Sense, Understanding and Language
: A Genealogy of Sense in the Philosophy of Gilles Deleuze 1953-1969

  • Andrew McDonald

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This thesis analyses the concept of sense in Deleuze’s early philosophy. I claim sense is an empirical process of understanding before a settled meaning has been attained. My analysis of Deleuze’s early works Nietzsche and Philosophy and Proust and Signs draws upon the empirical and rationalist tension between sense and meaning. For empiricists, in order to attain meaning, we must first make sense of the world and thereby associate experiential qualities to our ideas. They argue that without this process our ideas remain blank. In contrast, for rationalists, meaning is attained through rational reflection. This enables us to attain clarity in our understanding and achieve consensus. Without this process of rational reflection, our ideas remain chaotic, based upon a multiplicity of different perspectives. We are then presented with an either/or choice. Either we must accept the necessity of making sense and face the problems of conflict of interest. Or, by adhering to deductive reasoning, individuals can arrive at clarity but face the problem of blank ideas.

    Deleuze confronts the empirical and rationalist tension through the concept of sense and its relation to an apprenticeship. This joins Deleuze’s work on Nietzsche and Proust to Logic of Sense. It is through his analysis of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass that an alternative answer is given. For Deleuze, we must make sense of the world but, at the same time, enable our understanding to be guided through a structure and methodology. That is to say, different methodologies and structures enable us to attain knowledge and educate others. What Deleuze makes us attentive to is a process of an experimental apprenticeship where methodological structures are continually challenged and made sense of. By practically applying structures, we attain meaning. Yet this meaning is novel because its sense follows from novel apprenticeship and experimentation. Following this. I claim that Deleuze does not seek either a purely rationalist or empirical approach, but rather, one that affirms both positions. This enables us to affirm the necessity of the process of making sense and of the novel attainment of meaning. This also enables an epistemological depth to be uncovered in early Deleuze through an analysis of his early works as studies of sense. My analysis of sense and language then develops the importance of epistemology and language in the philosophy of Deleuze, which at present remains still new and embryonic.
    Date of Award2015
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorJames Williams (Supervisor) & Todd Mei (Supervisor)

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