In this week’s Friday version of continental connections (I was too swamped with beginning of the semester duties to get this done earlier), I want to expand upon a couple of points that were made in posts on this blog in the last week. In her post on methodological pluralism (here), Catarina called for a conjunction of four different methodologies that, when done together, will result in a more thoroughgoing philosophical inquiry. In the comments, David Chalmers argued that there was something else besides the four methodologies Catarina listed, what he called “substantive philosophical thinking and reasoning,” or “philosophical abduction,” and he argued that it is at the core of philosophy.
I agreed and argued that what I take to be the core of philosophy, following Deleuze and others, is problematics, or the creation of concepts vis-à-vis problems. Catarina argues that problematics falls under her fourth methodology, what she calls "conceptual reflection," and she is probably right. In a follow-up comment John Protevi pointed out that a subsequent way to think of the history of philosophy would be as a genealogy of problematics, an analysis of how one problematic changed into another – e.g., how did Descartes’s problematic become Kant’s? Understood this way, the history of philosophy is not to be understood in terms of progress, and John, rightly I think, points out that this may well leave us with another point of bifurcation within philosophy, but one that spans both continental and analytic philosophies, and this would be between those who would argue for and those who would argue against progress in philosophy.
This brings me to two related points in What is Philosophy? The first is the diagram that heads this post. This diagram comes as DG set forth their first example of an important philosophical concept, in this case the Cartesian cogito. The second point is the following sentence from just a few pages before the diagram: “The concept is defined by the inseparability of a finite number of heterogeneous components traversed by a point of absolute survey at infinite speed” (p. 21). To understand what is meant by this, it is important first to know what a concept is not for DG: namely, a concept is not a list or sequence of propositions, an interrelated set of implicit inferences that can then be unpacked and made explicit through conceptual analysis. This is not to deny that such relationships are present (this is not a rejection of Brandom in other words), nor is this to argue that conceptual analysis is either unwarranted or undesirable. The assumption, however, and this connects with the point with which I began, is that something is missing: namely, problematics.
If a concept is not a set of inferential relations between propositions, then what is it? Deleuze and Guattari’s answer: it is “a finite number of heterogeneous components traversed by a point of absolute survey at infinite speed.” In the case of Descartes’s concept, the components of the Cartesian cogito are ‘doubting’, ‘thinking’, and ‘being’ (these are represented by the D, T, and B in the diagram). These components connect to the pre-philosophical in that everyone knows, presumably, what it means to think, be, doubt, and say “I” (and I’ve never had a problem teaching the first meditation in my intro classes). Therefore, in addressing the problem or problematic of establishing a basis for philosophy without relying upon objective philosophical propositions that might be doubted (e.g., man is a rational-animal, etc.), Descartes creates the concept of the cogito by drawing the components of doubting, thinking, and being together in relationship to what Deleuze and Guattari refer to as the pre-philosophical plane (or non-philosophy). Cogito ergo sum.
As for the infinite speeds of thought, the “point of absolute survey,” (which is represented by the I in the diagram) the infinite needs to be understood as the non-denumerable, or as not finite as Dedekind defined it. The components can be defined and discerned through analysis, through a denumerable listing so to speak, much as the white light I discussed in an earlier post can be analyzed into a number of discrete colors, but the concept itself, as with white light, is irreducible to the discrete, denumerable components. This is the sense in which a concept entails a problematic that is related to conceptual analysis but involves something more, a “substantive thinking and reasoning” or “philosophical abduction” (and one should not forget Peirce’s influence on Deleuze) that is central to the answer Deleuze and Guattari give to the question: What is Philosophy?