arguments of ETMG and offer some thoughts and questions at the end. As usual I’m open to feedback and am always curious to hear of alternative readings.

In many ways ETMG is a book I should be naturally predisposed to read. With my own reading of Hume’s thought as compatible with realism (or hyper-realism as I would call it) I should be interested to see how they incorporate Humean verificationism, along with Peircean verificationism (another philosopher I greatly admire), into their arguments for realism. Ladyman and Ross also draw heavily on current work and research in physics, a discipline I initially pursued and still take great interest in; and they use their readings of physics as a mathematics of real patterns to legitimize work in dynamic systems theory (a systems theory properly understood [more on this below], which I draw on heavily in my Philosophy at the Edge of Chaos book. Finally, by their own admission Ladyman and Ross (though I shouldn’t forget the et. al. of Spurrett and Collier) see the arguments of their book as an alternative to the neo-scholasticism of contemporary analytic metaphysics. I agree wholeheartedly with this objective, though I may have an inner neo-scholastic in me for I find some of Ted Sider’s arguments helpful and think Peter Unger’s essay “The Problem of the Many” is a classic, albeit likely a classic in neo-scholastic analytic metaphysics by Ladyman and Ross’s lights. Despite this, I’m generally in agreement with their criticisms of contemporary analytic metaphysics and thus, with this and all the other points mentioned above I had some very good reasons to read this book.

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