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Deleuze and Analytic Philosophy

Jeffrey A. Bell

Presented as the SEP-FEP Joint Conference

September 9, 2006

Fifty years ago H.P. Grice and P.F. Strawson published their now famous essay, “In Defense of a Dogma,” as in large part a reply to W.V. Quine’s equally famous essay, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism.” Both essays have set the agenda for a number of the debates that have arisen in analytic philosophy in the past half century. When Quine’s essay was first published in 1951, in fact, analytic philosophy was not nearly as dominant in the academy as it has since become. The pragmatist tradition in American philosophy was still, by 1950, quite strong in the United States; and in Britain the influence of Wittgenstein, who is seen by many American pragmatists such as Rorty as a kindred spirit, was also quite strong. In most graduate programs in philosophy today, by contrast, in the United States and Britain, one finds the clear, undisputed dominance of analytic philosophy. This dominance is not recent, moreover, for from the 1950s on analytic philosophy quickly acquired the dominance it has maintained to this day.
Rather than add to the litany of work that has either sought to explain the rise of analytic philosophy and the subsequent rift between analytic and continental philosophy (in which I include pragmatism), or the work that has attempted to overcome the difference between them altogether, we will focus, instead, upon concepts of philosophers in both the continental and analytic traditions. These concepts, it will be argued, need to be understood relative to the problems these philosophers are responding to, and these responses, as we shall see, are of use to philosophers in both traditions. It is in this spirit, then, that we return to the debate between Grice/Strawson and Quine, showing how the problems within this debate, problems which quickly became the dominant themes of the analytic tradition, were problems equally addressed by later philosophers both in the analytic tradition – especially the work of Saul Kripke and Hillary Putnam – and by those writing in the continental tradition – we will bring in the work of Gilles Deleuze and Bruno Latour (and in a long version of this paper, Alain Badiou). In setting these comparisons forth we will conclude, finally, that it would be to the detriment of both analytic and continental philosophers to remain indifferent to or even dismissive of the work going on in other traditions.

At the heart of the debate between Grice and Strawson and Quine is the analytic-synthetic distinction. Yet as Grice and Strawson readily admit, Quine’s objections to this distinction can be broadened to include much more: ‘Quine’s objection is not simply to the words “analytic” and “synthetic,” but to a distinction which at times philosophers have supposed themselves to be expressing by means of such pairs of words or phrases as “necessary” and “contingent,” “a priori” and “empirical,” “truth of reason” and “truth of fact”…’1 If Quine’s objections were to hold up, therefore, then much more would be at stake, according to Grice and Strawson, then the analytic/synthetic distinction. For Grice and Strawson, though, Quine’s objections do not hold up, and they base their response to Quine upon a specific notion of meaning, what they refer to as “cognitive synonymy,” a notion they take to be part of the “analyticity-group.”2

Two expressions are cognitively synonymous, Grice and Strawson argue, is “roughly” equivalent ‘to what we ordinarily express by saying that x and y have the same meaning or that x means the same as y …’3 For Quine, however, as Grice and Strawson read him, to mean the same as, when applied to predicate-expressions, differs from and goes ‘beyond the notion of being true of just the same object.’ The predicate-expressions, to use Quine’s example, ‘the creature with a heart’ and ‘the creature with a kidney’ may indeed be true by virtue of referring to one and the same object, and yet they are not ‘cognitively synonymous,’ much as Frege’s famous example of the morning star and evening star were not cognitively synonymous. In other words, it is not what is thought about that determines cognitive synonymity, but rather it is the way it is thought about that is the same, which is clearly not the case in the examples just given.
The problem, for Quine, is that there would be no example that would or could satisfy the conditions of cognitive synonymity, or analyticity as Quine extends his critique. The very notion of analyticity itself, Quine argues, derives from Kant, who ‘conceived of an analytic statement as one that attributes to its subject no more than is already conceptually contained in the subject.’4 Among the problems with this understanding of analyticity is the manner in which an analytic statement can ‘conceptually contain’ all that is necessary without reference to anything outside, to something that is contained, and thus containment must be taken ‘metaphorically.’5 In his use of the term, Kant appears, according to Quine, to take a statement to be analytic ‘when it is true by virtue of meanings and independently of fact.’ If taken in this way, which is precisely how Grice and Strawson understand Quine, then analytic statements can in no way be subject to revision for they already ‘contain’ the meaning that makes them analytic, and they do not refer to an outside or other which would prompt a possible revision. Quine is clear on this point: ‘Furthermore, it becomes folly to seek a boundary between synthetic statements, which hold contingently on experience, and analytic statements which hold come what may. Any statement can be held true come what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments elsewhere in the system.’ ‘Even a statement very close to the periphery,’ Quine adds, ‘can be held true in the face of recalcitrant experience by pleading hallucination or by amending certain statements of the kind called logical laws’; or, by contrast, even ‘the logical law of the excluded middle,’ a worthy candidate for an analytic, unrevisable statement, has been proposed for revision ‘as a means of simplifying quantum mechanics.’6 In other words, the analytic distinction is to be understood as a difference of degree on a continuum of variation, whereby analytic are those statements most resistant to variation and synthetic statements most susceptible to variation. To maintain the distinction between an analytic, necessary, and unrevisable statement and a synthetic, contingent, and revisable statement is thus, for Quine, untenable. The analytic/synthetic distinction, in short, is made possible by what Quine will later refer to as the web of belief, and a proper empiricism, an empiricism without the dogmas associated with analytic and synthetic statements, will better appreciate the complexities associated with our knowledge claims.
Returning now to Grice and Strawson’s defense of the analytic-synthetic dogma, they argue that despite Quine’s arguments that efforts to define analyticity in terms of cognitive synonymy, or despite the fact that a formal, conceptually contained definition is not possible, it does not warrant the assertion that there is no meaningful distinction to be made here. ‘The fact,’ they say, ‘if it is a fact, that expressions cannot be explained in precisely the way which Quine seems to require, does not mean that they cannot be explained at all.’7 In support of this view they offer the following example:

  1. My neighbor’s three-year-old child understands Russell’s Theory of Types

  2. My neighbor’s three-year-old child is an adult

Statement (1) is, however unlikely, verifiable. There is a way in which this statement can be taken to be true. Statement (2), by contrast, is something we cannot understand unless we undergo a wholesale revision of our concepts ‘child’ and ‘adult.’8 The second statement would be an example, for Grice and Strawson, of an analytic statement. Barring a conceptual revision, no empirical evidence will lead us to accept that a three-year-old child is an adult; whereas the first statement could indeed be found to be true if such a child prodigy were found, in experience, to exist, and thus this would be an example of a synthetic statement. Quine’s criticism here, as Grice and Strawson read him, is that ‘those who believe in the distinction [between analytic and synthetic statements] are inclined at least sometimes to mistake the characteristic of strongly resisting revision … for the mythical characteristic of total immunity from revision.’9 Stated otherwise, Quine’s assumption seems to be that ‘As soon as we give up the idea of a set of experiential truth-conditions for each statement taken separately, we must give up the idea of explaining synonymy in terms of identity of such sets.’10 And yet, Grice and Strawson argue, we need not take a statement separately or even reject the notion of conceptual revision. In fact, they argue that ‘All we have to say now is that two statements are synonymous if and only if any experiences which, on certain assumptions about the truth-value of other statements, confirm or disconfirm one of the pair, also, on the same assumptions, confirm or disconfirm the other to the same degree.’11 Furthermore, if we can make sense of the notion that the same form of words, given one set of assumptions, may express something true, and, given another set of assumptions, express something false, ‘then,’ they conclude, ‘we can make sense of the idea of conceptual revision. And if we can make sense of this idea, then we can perfectly well preserve the distinction between analytic and synthetic.’12

Before moving on it will be helpful to take stock of some of the key elements in the debate between Quine and Grice and Strawson. First, and most especially for our purposes, is the notion of meaning as a set which contains certain elements. As Quine understood an analytic statement, its meaning wholly contains the elements within itself and, because it is closed off to contingencies of empirical experience, it necessarily involves ‘the mythical characteristic of total immunity from revision.’ Grice and Strawson, as we just saw, argue that we can continue to adhere to the distinction between analytic and synthetic if we can make sense of the notion that conceptual set associated with a meaningful statement can be revised even though they may be strongly resistant to revision – e.g., the concepts child and adult. What remains consistent throughout this debate, however, is a continued adherence to the notion that there is a relationship between the meaning of a statement as an abstract set or property and the elements that embody the use of this statement, or the elements of experience that verify this meaning and/or give it content.
The continued adherence to this distinction becomes apparent in later work in the analytic tradition. In fact, it is perhaps not inaccurate to argue that this relationship between sets and contents of sets is the problematic that has generated much of the work in analytic philosophy – and hence the importance of Russell’s paradox (i.e., is the set of sets that are not members of themselves a member of itself?) and Tarski’s theory of truth that attempts to circumvent the paradox. Alain Badiou’s work in the continental tradition has also maintained an adherence to this distinction between sets and elements, understood in this context from a Cantorian perspective of infinite sets. Badiou does argue that the relationship between sets and elements is not a simple matter of sets including their elements; to the contrary, the Cantorian sets that most interest Badiou entail a fundamental impasse, an abyss without mediation, between the elements that belong to and are presented in the set and the unpresentable set of subsets that is included and represented within the set. Badiou’s work, however, as he himself admits, is nevertheless work that continues to develop within the analytic tradition the ‘mathematico-logical revolution of Frege-Cantor.’13

At this point we can turn to the work of Gilles Deleuze, for in his writings we find an effort to understand the relationship between an abstract set of rules on the one hand and the actual, material content on the other. Deleuze, however, offers an account that may well elucidate and extend the work of analytic philosophy in that he attempts, with his notion of the ‘abstract machine,’ to offer an understanding of abstract rules that are both inseparable from and dependent upon the actual, material systems of which they are the rules, and rules that are nonetheless distinct from and not to be confused with the material systems that actualize them. In a telling and appropriate passage for our purposes, Deleuze argues that ‘All methods for the transcendentalization of language, all methods for endowing language with universals, from Russell’s logic to Chomsky’s grammar, have fallen into the worst kind of abstraction, in the sense that they validate a level that is both too abstract and not abstract enough.’14 Their logic and grammar is too abstract in that it separates—abstracts—the form from the content, the abstract set of formal, logical rules from the content of this set; and it is not abstract enough, Deleuze argues, ‘because it is limited to the form of expression and to alleged universals that presuppose language.’15 In other words, the abstract logic and grammar, as confined to presupposing language, is unable, as an abstraction, to be applied to understanding other material processes. It is only good for understanding language, and hence it is not abstract enough.

What Deleuze offers as an alternative to the approach of Russell and Chomsky is the notion of an ‘abstract machine.’ The abstract machine does not presuppose the distinction between an abstract set and the content of these sets, or between an abstract set of formal rules and the concrete behaviours that are the embodiment of these rules. As Deleuze puts it,

The abstract machine in itself is destratified, deterritorialized; it has no form of its own (much less substance) and makes no distinction within itself between content and expression, even though outside itself it presides over that distinction and distributes it into strata, domains, and territories.16

A few lines later, Deleuze then defines an abstract machine as ‘the aspect or moment at which nothing but functions and matters remain. A diagram has neither substance nor form, neither content nor expression.’17 The abstract machine, in other words, can neither be thought of in terms of the abstract, universal logic and grammar of Russell and Chomsky, nor, for that matter, can it be thought of in terms of the communicative-intentions and behaviours of speakers as Grice and Austin would have us understand it; rather, the abstract machine can be thought in terms of neither if such thinking entails the continued adherence to the distinction between form and substance, content and expression. More to the point, these distinctions themselves can only be thought by virtue of the abstract machine that makes them possible. This point is made quite explicitly in the closing lines to their chapter in A Thousand Plateaus, “On Several Regimes of Signs,”

“Behind” statements and semioticizations there are only machines, assemblages, and movements of deterritorialization that cut across the stratification of the various systems and elude both the coordinates of language and of existence. That is why pragmatics is not a complement to logic, syntax, or semantics; on the contrary, it is the fundamental element upon which all the rest depend.18

With the notion of an abstract machine, therefore, Deleuze and Guattari propose to understand meaning in a way that avoids the problems and debates which ensue when one begins with the distinction between formal rules on the one hand and concrete linguistic behaviours and utterances on the other. And yet how does the abstract machine ‘preside over’ the distinction between form and substance, content and expression; or, to restate the question, how is it that the abstract machine is the ‘fundamental element upon which all the rest depend,’ the rest being logic, syntax, and semantics?
What we propose is that we can best understand Deleuze and Guattari if the abstract machine is understood to be a dynamic system at the edge of chaos. In taking this approach we follow, in many respects, the work of Manuel Delanda who, in his A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History and in his more recent work, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, has shown how fruitful this approach to the work of Deleuze and Guattari can be. Where the approach offered here differs slightly is that we emphasize that the notion of an abstract machine as a dynamic system at the edge of chaos ought to be used, where relevant, in addressing the problems and debates within the history of philosophy, including the history of analytic philosophy. That said, we can turn now to clarifying precisely how we take Deleuze’s theory of meaning to be a theory of dynamic systems at the edge of chaos.
For the sake of time, I can say simply that a dynamic system at the edge of chaos is a system that has not settled into a stable, stratified system, or what is also known as a basin of attraction by complexity theorists; nor is it a system that is chaotic, for such a system would not even allow for the emergence of new forms. And it is precisely the emergence of new forms and the creativity of thinking that is a central concern in the philosophical work of Deleuze. The term edge of chaos was used by Christopher Langton in describing the conditions necessary for the emergence of new life-forms Langton performed through computer modelling. He found that if the mutation rate of life forms were set too low, there would be insufficient evolution and the result would be the extinction of species through a failure to adapt; and if the rate were set too high, stable new forms (i.e., species) would be unable to emerge and the result again would be the extinction of life. Life is most vibrant, Langton found, at the point where there is sufficient variation but not to the point of becoming a self-destructive chaos – life thrives, then, at what Langton, and more recently Stuart Kaufmann and others, have called the edge of chaos. This dynamic state of the edge of chaos is thus not the stable life-forms themselves; rather, it is the condition for the possibility of their transformation, for their becoming other life-forms.
In applying this idea to Deleuze’s theory of meaning, we can begin to see that the abstract machine, as a ‘movement of deterritorialization’ that allows for the possibility of stable systems and hence for the logic, syntax, and semantics that formalizes these systems, is not to be confused with the stable forms of meaning, the established relationships between content and expression, form and substance. As a dynamic system at the edge of chaos, a statement is meaningful not because of an established relationship it has to an already identified object, but it is meaningful to the extent that these established relationships become deterritorialized, become other, and in doing so allow for the emergence of new forms of established meaning. One of the frequent mistakes one finds among Deleuze commentators is the assumption that because Deleuze was critical of representational language – such as philosophy being the expressive representation of identifiable thoughts – he was offering instead an anti-representational, abstract philosophy with nothing in common with representational uses of language. Such a characterization presupposes the type of either/or thinking the notion of the abstract machine was precisely an effort to avoid. In A Thousand Plateaus, for example, they reject just this type of thinking as it was applied to the relationship between tonal and atonal music:

the important thing is certainly not to establish a pseudobreak between the tonal system and atonal music… The essential thing is almost the opposite movement: the ferment in the tonal system itself (during much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries) that dissolved temperament and widened chromaticism while preserving relative tonality, which reinvented new modalities, brought a new amalgamation of major and minor, and in each instance conquered realms of continous variation for this variable or that.19

The key, then, is not to break with the tonal system, nor is it to break with representational or established forms of meaning, but instead to inject a ferment into the tonal and representational systems themselves, a ferment that can allow for ‘new modalities.’ This is why, in a much later essay, Deleuze is quite forthright in saying that ‘the novelty of a statement is its meaning.’20
In Difference and Repetition, to cite another example, Deleuze speaks of the linguistic multiplicity of phonemes that is the ‘virtual system of reciprocal connections between “phonemes,” a virtual system that is then ‘incarnated [or actualized] in the actual terms and relations of diverse languages.’21 On our interpretation, this linguistic multiplicity is the dynamic system of ‘reciprocal connections between “phonemes,” and it is a virtual system for although the phonemes are real they are, as linguistic multiplicity, yet to be actualized within the ‘terms and relations of diverse languages,’ languages with their established relationships between expression and content, form and substance. This virtual, dynamic system of phonemes, however, ‘cannot,’ Deleuze makes clear, ‘be spoken in the empirical usage of a given language, but must be spoken and can be spoken only in the poetic usage of speech coextensive with virtuality.’22 In other words, with the ‘poetic usage of speech’ one injects a ferment into the actual, empirical usage of a given language, and it is this creative, novel usage of language – what Deleuze will also refer to in other places as minor literature – that is what Deleuze takes to be meaning as abstract machine. To clarify these points further, and to return to themes with which this essay began, we turn now to show how Deleuze’s understanding of an abstract machine may be brought to bear upon issues within analytic philosophy.
By understanding meaning as the virtual, dynamic system at the edge of chaos that is the poetic usage of speech inseparable from its actual usage, the deterritorialization and fermenting of this usage allows for an actualization of the linguistic multiplicity that is indeterminately determinable. In other words, the linguistic multiplicity, as the condition for the actual usage of language, i.e., for the relationship between expression and content, does not predetermine which usages will be actualized. As such, the linguistic multiplicity is indeterminately determinable. This phenomena emerges in the analytic tradition, according to Deleuze, with Frege’s paradox. Frege’s paradox is the result of what Deleuze refers to as the ‘infinite proliferation of verbal entities’ that results as the sense becomes the referent of a new name, a name with its own sense that can become a referent, and so on ad infinitum.23 Rudolf Carnap, in his book Meaning and Necessity, has recognized that ‘Frege’s method [i.e., his name-relation method] leads, further, to an infinite number of entities of new and unfamiliar kinds; and, if we wish to be able to speak about all of them, the language must contain an infinite number of names for these entities.’ But in doing so, Carnap argues, one opens a series of difficulties and antinomies that Frege, Quine, and Carnap, among others, have sought to avoid. Among the difficulties is the very difficulty of fixing reference at all, or of having to take into consideration an infinite series with each attempt to name the sense of another name.
One way to avoid the multiplicity of sense, or what we would call the indeterminately determinable nature of meaning as abstract machine, is to halt the proliferation of differences within a founding identity. To cite just a few of the efforts to do just this, Frege grounds the sense or meaning of an expression within the object or independent variable – though this, as Carnap also points out, does not eliminate other problems for Frege’s system; Husserl sought to ground the infinite series within the things themselves and, ultimately, in the transcendental ego; and Russell, finally, halted the regress at logically proper names. For Russell, to elaborate slightly, meaning is a function – f(x)(x is the author of Waverly), to use Russell’s well-known example – and the independent variable, or what is also called the argument, completes this function, resulting in a true proposition when x is replaced by ‘Scott.’ Yet to avoid the difficulties of relating descriptive properties, properties that can be multiplied indeterminately, to the objects these properties are properties of, Russell proposes the logically simple names as the bedrock upon which meaning can then function.
It is at this point where Deleuze, armed with his notion of the abstract machine, turns critical of the analytic tradition. In his most extended discussion of analytic philosophy, Deleuze, along with Guattari, argue that the efforts of analytic philosophers to establish the logical relations between sense and reference – whether in the logic of syntax, semantics, etc. – have done so only by ‘detaching the proposition from all its psychological dimension…[with the result that this logic] clings all the more to the set of postulates that limited and subjected thought to the constraints of a recognition of truth in the proposition.’24 In other words, by grounding sense upon the ‘truth’ of propositions, or upon the functional relationship between a proposition and a state of affairs in the world, the result is that the effort of philosophers to become scientific has led them to an analysis of what is already there, to a discussion and clarification of words already spoken. Whether it be the proverbial cat on the mat, or Scott as the author of Waverly, in each of these cases, for Deleuze, ‘Logic is always defeated by itself, that is to say, by the insignificance of the cases on which it thrives.’25
What Deleuze and Guattari propose, instead, is rather than representing and analyzing actual statements and discourses to move from the actual to the virtual, to the multiplicity and abstract machine coextensive with the actual, so as to allow for the creation and invention of new modes of thought and speaking. To do this, Deleuze and Guattari argue,

it would be necessary to return to the interior of scientific states of affairs or bodies in the process of being constituted, in order to penetrate into consistency, that is to say, into the sphere of the virtual, a sphere that is only actualized in them. It would be necessary to go back up the path that science descends, and at the very end of which logic sets up its camp.26

This process of returning to the virtual rather than, as with the sciences and logic, moving from the virtual to the actual, is precisely the effort to unleash the abstract machine of meaning that is inseparable from and underpins the actual usage of everyday speech. In analytic philosophy, on Deleuze and Guattari’s reading, the tendency is to separate the linguistic multiplicity, the virtual as indeterminately determinable, from the actual and to make of the actual that which completes the virtual by giving the multiplicity of descriptive properties a referent, and the subsequent proposition – e.g., Scott is the author of Waverly – a truth value. The subsequent problem in doing this, and a problem the solution of which analytic philosophers have battled over for years, is to account for the relationship between the multiplicity of various descriptive properties and the ‘things’ they are properties of. This problem, however, is not new to the history of philosophy. It can be found, for instance, in the attempts to explain the relationship, in Spinoza’s Ethics, between the attributes and modes of substance. If, as the problem goes, the attributes constitute the essence of substance, then why does Spinoza define the attributes as that which is perceived by an infinite intellect. If the mode is a mode of an attribute, then why define the attributes in terms of a mode? As I have argued elsewhere, the difficulties commentators have had in explaining how Spinoza understands the relationship between the attributes and modes stems from assuming that the modes and attributes are identifiably distinct, when, on our reading, the attributes are only identifiable as modified, or it is the actual modifications of substance that enables one to identify the attributes. The attributes, in short, are the virtual indiscernible from the actual. It was for this reason that Deleuze was interested in Spinoza, for in Spinoza’s work substance hinged upon the modes of substance, or upon the actual. Similarly, on our reading of the abstract machine and its relationship to analytic philosophy, the descriptive properties of things are not to be understood as identifiably distinct or separable from the actual things. We do not have, on a Deleuzean reading, a set of descriptive properties that is distinct and separable from the actual object that may or may not be referred to by this set. To the contrary, and following through on Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza, it is the actual thing that enables the possibility of abstracting properties and possibilities that are separable and distinct from this thing. Moreover, within the analytic tradition itself we find just this argument being made, most notably in the work of Saul Kripke.

Kripke could not be more clear in his criticism of the Russellian-Fregean approach to fixing reference – the actual – by means of a set of descriptive properties. As he states his position, ‘contrary to most recent theorists, [I claim] that the reference of names is rarely or almost never fixed by means of description. And by this I do not just mean what Searle says “It’s not a single description, but rather a cluster, a family of properties which fixes the reference.” I mean that properties in this sense are not used at all.’27 By using heat as an example, Kripke argues that our current understanding of heat as the ‘motion of molecules’ is not contingent if by that it is meant that heat might not be the motion of molecules. The tendency for some to think that it is contingent in precisely this sense results, according to Kripke, from thinking of heat as the motion of molecules as an entity or object that was in some sense fixed or determined by the various descriptive properties we, as human observers, happened to amass over time. For Kripke, however, there is a difference between what he refers to as epistemological necessity, or the analyticity of knowing a claim to be true a priori, and metaphysical necessity. As Kripke puts the distinction, ‘One of them [epistemological necessity] has to do with knowledge, of what can be known in certain ways about the actual world. The other one has to do with metaphysics, how the world could have been; given that it is the way it is, could it have been otherwise, in certain ways.’ Kripke then asks, ‘Is everything that is necessary knowable a priori or known a priori?’ And the answer for Kripke is no. With the case of heat, for example, for Kripke heat is, of metaphysical necessity, the motion of molecules, while as a matter of contingent fact humans know of heat through certain sense faculties, etc.

What gives the illusion of contingency is the fact we have identified the heat by the contingent fact that there happen to be creatures on this planet—(namely, ourselves) who are sensitive to it in a certain way, that is, who are sensitive to the motion of molecules or to heat. So we use the description, “that which causes such and such sensations, or that which we sense in such and such a way,” to identify heat … just as we use the contingent property of Cicero having written such and such works to identify him.
And this is where the distinction between epistemological and metaphysical necessity becomes most prominent in Kripke’s work, for, as Kripke argues,
even if we fix the reference of such a name as “Cicero” as the man who wrote such and such works, in speaking of counterfactual situations, when we speak of Cicero, we do not then speak of whoever in such counterfactual situations would have written such and such works, but rather of Cicero, whom we have identified by the contingent property that he is the man who in fact, that is, in the actual world, wrote certain works.
Had Deleuze lived to complete a book on Marx, we would not be speaking of someone who had written a book on Marx as well as A Thousand Plateaus, Difference and Repetition, etc.; we would be speaking of Deleuze as the actual author of these books and the possibility of Deleuze having written yet another book. In discussing the case of heat as the motion of molecules, Kripke will similarly argue that even if an alien race sensed different properties when exposed to the motion of molecules – such as a tingling feeling – this would not make of heat a contingent identity. For Kripke, once heat is identified as the motion of molecules it becomes ‘rigidly designated’ – Kripke’s term – and we would say, quite correctly according to Kripke, that the alien race simply has a different reaction to what, in this actual world, is heat. The same is true of Cicero, or of Deleuze. It is not a matter of whether Cicero or Deleuze would have been otherwise if they had not written certain works; it is rather a matter of taking Cicero and Deleuze as actually identified and using this as the basis for considering the possibility of a Cicero or Deleuze that did or did not write certain works. For Kripke, then, as for our Deleuzean reading of abstract machines, it is the actual that is the basis for thinking the virtual, for thinking the creative possibilities of the actual.
These points are not meant to imply that Deleuze is setting forth a version of the causal theory of reference, as Kripke’s position has come to be known. There are, as we will see, some important differences. To clarify these differences, we will turn briefly to the work of Bruno Latour, who in many ways sets forth arguments that are surprisingly similar to those of Kripke and Deleuze. This comparison will further illustrate the manner in which our reading of Deleuze’s concept of the abstract machine as a dynamic system at the edge of chaos can extend and clarify the work being done both in analytic philosophy and in science studies.

The shift at this point from a discussion of Kripke to the work of science studies and Bruno Latour might seem at first glance to be a misguided move. There is, however, a striking comparison to be made between them, and a comparison that reveals, as one unpacks the implications involved, a number of interesting parallels between analytic and continental thought. The comparison is between Kripke’s discussion of heat as the motion of molecules and Latour’s discussion of Pasteur. In both cases they propose what may at first seem to be an antinomy. For Kripke the apparent antinomy is that it is both a contingent fact that we know heat to be the motion of molecules and yet heat necessarily is the motion of molecules. For Kripke the antinomy is only apparent and is, as we saw, the result of failing to distinguish between epistemological and metaphysical necessity. For Latour there is a similar antinomy, which he states as follows: ‘on the one hand facts are experimentally made up and never escape from their manmade settings, and on the other hand it is essential that facts are not made up and that something emerges that is not manmade.’28 Stating this antinomy with the example of Pasteur in hand, Latour claims it amounts to holding the following two statements to be synonymous: ‘the ferment has been fabricated in my laboratory,’ and ‘the ferment is autonomous from my fabrication.’29 For Latour, however, the antinomy appears not because of a failure to make a distinction, as Kripke argued, but because of our persistence in making distinctions that should not be made. In particular, for Latour we have by and large continued, as a culture, to adhere to the distinction between the human and non-human world, whereby the latter is taken to be a simple presence awaiting humans to designate it, and designate it correctly through an overcoming of their lesser passions (i.e. the passions that make us inhuman, or animals). For Latour, by contrast, and much of his work has been directed towards detailing just this, the distinction is one that in practice breaks down; or, as he puts it, there is a ‘social history of things and a “thingy” history of humans.’30

It is on the basis of the critique of this distinction between humans and non-humans that Latour criticizes analytic philosophy. Within the analytic tradition, according to Latour, and here he echoes Deleuze, the tendency has been to presuppose the simple presence of the world which ‘simply awaits the designation of words whose truth or falsehood is guaranteed solely by its presence.’31 This criticism certainly applies to Kripke, for although Kripke does emphasize the actual world as the basis upon which the multiplicity of descriptive possibilities is to be understood, he nonetheless continues to understand the actual world as a simple presence awaiting a baptismal designation. Although this would no doubt be Latour’s criticism of Kripke’s position, it is also one found frequently within the literature of analytic philosophy.32
How, then, does Latour’s critique of the human/non-human split lead to a recognition of the synonymity between the fabrication and autonomy of the ferment; and how in turn does this clarify Deleuze’s notion of the abstract machine? Put simply, the more an entity entails a heterogeneous assemblage of human and non-human elements, and the more this heterogeneous collective (Latour’s term) or multiplicity (Deleuze’s term) is transformed into what Deleuze would call a plane of consistency and Latour calls articulation, the more ‘real’ (i.e., autonomous) the entity becomes. In the case of Pasteur, for example, Latour argues that ‘The more work Pasteur does,’ – that is, the more fabrication, the more human and non-human connections he establishes – ‘the more independent the lactic acid ferment becomes, since it is now that much more articulate…’33 To restate this in the terms of dynamic systems, we can say that Pasteur’s initial work in the laboratory, and the initial reception of his work in 1858, pushed the established chemical theories into a state of disequilibrium, and yet as the work became more articulate the system of associations and connections settled into a stable pattern and became accepted as a truth. Latour himself describes the process in quite similar terms: ‘The ferment began as attributes and ended up being a substance, a thing with clear limits, with a name, with obduracy, which was more than the sum of its parts … substance is a name that designates the stability of an assemblage.’34 Once this assemblage acquires its stability, once it becomes a strong basin of attraction, it tends to forget the dynamic processes that gave rise to these basins of attraction, or, as Latour discusses it in his work Science in Action, the process becomes black-boxed and becomes simply a fact, a truth found in a textbook. And Latour’s work in science studies begins with these black-boxed facts, with the stable existents that are taken for granted and unquestioned in our daily life, and uncovers the dynamic processes, the contingencies, that made the stability of these existents possible. Latour’s work, in fact, is an example of Deleuze’s call to move from the actual to the virtual, to the dynamic processes of the abstract machine. And key to this move, for Latour, was the recognition of the need to move beyond the longstanding adherence to the perceived split between a human realm that designates and a non-human realm that is a simple presence awaiting designation, or baptism in Kripke’s sense. Only by doing this could the dynamics of the associations be appreciated, much as, for Deleuze on our reading, overcoming the split between expression and content enables the dynamics of meaning that is the virtual coextensive with the actual. Yet not all philosophers in the analytic tradition blindly tout the party line that there is a simple, unchallengeable split between the human and the non-human. Hillary Putnam, to mention just one prominent example, devoted a tremendous amount of effort to challenging precisely this split. One could even argue that a dominant concern of post-Kantian philosophy has been to overcome the problems seen to persist when one adheres to a form of Cartesian dualism. Turning then to discuss Putnam will help us to clarify how the efforts of Deleuze, and Latour, are able to address these challenges in a way that does not perpetuate them.

We begin with Putnam by discussing ‘learning.’ For those familiar with the work of Putnam, the concept ‘learning’ would not be the first to come to one’s mind, whereas ‘internal realism’— which is precisely the position Putnam puts forth to avoid the subject designating-thing designated split – ‘natural kinds’, ‘twin earth,’ and others likely would come to mind. Yet in his essay, “Is Semantics Possible?” the concept of learning enters at a crucial point. It enters at the point where Putnam sets forth his criticism of the description theory of meaning. As Putnam argues, ‘Meaning does not determine extension, in the sense that given the meaning and a list of all the “properties” of a thing (in any particular sense of “property,” one can simply read off whether the thing is a lemon, or acid, or whatever).’35 After detailing the problems with this view, problems that largely echo those discussed above, Putnam claims that ‘The problem in semantic theory is to get away from the picture of the meaning of a word as something like a list of concepts; not to formalize that misguided picture.’36 Putnam thus follows Kripke at this point, which is widely known, but it is also at this point where the importance of learning comes in: ‘If someone does not know the meaning of “lemon,” I can somehow convey it to him. I am going to suggest that in this simple phenomenon lies the problem, and hence the raison d’etre, of “semantic theory.”’37 The problem, in short, is to account for how one who does not know the meaning of ‘lemon’ can learn it so quickly and easily. For Putnam the answer entails the learner acquiring from a teacher ‘a few facts about “lemon” or “tiger” (I shall refer to them as core facts) such that one can convey [and hence learn] the use of “lemon” or “tiger” by simply conveying those facts.’38

The issue now hinges upon the status of these core facts. For Putnam, these core facts are offered as an alternative to what he sees as the traditional approach to theories of meaning. ‘The mistake of the traditional theorist,’ Putnam argues, ‘lies in his attachment to the word “meaning.” If giving the meaning is giving the meaning, then it is giving a definite thing; but giving the meaning isn’t, as we shall see in a moment, giving some one definitive thing … there is no one set of facts which has to be conveyed to convey the normal use of a word; and taking account of this requires a complication in our notion of “core facts.”’39 And what Putnam goes on to argue, the complication in the notion of ‘core facts,’ is that it is not a core set of properties, even a changing or fuzzy set of properties, that enables one to determine the extension. This would be to persist in the descriptive theory of meaning. What complicates the notion of core facts, for Putnam, is that the extension is itself part of the core facts. Unlike Kripke, therefore, the extension or object designated is not a mute presence awaiting an original baptism, thus avoiding for the time being Latour’s critique, but the extension is itself part of the core facts which enables one to learn and use the term. This is Putnam’s internal realism, whereby a conceptual schema enables the possibility of determining what entities count, what counts as extension and what not. This is not a naïve realism, or even Kripke’s original baptism, in that the extension—the object being identified—cannot even be conceived or thought of independently of the conceptual apparatus (core facts) which includes what can count as extension in the first place. At the same time this is not a descriptive theory or a version of the argument that claims extension is determined by a descriptive list of properties and concepts. It is the extension, rather, that determines the properties that come to be associated with it, and here Putnam is in agreement with Kripke: ‘The extension of our terms depends upon the actual nature of the particular things that serve as paradigms, and this actual nature is not, in general, fully known to the speaker,’ and hence intension or a conceptual list of properties is not sufficient to determine extension. For Putnam we are perfectly able to learn and use terms such as ‘gold,’ ‘lemon,’ and ‘tiger’ even if we lack full knowledge of their actual nature. It is at this point where Putnam claims a social division of labor comes in – we bring a ring to a specialist who knows the actual nature more than we so that we can determine if the ring we just received is indeed gold or not. If it turns out not to be gold we will no longer refer to this ring as a gold ring but will still continue to refer to things as being made of gold despite our lack of expert knowledge. The conclusion Putnam draws from this is that ‘Traditional semantic theory leaves out two contributions to the determination of reference—the contribution of society [the division of labor just mentioned] and the contribution of the real world; a better semantic theory must encompass both.’40
Putnam’s call for a better semantic theory that recognizes the contributions of society and the real world, along with Putnam’s internal realism whereby reference is not understood in terms of a mental mapping of properties unto an awaiting object, do bear some strong similarities to Latour’s project. Where Latour, in what we see as his Deleuzean approach to understanding the emergence of entities, differs from Putnam and others in the analytic tradition is with the ‘historicity of things.’ Putnam continues to speak of natural kinds as ahistorical, or as at least largely indifferent to the historical processes within which humans engage. For example, Putnam argues that if two communities used the word water and had exactly the same thoughts, feelings, perceptions, etc., when using the word water, but in one community water refers to H2O and in the other it refers to XYZ, ‘The word “water,”’ Putnam argues, ‘would still refer to different stuff even if the collective mental state in the two communities were the same. What goes on inside people’s heads does not fix the reference of terms.’41 To argue contrariwise, Putnam believes. Would be to slip into relativism, which is precisely what Putnam accuses Foucault and other French philosophers of doing (and in a footnote he lists Derrida and Deleuze as two other guilty culprits). What these relativists do, according to Putnam, is to argue that ‘Below what we are pleased to regard as our most profound spiritual and moral insights lies a seething cauldron of power drives, economic interests, and selfish fantasies. This is the view that is at the cutting edge of relativism today.’42 And the fundamental inconsistency of this ‘French’ view, finally, is the temptation ‘to fall into the trap of concluding that all rational argument is mere rationalization and then proceeding to try to argue rationally for this position.’43
In defense of his internal realism against the inconsistent French relativism, Putnam argues that his position is an attempt to avoid ‘The deep systemic root of the disease [which is] the notion of an “intrinsic” property, a property something has “in itself,” apart from any contribution by language or mind.’44 Thus for Putnam H2O or XYZ are not intrinsic properties independent of the categories, concepts, and properties we may use in designating these ‘natural kinds,’ and yet for Putnam, at bottom, the ‘contribution by language or mind’ is constrained and limited by the nature of reality, even if this reality can only be conceived or thought of by means of our conceptual input.45 Putnam will thus distinguish his internal realism form those who ‘write as if they were saving realism (in its Materialist version) by abandoning intentionality! It’s as if it were all right to say “I don’t deny there is an external world; I just deny that we think about it”! Come to think of it, this is the way Foucault wrote, too. The line between relativism á la française and Analytic Philosophy seems to be thinner than Anglophone philosophers think.’46
From the Deleuzean theory of meaning put forward here, there are two primary problems with Putnam’s position. First, Putnam does not take the inseparability of the human (intentionality and conceptual choices) and nonhuman (reality, external facts, extension) far enough. Secondly, and in support of the first, Putnam presupposes the very distinction Deleuze, Latour, and Foucault challenge between the human and nonhuman (or inhuman) when he claims that Foucault, et. al., base their understanding of truth or reality based on what is inhuman about us – the ‘seething cauldron of power drives, economic interests, and selfish fantasies’ – in contrast to what makes us most human – viz. our ‘most profound moral and spiritual insights.’ Without getting too far astray into Deleuze’s theory of drives and affects, we can say, with Latour, that they have not abandoned the notion of reasonableness. To the contrary, core to the notion of dynamic systems as employed by Deleuze with his concept of abstract machines and virtuality, and by Latour in his work on science studies, is the idea that an unreasonable destabilization of a system may throw it into chaos with disastrous consequences. The fact of the matter is that Foucault, Deleuze, Latour, and others begin, as do Kripke and Putnam, with the actual world, and what we find in the actual world is that we do tend to settle into relatively stable patterns of interactions with one another and the world. The question for Deleuze, as we have seen, is how the multiplicity of ‘particular elements’ settles into stable systems at all. Why is there not simply an anarchy of power drives, economic interests, and selfish fantasies? And how might these stable systems be transformed without sending them into a destructive chaotic state. For Deleuze these are important questions, and questions he, along with Foucault and others, spend much time addressing. For Putnam and much of the analytic tradition, by contrast, it is simply assumed that the inhuman cauldron of drives is to be feared and staved off at all costs, and they tend to do so by an appeal to the ‘objectivity’ of a passionless natural science. It is precisely this move, however, that Latour rejects, arguing that this move simply perpetuates the existing power relationships in society by undermining the possibilities for a more radical democracy. One could argue that the dominance of analytic philosophy in the last fifty years has similarly perpetuated and reinforced non-democratic power relationships, but to make this argument would involve addressing the historical and sociological factors associated with the rise of analytic philosophy, which is, as I said at the beginning of this essay, an argument to be made elsewhere but not, perhaps unfortunately, not here, not today.

1 P.F. Strawson and H.P. Grice, “In Defense of a Dogma,” The Philosophical Review 65 (2), 1956, p. 142.

2 Ibid. p. 145.

3 Ibid.

4 W.V. Quine, “Main Trends in Recent Philosophy: Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” in Philosophical Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Jan., 1951), p. 20.

5 Ibid., p. 21

6 Ibid. p. 40.

7 “In Defense of a Dogma,” p. 149.

8 Ibid. p. 151.

9 Ibid. p. 155.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid. p. 156.

12 Ibid. p. 157.

13 Being and Event, p. 2.

14 A Thousand Plateaus, p. 148.

15 Ibid., p. 141.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid. p. 148.

19 A Thousand Plateaus, pp. 95-6.

20 “Mediators”

21 Difference and Repetition, p. 193.

22 Ibid.

23 Logic of Sense, p. 29

24 What is Philosophy, p. 139.

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid. p. 140.

27 Naming and Necessity, p. 94.

28 Pandora’s Hope, 125.

29 Ibid., p. 135.

30 Pandora’s Hope, p. 18.

31 Ibid., p. 48.

32 See, for instance, Gareth Evans …

33 Ibid. p. 144. See also, p. 158: ‘An entity gains in reality if it is associated with many others that are viewed as collaborating with it. It loses in reality if, on the contrary, it has to shed associates or collaborators (human and nonhuman) … the reality of Pasteur’s airborne germs is obtained through an ever greater number of elements with which it is associated – machines, lectures, textbooks, institutions, taxonomies, theories, and so on.’

34 Ibid. p. 151.

35 “Is Semantics Possible?” in Naming, Necessity, and Natural Kinds, p. 105.

36 Ibid., p. 111.

37 Ibid., p. 112.

38 Ibid. p. 113.

39 Ibid. pp. 115-16.

40 Ibid., p. 132.

41 Reason, Truth, and History, p. 25.

42 Ibid., p. 157.

43 Ibid.

44 Many Faces of Realism, p. 9.

45 See, for example, ibid., p. 33: ‘There are “external facts,” and we can say what they are. What we cannot say—because it makes no sense—is what the facts are independent of all conceptual choices.’ Or again, p. 52: ‘Kant’s glory, in my eyes, is to say that the very fact that we cannot separate our own conceptual contribution from what is “objectively there” is not a disaster. It is, in fact, a certain kind of guarantee; at least as the thought is reconstructed in contemporary terms by Strawson…’

46 Ibid., p. 16.

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