Revision for Nietzsche and Modern European Philosophy

For my 3rd year students in NMEP.  (This is just a brief and partial account of the discussion today and students are welcome to continue the discussion here on on the WebCT bulletin board if they want a little more privacy, this is a public site after all.)

BladeRunner-1024 Today we discussed the way in which we think the subject by exploring the problems involved in the idea of ‘loving a robot/loving a simulation/loving a simulacrum’ and how these might be teased apart.  A large part of our understanding of both Klossowski and Deleuze’s works on Nietzsche involve us in thinking about the way in which there is a problem for them, what exactly it is that motivates them, as it were, to write and think in the way they do, particularly when the initial impression when confronted by these two works (Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle:NVC and Nietzsche and Philosophy:NP) is one of disorientation.  As we approach an exam we need to supplement the detailed exegetical work done in the essays and the reading seminars with a ‘step back’ that enables us to get a broad sense of dynamics and lines of thought.  To that end it is important to remember, I suggested, that Nietzsche is one of the ‘masters of suspicion’ (along with Marx and Freud – the phrase itself originates form Paul Ricoeur) and that both Klossowski and Deleuze begin form a position congruent with such suspicion in that they begin thinking by distrusting the way we think and speak.  We use words and as we use them assume we know what they mean, until we are asked what they mean when we find confusion and disagreement.  The words we use are capable of possessing us with the feeling that we know something, they possess a sense (or affect, feeling) of sense that we need to be suspicious of in order to begin to think critically.  This doers not mean we simply throw out our intuitive relation to meanings and the sense of things, since such a rejection would also imply that we somehow knew what it was we were meaning and now reject it.  Uncritical rejection is no better than uncritical possession.  Thus the task is to ask, how might we think about the concepts of subject when the language and sense of the concept already exists, how might we think, as it were, in spite of the possession of sense.  To do this, I suggested, both Klossowski and Deleuze attempt something we can think of as a reframing of the questions, a redrawing of the lines of debate.  This idea of a reframing of the problem is perhaps simplifying things but for now, as a kind of working device or ‘rule of thumb’ to enable us to develop understanding (what is called a ‘heuristic‘), it will suffice.

Given this initial ‘framing’ issue, we then need to think about the issue of subjectivity and to do this a practical (concrete) case, what might sometimes be called a thought experiment, can be used.  As I mentioned, it’s always a good idea, as in the use of secondary material in exegesis, to not rely on one case since implications can be drawn that are more likely to go astray.  In a situation of thinking about a practical concrete case, then, we might want to consider a ‘set’ of scenarios or balance one scenario with another.

The starting point that I suggested we use was the case of ‘loving a robot’, such as we might find in the case of Deckard and his love for Rachael in the film Bladerunner.  This, combined with the rather salacious article I had read in the ‘Metro’ that morning about the future of ‘sex-toy robots’ gives us an initial scenario of the intimacy with the non-human that provokes various reactions and ‘sense’ within us that we can bring out and discuss.  The sense that there might be something ‘creepy‘ about such a relationship but that at the same time we might want to take a liberal attitude towards such relationships was a common reaction, as it evidenced by both the links to articles in the ‘Metro’ (which we might take as a case of sampling part of the ‘common sense’ on this matter) and by the students own comments.womanrobotCOR_450x350

From this initial sense of a scenario and reactions to it we tried to unpick some of the thoughts that might be given if anyone was asked to explain why they felt that way.  An initial response here was that in a relationship with a robot the ‘unexpected’ and novel would be missing, that somehow the ‘it could have been otherwise’ would be missing.  This theme re-appeared a number of times as people responded with the idea that robots were fundamentally distinguished from us on the basis that they are programmed and we are not and that being programmed implied being unable to go beyond the programming.  I tried to suggest that in fact this is not, perhaps, how ‘Artificial Intelligence’ is conceived, at least not by all cognitive scientists and that a realm of ideas, from evolutionary algorithms, through concepts of emergence and embodiment to the interplay of chance and law that we find in Markov Chains all give us, as it were, ‘scientific’ grounds to not accept this ‘programming and its limits’ argument.  (If you wanted to explore this further then a good place to start might be with the concept of ‘Artificial Life’, a good introduction to which is ‘The philosophy of artificial life‘, ed. Margaret Boden.) Of course this is nothing more than suggestive and merely an attempt to hint at the fact that we might want to not accept the ‘programming and its limits’ argument as somehow a ‘fact’.

What this issue of ‘programming limits’ did do, however, was raise the importance of the unpredictable and the undetermined and I suggested that here we might find something that we associate strongly with a concept of the subject, not least because it seems to connect to our sense of the freedom of the subject, it’s spontaneity and creative capacity.  Of course one of the difficulties here is of slipping into the free will / determinism debate unthinkingly but despite that it seemed interesting to compare a sense of the subject as indeterminate and unpredictable with a concept of ‘law’, since the two seem somehow ill-fitting.  The problem of law and lawfulness is something Deleuze discusses in NP: Ch 2, Section 9 (NP:54) when he refers to the ‘old argument’ between Socrates and Callicles  “Callicles strives to distinguish nature and law.  Everything that separates a force form what it can do he calls law.  Law, in this sense, expresses the triumph of the weak.”  If we try to clarify quite what is being claimed we might want to make a distinction between something that is indeterminate and unpredictable, which we can call the ‘Event’, and that which is determinable and predictable, which we can call the Law.  This distinction between Event and Law then enables us to talk of subjectivity as an Event rather than a substance or thing.  Of course, we might still want to ask, what type of Event is the ‘Event of the subject’ as opposed to some other type of Event?

The difficulties of understanding this Event, however, are not limited to merely noting that this intangible temporal moment is radically different from the nature of substance implied both is a thing, like a table, as well as a ‘subject-thing’ or ‘thinking-thing’.  It is, after all, the distinction between a res extensa and a res cogitans that lies at the heart of Descartes, where res means ‘thing’ on the model of something substantial and present, ‘here and now’.   Nietzsche, Klossowski and Deleuze are all united in the attempt to think the subject in a very different way to this Cartesian model (a general strategy they share with a range of philosophers, including the structuralists).  Their route of rethinking goes through the ontology of forces to produce their account of subjectivity as an Event and thus to explore this in greater details we’d need to turn to this account of forces, which is what we’re doing next week.  (To that end – students should read over sections 6-15 of Chapter 2 of ‘Nietzsche and Philosophy’.)

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philosopher and filmmaker from brighton, currently teaching philosophy at the Free University of Brighton

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