Deleuze and Ryle: Ontogenetic Dimension of Knowledge?

In Peter Kügler‘s recent essay titled “Sense, Category, Questions” he compares Gilbert Ryle’s concept of ‘category’ to Gilles Deleuze’s concept of ‘sense’ in an analogical way. I am interested in Kügler’s essay because I am just about to finish an article on ‘know-how’ coming from a very different perspective, but which touches on Ryle’s book Concept of Mind and draws heavily on Deleuze’s empiricism. Using a Deleuzian terminology, Kügler compares the virtual dimensions of Ryle’s ‘category’ and its relation to language and Deleuze’s concept of ‘sense’ and its relation to language, although Kügler does not frame it as such. The closest Kügler comes to this is in his explanation of the relation between sense and the singular (virtual) problematic actualised through/as expression (sense):

the idea is a problem, and the problem is a set of questions. Strictly speaking, ‘The problem is a set of questions’ is a kind of slogan that we may use for the sake of convenience. It would be more precise to say that the problem is an entity in its own right whose various parts or aspects can be grasped by asking appropriate questions.

Kügler continues the explanation in related footnotes:

The term ‘event’ belongs to this list, too, as sense is said to be ‘an incorporeal, complex, and irreducible entity, at the surface of things, a pure event which inheres or subsists in the proposition’ (Deleuze 2004b: 22). Another ‘surface entity’ is the concept, which ‘speaks the event’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 21). ‘All concepts are connected to problems without which they would have no meaning [sens]’ (16). Except that concepts are supposed to be solutions of problems, they have much in common with the latter. In particular, they are ‘not propositional’ (22). To keep the discussion simpler, however, I refrain from considering these notions of event and concept. I will reserve the word ‘concept’ for Ryle who uses it for a linguistic entity.

As indicated in the previous note, sense inheres or subsists, but does not exist. Furthermore, it is a dual entity on the border between world and language: ‘It is rather the coexistence of two sides without thickness, such that we pass from one to the other by following their length. Sense is both the expressible or the expressed of the proposition, and the attribute of the state of affairs. It turns one side toward things and one side toward propositions’ (Deleuze 2004b: 25). Thus, sense is something very peculiar, to say the least.

It is fascinating to read Kügler’s analysis as he is clearly far more familiar with Ryle’s work and the tradition of linguistics to which it now (in part) belongs. I’ve also been reading some contemporary engagements from logical epistemologists re-engaging with Ryle’s arguments.

My interest is that I am trying to think through a given situation where ‘know how’ is developed through experience; it is a form of knowledge that actualises a problematic (and in a sense provides a ‘solution’) without becoming explicit as such. In other words, it is knowledge that cannot be expressed in language as a proposition in any normative sense. ‘Know how’ inheres or subsists through bodies-in-action (or as Massumi might argue bodies-in-motion), and can be ‘read’ by others who can appreciate the ‘know how’ in terms of an embodied/material/machinic regime of signification (or what Deleuze and Guattari, and in particular Guattari, call a-signifying semiotics). Theorists of organisational studies have grappled with this problem in terms of ‘tacit knowledge’ (following Michael Polanyi).

What is interesting in terms of Ryle’s account, and what most contemporary readers of Ryle’s argue is incorrect, is that every form of ‘knowing that’ requires ‘knowing how’ too. From my Deleuzian perspective, this is uncontroversial. It basically means that there is a situationally specific emergent dimension to all knowledge. Kügler explains he does not want to engage with the ontological dimensions of Deleuze’s argument, which means this ontogenetic part of Deleuze’s concept of sense (or as I am extrapolating it into knowledge) is not engaged with. I argue that ‘knowing that’ requires the production of ‘know how’ (however miniscule) as an apprehension of any given situation and this is developed in experience. From apprehension to application and the ‘possibilization’ (cf Massumi) of a field of virtual singularities. From application to the expression of what most people would recognise as ‘know how’ and the reconfiguring of the habitus belonging to the subject of ‘know-how’. ‘Know-how’ inheres or subsists in bodies(-in-action) in the same way ‘sense’ inheres or subsists in propositions.

To a certain extent, all this seems a little bit obvious. Except when it comes to the question of signification, as the transmission of ‘know-how’ is a special problem if it necessarily belongs to ‘tacit knowledge’ and cannot be codified in conventional ways. Then the rather laborious path through a complex appreciation of experience described above becoms very useful. My article directly tackles this problem as the first step in a genealogy of ‘know-how’.

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