Academic journal article Philosophy Today

On the Nature of Concepts

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

On the Nature of Concepts

Article excerpt

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 rather singular "analytic of the concept" (to borrow Kant's phrase). Deleuze's "concept of the concept," as it were, differs significantly from previous notions of the concept. One of the problems it poses - which is the problem I would like to address today - 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.

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 AntiOedipus, the concept enters yet another becoming that is related to neither depth nor surface: rising and falling intensities are now events that 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 work; it undergoes internal mutations. The same is true of Deleuze's other concepts as well. The concept of affect, for example, first arises in Deleuze's work on Spinoza, where it designates the passage from one intensity to another in a finite mode, which is experienced as a joy or a sadness; in A Thousand Plateaus and What Is Philosophy? however, the affect is no longer "the passage from one lived state to another," but has assumed an autonomous status - along with percepts - as a becoming that takes place between two multiplicities.4

To this, one must add the fact that Deleuze's concepts - like intensity or affect - 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 concept of multiplicity, for instance, is first formulated mathematically by Bernard Riemann (and beyond that, is linked to Kant's concept of the "manifold"); both Bergson and Husserl pick up on Riemann's work, in different ways; and Deleuze first writes about the concept with regards to Bergson's distinction between two types of multiplicity - continuous and discrete. But here, too, the concept again gets modified within Deleuze's own work. The types of reductions that he analyses - not only from the continuous to the discrete, but from the problematic to the axiomatic, the intensive to the extensive, the nonmetric to the metric, the nondenumerable to the denumerable, the rhizomatic to the arborescent, the smooth to the striated, and so on - while interrelated, are not identical, and each would have to be analyzed on its own account. Indeed, 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 had "not sufficiently determined his concept."5 Deleuze does the exact same thing when, in Difference and Repetition, he in turn 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 theory of Ideas. …

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