Making a History for Yourself, Research Time, 12/01/2018

So I also wanted to expand my reach into books about Gilles Deleuze, returning to some of the authors I made use of during my research for Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity. But since Utopias has a more human political focus, I wanted to take the field from a different angle.

Basically, a decade ago, I started researching material that specifically applied Deleuze’s ideas to problems in environmental thinking and philosophy of science. Now, I’m looking for some more straightforwardly political applications – theories of institutions and revolutions.

When the truth lies in ruins, understand decay.
Some of the material I picked up explores the influences and roots of Deleuze’s ideas. A book of essays that I found really illuminating was called Gilles Deleuze’s Philosophical Lineage. Twenty chapters, each about 20 philosophers, artists, and scientists who’ve influenced Deleuze.

Or at least, they’ve been mentioned in barely enough detail to merit someone writing an essay about them. I’ll hit you with my thoughts on a few or more.

There are some essays in that book that are totally obvious. For instance, the one about Plato. A critique of Platonic frameworks of thinking is the centrepiece of one of Deleuze’s most notorious books, Difference and Repetition. So of course there’s going to be an essay in a book like this about Plato.

So narrowing a comparison of Plato and Deleuze’s ideas down to anything sensible is never going to be complete. But if you want completeness and straightforward neatness in your life, don’t read philosophy.

Let’s just look at some lessons.

The way we’re typically taught Plato in early philosophy education,* the highest goals of his philosophical thinking revolved around coming to know the essence of things, the essential nature of the world. We tend to be taught the dialogues that revolve around “What is this?” questions – What is justice? What is piety? What is the good? What is love?

Plato's dialogues are taught as though philosophy is all about searching
for the universally true answers to fundamental questions about the
essences of reality. Yet all the dialogues that carry out such questions
end in more profound cycles of confusion. So why do we teach
philosophy as if we're really looking for genuine universal truths?
* All too typically.

But there’s a weird little schizz here. Those dialogues revolving around “What is X?” questions always end in aporia – you never settle on any definitive answers that escape critique. The questions of “What is X?” always end on unstable answers. It’s a mystery that you understand better, but it’s still ultimately mysterious.

Here’s where you reach clear doctrines that arise from Plato’s dialogues without being destabilized – Those are dialogues revolving around questions like “How much?” “Where and when?” “Who?” “How?” “In what cases?”

Those are questions that are about real dynamisms in the world. You don’t learn anything about universal or general aspects of existence by blatantly asking “What is the universal essence of this?” Those questions lead to aporias – you understand the question and the concept a lot better, but you don’t get any definitive answers.

You understand the fundamental aspects of the universe by looking at parts of the real world, tracing common features and the principles through which differences emerge. You get to real answers with specific questions – with an empiricist attitude.

Using Plato to learn about empiricism. That’s pretty freaky. That’s how you should use the history of philosophy.

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