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Fr. 502

April 3, 2014

The other reason why Descartes is to be evaluated only in terms of the goals set by his formulation of the problem owes to a variant of anti-essentialism (which finds still other expressions in Deleuze’s work). There is no way to speak of the “cogito”, plain and simple, for there exists no such concept such that we could elaborate an identical content in each case of its appearance. For the “cogito” is not merely Cartesian; there exist as well the Augustinian and Kantian cogitos. When considering the latter, it is simply not possible to maintain that these are better than the former or vice versa. Likewise, we cannot reject the cogito in any of its variants simply because its author failed to consider some issue which would not have otherwise occurred to him or her. This restriction owes to the fact that the cogito has no essence; this concept’s content changes the moment that the problem underlying it does. Indeed, for Deleuze, there is no sense in debating the relative merits of these concepts insofar as the problems in light of which they are to be evaluated are no longer the same, if not incompatible.

Furthermore, this restriction underlies Deleuze’s rejection of philosophical discussion or debate. So long as the perspective from which each participant in the different does not coincide with that of his or her fellow participants, the discussion will not progress. For the criteria for marking success or elaborating criticisms are not the same. Thus, philosophical discussion is, for Deleuze, largely limited to the interaction between the reader and the thinker read or that between collaborators starting out from the same problem. (This last case is notably considered “conversation” rather than “discussion”.)

Such is the relation between Deleuze’s treatment of philosophical evaluation and discussion and the theoretical pairing of semantic holism and anti-essentialism. This anti-essentialism finds, however, expression elsewhere in Deleuze’s work in his attempts to lend a new sense of movement and transformability to frozen or fossilized philosophical concepts or mechanisms for thought. This renewed emphasis on movement and transformation issues in the call for a proliferation of concepts, determinations and forms in a new era of philosophy, free from the strictures and rigidity of the previous. This applies just as well to the individual’s personal development and becoming. Notably, this call for proliferation draws on certain vitalist intuitions prevalent in Deleuze’s oeuvre, particularly as this manifests itself in the fecundity of a given concept or system of thought.

Interestingly, there seems to exist something parallel in the work of certain thinkers belonging to the current of American pragmatism, particularly at the level of political philosophy. On one hand, we can see a comparable formation in John Dewey’s call to reorganize education, civil society, and democratic institutions so as to promote intellectual curiosity and experimentation, plurality of views, adaptation of institutions to the communities and organizations in which the former are embedded, and the promotion of informed public opinion following research, debate and participation in democratic structures. The changes for which Dewey calls capture something of the movement and transformability that Deleuze sought to instill in contemporary thought.

On the other, the work of Jeffrey Stout underscores a similar desire to promote transformability at the level of political norms and organization and holds notably that democracy provides best apparatus, as of yet, to encourage such transformability in civil society. This aspect is without a doubt present in his advocacy for increased political discussion with an emphasis on reason-giving, i.e., giving reasons for our own perspective and engaging that of others in immanent criticism. That said, it is brought out more forcefully in his reworking of Hegel’s dialectic to the political sphere, an adaptation that results in the notion of “dialectical location”. According to this notion, the beliefs of a member of political society will naturally evolve as he or she espouses certain beliefs, puts these forward and alters them in virtue of his or her encounters with different or contrary reasons in political discussion. In this way, a proliferation of reasons and reasoning comes to the fore in political identity and discussion.

For all of the reasons above, it is possible to bring select “continental” philosophical tenets in Deleuze’s work closer to those found in a more analytic current, namely, American pragmatism. Beyond the interest that this exercise poses in and of itself, it also suggests that there is still more fruitful translation and juxtaposition to be done as concerns the perceived gap between the analytic and continental.

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