Deleuze, Pragmatism and Post-Kantian Thought

26 September 2012

Alfred Deakin Postdoc Dr Sean Bowden's forum set for December.

Deleuze, Pragmatism and Post-Kantian Thought is the title of a forum to be hosted by the Alfred Deakin Research Institute’s Dr Sean Bowden.

“The conference will explore the relationship between the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, the tradition of German philosophy after Kant, and the tradition of American Pragmatism,” Dr Bowden said.

“With the generous support of the Alfred Deakin Research Institute, I was lucky enough to secure some very good speakers for this conference.

“Several scholars based at the Alfred Deakin Research Institute will be participating, and a number of well-known academics from interstate, the USA, the UK and France will also be present.

“It’s certain that the productive exchanges emerging from this conference will have a large impact upon my current research.

“There is also a plan to publish a collection of articles based on the conference papers, so this is, for me, a very exciting project.”

The forum is being held at the Deakin University Melbourne City Campus on December 17th and 18th. Further details will be available on the ADRI website in early October.

An Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Fellowship holder, Dr Bowden is working on a project titled: “Gilles Deleuze and Robert Brandom: Overlapping Concerns and Complementary Innovations.”

“Deleuze and Brandom are two contemporary philosophers whose work, I believe, can be fruitfully brought together,” Dr Bowden said.

“In a nutshell, by exploring the thematic and conceptual connections between these two thinkers, and in particular by remaining attentive to the points at which their thought diverges, I aim to develop a number of conceptual novelties which are relevant for contemporary philosophical debate.

“The conceptual novelties I’m interested in have some relevance for, among other things, philosophical accounts of action and agency.

“The philosophical problems which define this field of research are captured in questions such as: What is an action? What distinguishes actions from other kinds of happenings? What is an agent? What makes an agent responsible for the actions attributed to him or her? And so on.

“On the common-sense view of action, our conscious intentions, desires, and so on, are thought of as the causes of what we do. An action, on this common-sense view, is the intentional doing of an agent; and this agent is held to be responsible for that action by virtue of intending to bring about, by means of that action, a particular state of affairs.

“But there are all kinds of problems with this understanding of action as being caused by the conscious willing of agents. In particular, it’s not clear that a person has a privileged access to what he or she intends. In other words, we are, for reasons which I won’t go into here, often very bad judges with respect to what we ‘really’ desire, and so what we are ‘really’ doing.

“Moreover, it is difficult to precisely determine the nature of the causal relation that is here posited between two very different kinds of things: a conscious mental state and a physical action. There is, it seems, a kind of ‘gap’ between what we are aware of intending, desiring, etc., and the ‘actual’ nature of our actions.

“But in fact, the experience of such a ‘gap’ is not unfamiliar to us. This is not the experience of an intended action producing unintended consequences. It is rather the experience of coming to realize that one’s action is not in agreement with what one thought was one’s intention.

“To give you an example, let’s say that this morning I went outside with the intention, of which I was aware, of playing fetch with my dog and giving her some much needed exercise.

“In playing with her I found myself vocally correcting her when she didn’t bring the ball right back to my feet, or when she paused to sniff something, or chase her tail, before picking up the ball to bring it back to me.

“Let’s now say that my wife saw this happening and wanted to know why I wasn’t just playing with the dog and giving her some exercise. Why was I training the dog? Teaching her to be obedient?

“Establishing my position as the dominant member of her human pack, or whatever dog whisperers are constantly telling dog owners to do? Now, I was initially surprised by my wife’s reactions and questions because, as I said, my intention, of which I was aware, was simply and precisely to play with the dog and tire her out.

“But then, in my discussion with my wife, I came to recognize that what I was really doing, and so what I really wanted to do, in no way resembled my original conscious intention – the intention which, according to the common-sense view, is supposed to be the cause of my action.

“In an odd way, it appears that my action was transformed by articulating it, by making sense of it, in an intersubjective context. We can call this process of making sense of an action the ­quasi­-cause of the action, which is distinct from the kind of causality at work in the physical world.

“And we can call the associated understanding of agency an expressive account of agency, that is, insofar as my status as an agent responsible for certain actions is inseparable from these actions being made sense of and being recognized as mine in intersubjective space.

“So part of what my work involves is to bring together conceptual resources from the philosophies of Deleuze and Brandom in order to flesh out and give some theoretical rigor to notions such as the ‘quasi-cause of action’ and ‘expressive agency’.

“I also treat a number of other issues using conceptual resources derived from these thinkers, including, truth, meaning and objectivity.”

The conference will explore the relationship between the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, the tradition of German philosophy after Kant (pictured), and the tradition of American Pragmatism. The conference will explore the relationship between the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, the tradition of German philosophy after Kant (pictured), and the tradition of American Pragmatism, says Dr Sean Bowden

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