Philosophy is Univocity

by Beth Metcalf


With the rise of modern science, philosophy has come to question its own continued existence.  Does philosophy have any role to play today, or has it become superfluous?  Can philosophy provide foundation for science?  If so, philosophy must not itself depend on scientific foundations.  Can the linguistic turn of philosophy provide a foundation for scientific knowledge apart from a mere relativism of cultural norms?  Can the epistemological divide between subject and object be transformed, or does it bring philosophy to an end in insurmountable contradictions and interminable clash of opinions?


If philosophy is a correspondence theory of truth, then we must find a foundation for that correspondence.  We must find solid foundation for linguistic sense that represents the extra-linguistic referent.  But this Representational model of truth has brought philosophy to the point of crisis.  Can philosophy provide foundation for knowledge without falling into subjective opinion or normative relativism?


In ‘What is Philosopy?’ Deleuze and Guattari address this crisis with a new solution.  Their thesis is that the problem can no longer be formulated in terms of the old Representational model.  If philosophy is to find a foundation for thought, it cannot begin with a thought of how things are or how transcendent reality must be represented.  Philosophy must reach a foundation of immanence—a transcendental empirical field, a sub-representative source.  Therefore, in answer to the question ‘what is philosophy?’ Deleuze and Guattari say, ‘philosophy is univocity’.  Philosophy must attempt to think the ontology of immanence.  However, when philosophy tries to represent immanence as immanence “to” subjectivity, it can merely bring a transcendent reality into analogy with how subjects are already conditioned to think.  This merely restores the transcendent representational model of analogy.


In ‘What is Philosophy?’ Deleuze and Guattari tell us that philosophy has come to this crisis because it has misunderstood its own vocation.  In its attempts to address the crisis, philosophy’s vocation has been misunderstood in three ways.  It has been seen as contemplation of a transcendent object, reflection of the subject representing immanence to itself, or communication within an intersubjective community.  None of these solutions can work because whenever immanence is attributed “to” something (“to” the contemplation of an object, “to” reflection within a transcendental subjectivity, or “to” intersubjective communication) transcendence is re-established.  Philosophy cannot define its vocation in this way without finding itself still shackled to Representation and analogy.


Deleuze says (Logic of Sense p.179) that the model of Representational analogy is not a philosophical vision, but a theological one.  The Representational model of philosophy sees transcendence represented in analogy to something taken to be immanent.  And in its circularity, it merely sees a supposed immanence in analogy “to” possibilities of a represented transcendence.  However, Deleuze tells us that there has always only been one ontological proposition.  Being is univocal.  If philosophy is to be a foundation for our knowledge, it must not misunderstand its own vocation.  The vocation of philosophy is to think an ontology of immanence.  Philosophy must be immanence which can be immanent only to itself.  Philosophy must be univocity. 


Deleuze and Guattari tell us that when the vocation of philosophy is known to be univocity, then there is no longer any danger that philosophy will come to an end, because univocity is the creation of concepts.  Whenever concepts are created, there will always be philosophy, even if it is called something else.  However, concepts of philosophy must never be confused with the functions of science.  This has always been the trouble with attempts to address the crisis.  No matter how Representational philosophy tries to distinguish itself from science, it always tends to take on the form of a scientific function.  It never reaches the concepts of univocity.  When philosophy is confused with science, then the concept is confused with a function.  Logic is the philosophical attempt to turn the concept into a function.  Epistemology has been a function between the subject and its extensive forms of possibility.  Linguistic functions of “intension” are still correlated with the extensive referent. 


However, the philosophical concept is not propositional or referential.  The concept’s intensity is not an intension of what a sentence expresses.  Concepts are not propositions defined by extensional reference.  Extensional systems force intensive ordinates (concepts) into spatio-temporal coordinates closing into sets.  But the inseparability of variations of the concept must not be confused with sets.  They are not independent variables or propositions with reference.  


When functions construct an object of science, the philosophical concept is not given with the function.  It is the vocation of philosophy to discover its concept.  Therefore, Deleuze and Guattari give the problem a new formulation.  Philosophy is the creation of concepts.  Philosophical concepts are intensive ordinates on a plane of immanence not to be confused with extensive coordinates of scientific functions on a plane of reference.  The concept and the function are two types of multiplicity that intersect.  A coordinate system of reference is actualized when functives of a function correspond to the intensive ordinates of a concept.  There must be both---the intensive multiplicity of the concept and the extensive multiplicity of the function---from the outset.  This is neither dualism nor unity.  Rather, multiplicity is the difference that happens between the two as they intersect.  A virtual variety of consistent variation (a concept on a plane of immanence/consistency) is actualized each time in a variable function of reference.  But the virtual does not resemble its actualization.


The scientific function is on a plane of reference devoid of consistency.  The philosophical concept has a plane of consistency devoid of reference.  The scientific function has a set of independent variables in a coordinate system of reference.  Bodies in a system of extension can divide without changing in nature.  But on the philosophical plane, concepts are intensive ordinates of inseparable variation that cannot increase or decrease in degree of intensity without changing the nature of their consistency.  In contrast to the variability of the function (and discontinuity among coordinate systems), the concept creates continuous variation as it changes the consistency of its plane.  The concept is the incorporeal event that may be effectuated (actualized) in corporeal things or states of affairs on a plane of reference.  There is no necessary incompatibility among concepts-events.  Any event may be brought into compatibility with any other on a plane of consistency.  Incompatibility is born only when an event is actualized on a plane of reference. 


Therefore, philosophy’s plane of immanence/consistency must not be confused with the scientific plane of reference.  However, it is also true that philosophy’s plane of immanence/consistency must never be confused with the concepts that populate it.  The concept is the inseparable variation of its components.  Intensive components constitute the consistency of a concept because if the components separate, there is change in the nature (the consistency) of the concept.  The concept must not be confused with the plane of immanence/consistency or the illusion of transcendence results.  This illusion turns the philosophical plane of immanence into a closed plane of reference (i.e. a Representational transcendence that is cut off from its concept).


Philosophical concepts are fragmentary wholes.  They are the outcomes of throws of the dice on the plane of immanence/consistency.  This is the One-All of univocity.  Univocity is all concepts (intensive singularity) on one plane of unformed matter.  This plane of immanence is ontologically, but not conceptually, one.  Each concept is a slice of the ontologically one plane, because all interleaved slices are planes of consistency.  The plane of immanence is interleaved.  Every plane of consistency is a distributive each.  Each plane of consistency is real distinction that is ontologically one plane of immanence.  This is not a generalized relativism.  Nor is it a generalized-universal truth.  Rather, univocity is the singularity of each constructed consistency.  Each is relative in the sense that all real distinction of consistency is affirmed.  But each is affirmed as a singular-universal. All are ontologically one.


Therefore, concepts and the plane (of immanence/consistency) are correlative but are not to be confused with each other.  The plane is not a concept, nor the Concept of all concepts.  If the plane were to be confused with concepts, then the plane would be totalized as a universal Concept.  The plane would be mistaken for the one totality of many concepts.  This would be the one/many opposition of the Representational image of thought.  It would no longer be the One-All of univocity.  It would re-introduce transcendent Representation.  Concepts would lose their singularity.  The plane would lose its openness.  Therefore, univocity is not the many relative perspectives of one general-universal truth.  Rather, it is all real distinctions of consistency that, in whatever degree of intensity, is ontological singularity (one Substance). 


We must never confuse concept and plane (although they are correlated).  Concepts determine the inseparability of consistency on the plane.  If there is any change in intensity, the plane changes its consistency.  When the plane is confused with its concepts, then we fall into the ‘illusion of transcendence’.  Concepts are then thought to be immanent “to” the plane.  And whenever, immanence is taken to be immanent “to” something, that something always re-establishes transcendence.  When we make the mistake of thinking that concepts of a plane are immanent “to” that plane, then the plane is no longer a plane of immanence.  The plane becomes a plane of transcendent reference. Concepts become confused with functions.  Philosophy becomes confused with science.     


Therefore, when the plane is confused with its concepts, we fall into the ‘illusion of transcendence’.  We see an example of this illusion in Todd May’s critique of Deleuze in ‘Reconsidering Difference’.  May confuses Deleuze’s concepts with the plane of immanence/consistency.  He misconstrues Deleuze’s intensive concepts, turning them into normative functions.  He confuses the plane of immanence with a closed plane of reference (a plane of transcendent holism).  May’s reading of Deleuze can’t get beyond a generalized relativism of norms because he confuses the concept with the plane.  This reintroduces transcendence and turns the philosophical concept into a scientific function.  May, in failing to reach Deleuze’s plane of univocity, accuses Deleuze of incoherence.


However, when a philosopher criticizes another, he/she can do so only from the point of view of a different plane.  A critic never reaches the plane of constructed truth that is the object of critique.  There can be no critique from within a singular affirmation of consistency, because the construction is the truth of that relative plane.  Constructivism is transcendental-empiricism.  It is the transcendental condition of consistency (as conceived singularity each time) that does not resemble its empirical-conditioned (actualized as differently individuated spatio-temporal frames of reference each time).  Philosophy is not a construction of a general truth.  Philosophical concepts cannot be judged as a general-universalizing right or wrong.  Philosophical concepts can only be assessed as interesting, remarkable, important---or not. How could the philosophical concept be judged as absolutely right or wrong? It does not correspond to (Represent) a causal state of affairs. It can't be empirically testable. Rather, it is the transcendental-empirical source of the scientific correspondence between the function and its empirical state of affairs.   Philosophy is a constructivism of superimposed intensity that is actualized in successive systems of historical reference.  But there is no universalizing plane as absolute standard of judgment.  And there is no general-universal plane of reference that could unify all worlds of incommensurable difference.


Sokal and Bricmont criticize Deleuze (among others they label ‘postmodern’) for abusing scientific concepts, for falling into conceptual relativism, and for using scientific terminology to write meaningless gibberish.  But Deleuze is not speaking science.  Nor is he using scientific terms metaphorically.  He is speaking about the philosophy of science.  He is using philosophical concepts of functions without scientific value.  Or, sometimes he may use scientific terminology in order to show the difference in kind between concepts and functions.  Deleuze does not abuse scientific terminology.  Rather, Sokal and Bricmont misunderstand Deleuze’s philosophical concepts by trying to interpret them as scientific functions.  Gibberish is the result.


Nor is Deleuze an enemy of scientific objectivity.  As a philosopher, Deleuze seeks foundation for scientific objectivity.  He cannot merely assume it.  Philosophy must find secure foundation for scientific objectivity, or be condemned to subjective relativism.    The Representational model of thought has brought us to this crisis of relativism.  But philosophy must see this as a problem to be solved, not an arbitrary choice between opposing opinions.  Deleuze and Guattari present univocity as a concept that comes out of their reformulation of this problem.  They present univocity as the concept that can provide science with the foundation it needs to preserve its claim to objectivity.  However, in doing so, the concept of “objectivity” changes its nature.  Objectivity can no longer be seen as Representational.


Deleuze and Guattari tell us that the creation of the concept is the ‘self-positing’ constructivism of univocity.  This is not a conscious, rational construction.  It is the unconscious transcendental-empirical source.  Philosophy is the univocity of saying.  The image of thought is said in the same sense as the Substance of Being.  But it is a mistake to think this univocal saying occurs on the discursive plane of science.  It is a nomadic distribution on the intensive plane of the concept.  Any intensity of thought can be said in the same sense as any intensity of Being.  Each double articulation is a singularity of real distinction on a plane of consistency.  Thinking and Being are singular fold each time.  Every movement of Being is a movement toward thought.  Every movement of Thought is a movement toward Being.  This is a self-posited truth of a relative, but singular, foundation of consistency each time.  It is constructed according to its conditions of pre-individual singularity each time, and each is actualized as a functional norm of reference.  It is not constructed as a generalizing-universal truth with its relativism of functional norms.  Actualized norms must not be confused with a generalized relativism.  Truth is not constructed as a generalizing science that could unify relative perspectives.  This is why Deleuze and Guattari feel entitled to doubt the unifying aspirations of science.


The concept is relative to its components, to other concepts, and to the plane on which its consistency is constructed.  But it is absolute in its self-positing.  The concept, unlike the function, has no reference.  It is the immanence of self-reference.  It creates itself and its consistency in its self-positing constructivism. It unites relative and absolute.  Univocity is all singularity said in one sense.  It is not a generalized universal which totalizes the many relative perspectives into one truth.  Univocity is not an absolute foundation for unified knowledge.  Nor is it a generalized relativism of norms.  Univocity is not the relativity of truth, but the truth of the relative.


However, philosophy’s truth of the relative is not arbitrary.  As science constructs its functions according to its empirical method, philosophy must discover its corresponding concepts. But it was an over-simplification to say that the scientific function is the actualization of the philosophical virtual.  Although the scientific function and the philosophical concept are two different kinds of multiplicities that intersect, they are independent of each other.  The actualizations of science descend a line that is not the same line that philosophy’s counter-actualizations ascend.  Scientific states of affairs actualize a chaotic virtual. Philosophical events counter-actualize virtual consistency.  Philosophy is the superimposed events of Aion.  Science is the successive time of Chronos.  The philosophical concept and the scientific function intersect, each according to the means of its own plane.  That is, philosophy creates concepts of scientific functions.  Science uses functions of philosophical concepts.


Univocity also answers the crisis of epistemology.  The problem for epistemology was always to show how subject and object are related on a plane of reference.  The other is another “I” in a subject/object system of reference.  But how can there be an other in a self-identical system of reference?  Deleuze and Guattari create a new concept thereby offering a new solution to the problem of solipsism.  The other person is no longer represented in a prior system of reference.  Rather, the other is the expression of a possible world from which subjects and objects are actualized (or realized).  The Other is the transcendental expression of a possible world incommensurable with the I/Self system of reference.  Subjects and objects are actualized differently each time from these pre-individual singular possibilities.  The Other is no longer subject or object in a perceptual field.  Rather, the Other is the transcendental condition of a possible world which may be actualized in a different perceptual frame of reference each time.  This Other is the ‘conceptual persona’ that invents and thinks concepts.  The conceptual persona is not an extrinsic observer, but an immanent condition of thought of a lived reality. 


Can “lived” experience, then, be the philosophical vocation we are looking for as answer to the crisis?  Can the intentionality of phenomenology be the “lived” immanence of philosophy?  Deleuze and Guattari say that the concept has no reference at all---not even reference to a “lived”.  Objects as perceived according to affections of subjects are still “lived” as immanence that restores an intentional transcendent referent.  Intentionality is thinking the transcendent within immanence.  It is contemplation of the intentional object.  It is reflection of transcendental-intentional subjectivity.  Intersubjective communication reveals the transcendent Idea.  This is not the same plane as the lived immanence of univocity that is immanent only to itself.


With univocity, concepts populate a plane as presupposed image of thought.  But, halfway between concept and plane is the conceptual persona.  The conceptual persona belongs to the plane (a variety of consistency) and creates new concepts that change the intensive degree and its very consistency.  The philosophical conceptual persona does not have the lived as its referent.  Rather, it is the univocity of the lived as Event of all events.  It is the survey of each real distinction of consistency in ontologically single Event.  It is lived immanence.  The conceptual persona is the “becoming” of philosophy.  A concept has meaning only as it relates to an image of thought (a plane of immanence/consistency) and a conceptual persona that invents it.  The three act in the co-adaptation of the constructivism of univocity.  Philosophical enunciation is not propositional.  It is non-discursive ennunciation.  “I” is always an other, a Superject of past with future, a movement of time (Aion) that distributes Before – After in a crystal or seed of thought.  The conceptual persona distributes events as the saying, in one sense, of Being and Thought.  This is the non-discursive, univocal saying of double articulation in the creation of concepts.  The concept is actualized in a function of spatio-temporal reference (Chronos).


Univocity also answers the crisis in logic.  Logic tries to turn the concept into a function.  It invents a new propositional function in which the conditions of reference constitute the concept’s intension.  But then there is no qualitative difference between intension and extension.  The intensional conditions of the propositional function never escape the extensionality of reference.  If the concept is seen to be propositional, it loses its singularity (its intensive inseparability).  It becomes cut off from the Other as expression of a possible world.  When logic confuses concepts with functions, philosophy becomes confused with science.  Philosophical concepts of singular affirmation become confused with scientific functions of exclusive disjunction.  But the concept is not a scientific function of reference.  It has meaning only as it relates to its plane of immanence/consistency.  It is not a logical proposition in an extensive system.  Rather, logic of the concept is the ‘logic of sense’.  It is the univocity of affirmation.  It affirms, in one sense, all intensive disjunctions of real distinction.


Univocity is the junction of three planes. Thought-brain is the junction of univocity as intersection of philosophy’s plane of immanence, art’s plane of composition, and science’s plane of reference.  But, of course, Deleuze and Guattari are speaking as philosophers.  And when they speak of science and art, they are speaking only in terms of the philosophy of science and the philosophy of art.  Philosophy itself is univocity.  It is the univocity of all three planes.  The planes interweave in folds of actualizations, counteractualizations, territorializations, and deterritorializations without Representation or analogy.  The univocity of these three planes is the vocation of philosophy.  In order to answer the crisis, philosophy must avoid falling into mere opinion.  Philosophy uses chaos as a weapon in its battle against opinion.  However, it must also guard against the threat of being absorbed into the chaos it needs to confront.  Univocity is that immanence of philosophy that allows it to escape the Transcendent Representation of Opinion without being absorbed into a black nothingness of chaos.

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