DELEUZE’S SPINOZIST ACCOUNT OF ARGUMENTS

In practice Deleuze made great use of argument, but did not explicitly include it in his definition of philosophy as “creation of concepts”. However, a concept is, at least in part, an argumentative structure argumentatively articulated with other such structures. For Deleuze, as for Wittgenstein, it is impossible to advance a proposition “outside language games”, and this leads both of them to emphasise the primacy of enunciative assemblages and pragmatic connections over isolated propositions: every concept relates back to other concepts, not only in its history but in its becoming or its present connections” (WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?, 19).

Deleuze argues for a pragmatic approach that shows the greater usefulness of one set of concepts over others in a local domain, and for specific purposes. But his pragmatic and political arguments against psychoanalysis, for example, or against the dogmatic image of thought, are often backed up with quite powerful analytic arguments.

Deleuze was ambivalent about argument and this has permitted a certain sort of misunderstanding of his philosophy as irrationalist or relativist. True, Deleuze explicitly condemned “reflection”, “objections”, and “discussions”, but this condemnation only makes sense if we keep in mind that he was in favour of conceptualising, problematising, and conversation or dialogues. The real issue was in terms of what image of thought is engaged in different philosophical activities. Argument that creates, reconfigures, problematises, or articulates connections in a heuristic open-ended way is quite different from the dogmatic deductions and set refutations of a closed and static system.

Deleuze seems to have at least two differing definitions of the concept, and so the definition of philosophy as the creation of concepts is potentially ambiguous. Sometimes he makes use of an “enlarged” view of the concept, as including affective and perceptive dimensions, and sometimes he separates out concept, affect, percept. At the end of the little book SPINOZA, PRACTICAL PHILOSOPHY he distinguishes in Spinoza’s ethics the serene movement of the concept (arguments, demonstrations, deductions) and the agitation of the affect. In book V he claims we get the “encounter of the concept and the affect”, where both come together in a new movement. This new movement he calls in NEGOTIATIONS the percept. He always insists that we need both a philosophical comprehension by concepts, contained in some form of argumentative matrix, and non-philosophical comprehension in terms of affects and percepts. So argument has its place in the first kind of knowledge but is based on inadequate knowledge of things and laws, and also in the second kind of knowledge based on the composition of relations and on organising one’s encounters. But these two kinds of knowledge are incommensurable modes of existence, says Deleuze. People arguing in terms of the first kind of knowledge won’t be able to agree on anything much, as they understand the propositions produced by their interlocutor outside the system of relations that give them sense. Further, people arguing in terms of the first kind of knowledge and those arguing in terms of the second kind will just argue past each other.

Applied to the blogosphere we can see many “arguments” which are mere dogmatic assertion and counter-assertion. Given that signs are equivocal for the first kind of knowledge, we find people who are content to rip statements out of context and to give the other’s words their personal meanings instead of trying to understand them in terms of the laws of a different worldview than their own. But occasionally we do find coherent lines of thinking expressed. So I disagree that it is in the nature of blogs to exclude individuation. I think that even “likes” can correspond to the three kinds of knowledge, from impulsive reactions to more systematic position-taking to the joy of the unexpected affirmative encounter that furthers our individuation.

Thus the different kinds of knowledge correspond to different modes of existence, going from the most dediffrentiated to the most individuated. Deleuze in SPINOZA, PRACTICAL PHILOSOPHY says: “the kinds of knowledge are modes of existence” (SPP, 82). A comparison with the categories developped in the cinema books can clarify his ideas. The first kind corresponds to our natural condition: inadequate ideas, passive affects. This is the world of perpetual confrontation and combat, the world of demolition, of the action-image. The second kind corresponds to adequate ideas and active affects, visions and auditions, composing relations and organising encounters, the world of the time-image.

These two kinds of knowledge are incommensurable. Deleuze states: “The break is between the first and the second” (SPP, 82). This is both an epistemological break and an ethical one. So it would seem that the separation of the components (concept, affect, percept) is at the level of the first kind of knowledge, and their non-separation is at the level of the second and third kind. In SPP he talks about Book V of the ETHICS, the level of the percept, where we see “the meeting of concept and affect … there is no longer any difference between the concept and life” (130).

In conclusion, the creation of concepts is a better image of thought than the confrontation of opinions, and so mundane “arguments” or disputes are to be avoided. But creation does in fact involve reason and argument, even if these cannot be bound up in an obligatory rational canon. “Concept-creation” is the felicity condition of the mode of existence of philosophy, but does not describe all that happens inside that mode. Philosophy creates concepts, invents conceptual personas, and proliferates conceptual landscapes, but inside those landscapes, and also between them, argument occurs. So there is no dualism forcing us to choose between the false alternatives of smug “postmodern” creation and carping analytic logic.

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