Academic journal article Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry

On the Nature of Concepts

Academic journal article Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry

On the Nature of Concepts

Article excerpt

I. Introduction: The Becoming of Concepts

In What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari define philosophy, famously, as an activity that consists in "forming, inventing, and fabricating concepts." (1) But this definition of philosophy implies a somewhat singular "analytic of the concept," to borrow Kant's phrase, and Deleuze's "concept of the concept," as it were, differs significantly from previous conceptions of the concept. One of the problems it poses--which is the problem I would like to address in this paper--lies in the fact that concepts, from a Deleuzian perspective, have no identity but only a becoming. This poses a particular problem in dealing with the status of Deleuze's own concepts.

1. In his preface to the Italian translation of Logique du sens, for example, Deleuze himself briefly charts out the becoming of the concept of intensity within his own work. (2) (1) In Difference and Repetition, he says, the concept of intensity was primarily related to the dimension of depth. (2) In Logic of Sense, everything changes: the concept of intensity is retained, but it is now related primarily to the dimension of surface: same concept, but different components. (3) In Anti-Oedipus, the concept enters yet another becoming that is related to neither depth nor surface: rising and falling intensities are now events what take place on a body without organs. (3) (4) One might add a fourth becoming to Deleuze's list: in What is Philosophy?, the concept of intensity is used to describe the status of the components of concepts, which are determined as intensive rather than extensive (which is one way in which Deleuze distances himself from, say, Frege, for whom concepts are extensional). In other words, the concept of intensity does not stay the same even within Deleuze's own corpus; it undergoes internal mutations. (4)

2. To this, one must add the fact that Deleuze's concepts themselves have a long "becoming" in the history of philosophy, which Deleuze relies on and appropriates, and into which Deleuze's own work on the concept is inserted. The distinction between extensive and intensive quantities, for instance, dates back to medieval philosophy and Plotinus. Deleuze concept of multiplicity--to take another example--was first formulated mathematically by Bernard Riemann, in his non-Euclidean geometry, who in turn linked it to Kant's concept of the "manifold." Both Husserl and Bergson adopted Riemann's concept for their own philosophical purposes, and Deleuze first wrote about the concept with regard to Bergson's distinction between two types of multiplicity-continuous and discrete--which he again develops in his own manner. (5) On this score, one of the great texts in the history of philosophy is Kant's opening to the Transcendental Dialectic, where he explains why he is going to appropriate Plato's concept of Idea rather that coining his own term, since Plato was dealing with a problematic similar to the one Kant wants to deal with, although Plato, according to Kant, had "not sufficiently determined his concept." (6) Deleuze in turn does the exact same thing when, in Difference and Repetition, he takes up Kant's theory of the Idea and modifies it in his own manner, claiming that Kant had not pushed to the limit the 'immanent' ambitions of his own theory of Ideas. One might say that the 'becoming' of concepts within Deleuze work is a continuation of the becoming within the history of philosophy.

3. As a final complication, Deleuze says that even he and Guattari "never did understand the 'body without organs' in quite the same way." (7) This is not a question of "authorial intention." If one considers Deleuze and Guattari's jointly authored books as belonging fully to the trajectory of Deleuze writings, and equally fully to the trajectory of Guattari's writings, the one could take Deleuze's comment to imply that, even within a work like Anti-Oedipus, the concept of the 'body without organs' has a different sense, a different 'becoming,' depending on whether one reads it in the context of Deleuze's trajectory or Guattari's trajectory. …

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