Deleuze and the Mathematical Philosophy of Albert Lautman

In Jon Roffe & Graham Jones (eds.), Deleuze’s Philosophical Lineage. Edinburgh University Press (2009)
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In the chapter of Difference and Repetition entitled ‘Ideas and the synthesis of difference,’ Deleuze mobilizes mathematics to develop a ‘calculus of problems’ that is based on the mathematical philosophy of Albert Lautman. Deleuze explicates this process by referring to the operation of certain conceptual couples in the field of contemporary mathematics: most notably the continuous and the discontinuous, the infinite and the finite, and the global and the local. The two mathematical theories that Deleuze draws upon for this purpose are the differential calculus and the theory of dynamical systems, and Galois’ theory of polynomial equations. For the purposes of this paper I will only treat the first of these, which is based on the idea that the singularities of vector fields determine the local trajectories of solution curves, or their ‘topological behaviour’. These singularities can be described in terms of the given mathematical problematic, that is for example, how to solve two divergent series in the same field, and in terms of the solutions, as the trajectories of the solution curves to the problem. What actually counts as a solution to a problem is determined by the specific characteristics of the problem itself, typically by the singularities of this problem and the way in which they are distributed in a system. Deleuze understands the differential calculus essentially as a ‘calculus of problems’, and the theory of dynamical systems as the qualitative and topological theory of problems, which, when connected together, are determinative of the complex logic of different/ciation. (DR 209). Deleuze develops the concept of a problematic idea from the differential calculus, and following Lautman considers the concept of genesis in mathematics to ‘play the role of model ... with respect to all other domains of incarnation’. While Lautman explicated the philosophical logic of the actualization of ideas within the framework of mathematics, Deleuze (along with Guattari) follows Lautman’s suggestion and explicates the operation of this logic within the framework of a multiplicity of domains, including for example philosophy, science and art in What is Philosophy?, and the variety of domains which characterise the plateaus in A Thousand Plateaus. While for Lautman, a mathematical problem is resolved by the development of a new mathematical theory, for Deleuze, it is the construction of a concept that offers a solution to a philosophical problem; even if this newly constructed concept is characteristic of, or modelled on the new mathematical theory.

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Simon B. Duffy
Monash University


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