On ‘The Image of Thought’

A chapter on the emergence of subjectivity (after the heavy history of philosophy of ‘Difference in Itself’)

Remember the motor of Deleuze’s writing is investigating what is the nature of thinking.

Objective misrecognition of difference (history of philosophy) vs the subjective (implicit presuppositions) that shape how we think the world. There are two senses of this dogmatic image: natural and philosophical.

Natural = the set of presuppositions: ‘Everybody knows that…’ the image of thought is in play. Habitual ways of thinking that tend to cliche the world = theater of thinking/the image of thought.

Philosophical = an attack on doxa, cliche, myth, superstition but philosophers have also bought into these cliches at a second, higher level. Philosopher erect from mistakes, everyday slippages to recreate as presuppositions/principle, a rule for thinking as such. Philosophers do this as well, but their second order is extrapolation cloaked within the trappings of a specific language that masks their presuppositions.

We would do better to ask what is a subjective or implicit presupposition: it has the form of ‘Everybody knows…’. Everybody knows, in a pre-philosophical and pre-conceptual manner… everybody knows what it means to think and to be. . . . As a result, when the philosopher says ‘I think therefore I am’, he can assume that the universality of his premises – namely, what it means to be and to think… – will be implicitly understood, and that no one can deny that to doubt is to think, and to think is to be… Everybody knows, no one can deny, is the form of representation and the discourse of the representative. p.130

Genetic character:

  • explain the genesis of the philosophical errors via extrapolation from natural presuppositions. Real meaning of philosophical critique is a critique of tracing.
  • explain the genesis of the natural dogmatic image of thought of the basis of the nature of thinking itself.

Kant: how do we explain how it is that Leibniz came to think as he did? What were his presuppositions? How would we trace this?

Thought does not have a form, a set of quintessential elements that we can lay out.

It would find its difference or its true beginning, not in an agreement with the pre-philosophical Image but in a rigorous struggle against this Image, which it would denounce as non-philosophical. As a result, it would discover its authentic repetition in a thought without Image, even at the cost of the greatest destructions and the greatest demoralisations, and a philosophical obstinacy with no ally but paradox, one which would have to renounce both the form of representation and the element of common sense. As though thought could begin to think, and continually begin again, only when liberated from the Image and its postulates. p.132

The philosopher has to play the role of the idiot, of being uncertain.

On the contrary, it is a question of someone – if only one – with the necessary modesty not managing to know what everybody knows, and modestly denying what everybody is supposed to recognise. Someone who neither allows himself to be represented nor wishes to represent anything. Not an individual endowed with good will and a natural capacity for thought, but an individual full of ill will who does not manage to think, either naturally or conceptually. Only such an individual is without  presuppositions. Only such an individual effectively begins and effectively repeats. For this individual the subjective presuppositions are no less prejudices than the objective presuppositions. p.130

Eight postulates of the image of thought*. Postulates are not propositions, they are “propositional themes that remind implicit and are understood in a pre-philosophical manner” p.131

  1. The Postulate of the Principle, or the Cogitatio natural universalis: (The good will of the thinker and the good nature of thought.) Postulate 1: The element of the thought, the good will of the thinker and the good nature of thought. Thought naturally seeks the truth. Belief that everyone can think, and it is natural to think. This is a natural postulate. (False)
  2. The Postulate of the Ideal, or Common Sense: (Common sense as the concordia facultatum and good sense as the distribution that guarantees this accord.) Postulate 2 of common sense: the harmonious activity of faculties in thought. Indebted to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. a) capacity (powers) in thought b) plural and different in kind remembering, speaking, knowing, understanding etc c) together constitutive of experience and knowledge (recognition) d) necessarily in relation to an encounter with reality that knowledge comes to be. (False)
  3. The Postulate of the Model, or of Recognition: (Recognition presupposes the harmonious exercise of our faculties on an object that is supposedly identical for each of these faculties, and the consequent possibility of error in the distribution when one faculty confuses one of its objects with a different object of another faculty.)
  4. The Postulate of the Element, or Representation: (Difference is subordinated to the complementary dimensions of the Same and the Similar, the Analogous and the Opposed.) Counter-Postulate of Involuntary Thought/Fourth postulate: the element of representation – Differential theory of the faculties – The discordant functioning of the faculties: the violence and limits of each – Ambiguity of Platonism – Thinking: its genesis in thought
    • Thought happens in us because something happens to us. Something in the world forces us to think.”

All truths of that kind are hypothetical, since they presuppose all that is in question and are incapable of giving birth in thought to the act of thinking. In fact, concepts only ever designate possibilities. They lack the claws of absolute necessity – in other words, of an original violence inflicted upon thought; the claws of a strangeness or an enmity which alone would awaken thought from its natural stupor or eternal possibility: there is only involuntary thought, aroused but constrained within thought, and all the more absolutely necessary for being born, illegitimately, of fortuitousness in the world. Thought is primarily trespass and violence, the enemy, and nothing presupposes philosophy: everything begins with misosophy. Do not count upon thought to ensure the relative necessity of what it thinks. Rather, count upon the contingency of an encounter with that which forces thought to raise up and educate the absolute necessity of an act of thought or a passion to think.” p.139

“Something in the world forces us to think. This something is an object not of recognition but of a fundamental encounter. What is encountered may be Socrates, a temple or a demon. It may be grasped in a range of affective tones: wonder, love, hatred, suffering. In whichever tone, its primary characteristic is that it can only be sensed. In this sense it is opposed to recognition. In recognition, the sensible is not at all that which can only be sensed, but that which bears directly upon the senses in an object which can be recalled, imagined or conceived.” p.139

  • The first faculty…
  • faculties in their transcendent-transcendental operation. Thought is a shock. It is monomaniacal rather than harmonious. It cannot be characterised as recognition, because we can’t recognise the world. Kant was the first to provide an example of the ‘discordant harmony’ between the faculties p.146. It manages to push around the other faculties, another shock to other ways of thinking. e) the genesis of the faculties, how is it that a certain capacity fro thought arise in the first place.
  1. The Postulate of the Negative, or of Error: (Error expresses everything that can go wrong in thought, but only as a product of external ) Only extrinsic factors can result in ‘wrong’ thoughts -> Descartes Kant=reason itself wanders off the path, nothing stops it doing this illusion is always available for thought.
    • Two locations in D&R (not the same stupidity)
      • The true form of the negative in thought: thought’s absence
      • as thought’s original state: thought has no nature, but begins through a sensible encounter of shock.
    • Madness
  2. The Postulate of the Logical Function, or the Proposition: (Designation or Denotation [theory of reference] is taken to be the locus of truth, sense being no more than a neutralized double or the infinite doubling of the proposition.) Sixth postulate: the privilege of designation – Sense and proposition – The paradoxes of sense – Sense and problem –
    • in propositional terms (according to the image), though is propositional in nature: S is P
    • Questions are taken as inversions of propositions: Is S P?
    • the proposed essential solvability of questions…
    • true and false are defined in terms of…
    • This image of thought structures our relation to society.
  1. The Postulate of the Modality, or Solutions: (Problems are materially traced from propositions, or are formally defined by the possibility of their being solved.)
  2. The Postulate of the End or the Result, or the Postulate of Knowledge: (The subordination of learning to knowledge, and of culture [or paideia] to method.)
    • There is a natural method for proceeding to truth. BUT
    • There is no such thing as method, thought is socially formed. Thinking is organized socio-politically.
    • What is the status of learning? Is learning the passage from non-knowledge to knowledge? No. It is not a voluntary act. We are apprentices, every shock that we encounter. The apprenticeship is never finished. We can’t think about learning to think as passing from one lesser state to a more advanced sense. Genuine learning is an encounter with problems that grip us.


* I am indebted to this post by John Protevi that helped me organize these postulates as the lecture by Jon Roffe moved very quickly. His notes are well worth a read.



Value, time and technology in educational institutions

I will be presenting this at WSU in Sydney on the 14th of November (I better write it soon).

Institutions have always had a reciprocal relationship with an ordered, regulated experience of time. This point was underscored by the British historian E.P. Thompson who argued that the shift from “task orientation” to “timed labour” that occurred in industrialised society such that “time is now currency: it is not passed but spent” (Thompson, 1967, p.61). In their analysis of Thompson’s argument, Glennie and Thrift (1996, p. 277) summarise Thompson’s thesis as arguing changes in time-discipline “involved much broader cultural changes” than simply work conditions. In other words, the extension of time becomes an intension a “the imposition and eventual internalization of a specific ‘time orientation’ to labour and life” (Glennie & Thrift, 1996, p. 277). Thompson (1967, p.84) went on to argue that this was especially true of the school, it became a place where “time-thrift” could be internalised as an aspect of (largely) Protestant virtue. However, Glennie and Thrift (1996, p. 278) go onto argue that there is an historical specificity to Thompson’s argument that the period in which he wrote was the high point of the “synchronization of societies”. More recent accounts of the politics of time stress what may be termed desynchronization, or social time “as intrinsically manifold; as multiple and heterogeneous; as a discontinuous process” (Glennie & Thrift, 1996, p. 278).

This paper consists of 3 key arguments:

  1. That time and education are co-constitutive and there have been numerous examples of time and/or education being altered due to shifting emphases in these relations. In particular, all value is essentially temporal, there is no value outside of its location within broader social, political and cultural determinations.
  2. Further, that there is a relationship between value (what is valued, how it is valued and why it is valued) and perceptions of time itself, as the German sociologist Hartmunt Rosa (2010; 2009) has shown.
  3. That technological change is impacting on institutional education in a number of ways, not least of which through a reconfiguration of value.



Glennie, P., & Thrift, N. (1996). Reworking EP Thompson’s ‘Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism’. Time & Society, 5 (3), 275-299.

Rosa, H. (2010). High-speed society: Social acceleration, power, and modernity. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Rosa, H. (2009). Social Acceleration: Ethical and Political Consequences of a Desynchronised High-Speed Society. In H. Rosa, & W. Scheuerman, High-speed society: Social acceleration, power, and modernity (pp. 77-112). Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Thompson, E. P. (1967). Time, work-discipline, and industrial capitalism. Past & Present, 38, 56-97.


Why don’t we talk about structural issues in digital education?

This is a brief precis of my 5 min talk at QUT’s LCDM Forum held today. In it I address the designated question, but I wanted to get people to think past enthusiasm for digital literacy and tools to ask what are the dangers and challenges associated with the datfaication, and digitization of education.

My focus today, in my 5 mins, will be to address the question “What are the new challenges you see for education that are encountered in digital lives and societies?” with a particular interest in what may be called digital sociology. Digital sociology asks how the development and use of digital media, its proliferation and impact in everyday life (hi to all those with smartphones out here today) as well as how these various technologies contribute to the patterning of human behavior, social relationships and concepts of the self. Digital sociology concerns itself with who wins, who loses, who controls, what gest changed and what are the structural impacts of the digitisation of key semantic and institutional modes of subjectivity.

However, I also want to make clear that I am not arguing as a Luddite, advocating smashing the machines that are changing the social, economic and cultural landscapes in which we now move. Rather, I want to add a cautionary perspective, we need to step back from an enthusiasm for technology for its intrinsic appeal to ask questions about impacting structural change to institutions like public education. In short, we need to marry an enthusiasm for technology with a commitment to what may be called ‘technical democracy’, and I think that much of the utopian promise that characterised digital in the 80s and 90s is being replaced by a wariness regarding who controls the tools that we use, how they view the purpose of education and what it means for schools. While I don’t have time to go into this in detail, I’d like to briefly mention a couple of key examples:

  • The push for more automation in education. teaching machines have long been a desire for education reformists. Psychology professor Sidney Pressey received the first US patent for a “teaching machine” in 1928. B.F Skinner also patented a machine that used worked examples to correct student open answer questions. You can also read a lot more at Audrey Watters excellent blog Teaching Machines. I’ve also written about this here. Much digital innovation work is being spent on Intelligent Tutoring Systems, Interactive Learning Environments, Computer Adaptive Testing and Avatars as Instructors in order to improve the efficiency of knowledge transfer (through the removal of the inefficient mode of teacher-student interaction). I worry that the the notion of personalization has been overtaken by technical, rather than human, modes of interaction. (I have a paywalled paper on that here if you have access)
  • The ‘black-boxing’ of knowledge. What we know about teachers and assessment – the more complex and non-intuitive it is, the more likely it is to lead to misuse, and algorithmic approaches to assessment are difficult to understand statistically because many of the tools that we use to understand them don’t work in the ways that we have come to expect. Take the concept of validity and machine learning.
  • The ethics of public institutions providing student data to private companies that can be reused/repurposed for profits: i.e. ClassDojo as Ben Williamson sorts through here. ClassDojo which is estimated to be used by at least one teacher in about one out of three schools in the US. In a 2014 New York Times article “ClassDojo could make money from the information it collects in other ways. Another section of the privacy policy says the company may show users advertisements “based in part on your personally identifiable information.”” This position was defended by the company here.
  • What is interesting is that we are seeing a new arrangement of technology companies, venture capital and educational software that is forming a new apparatus (in Agamben’s terms) of education. Some of this is manifest in a new form of home schooling, as Ben Williamson again argues:

The role of Silicon Valley in and high-tech home schooling: A recent article in Wired has shown that many Silicon Valley coders, hackers and makers are now choosing to educate their own children at home. It profiles a new breed of homeschoolers—the techie parents who see public or state education as fundamentally broken, and have chosen instead to educate their children themselves. The Silicon Valley homeschooler is not the fundamentalist activist of liberal stereotyping. Instead, the high-tech homeschooler sees makerspaces and hackerspaces as ideal kinds of educational institutions, where children can learn directly through tinkering, hacking, coding and making, rather than through the prescriptive, standardized model of state schooling. These new Silicon Valley homeschoolers blend the approach of hackerspaces with a much longer lineage of progressivist education that includes such important ‘deschooling’ figures as Ivan Illich and ‘unschoolers’ such as John Holt. The deschooling and unschooling movements fundamentally saw schools as overly constrictive, and advocated instead for learners to engage in more self-directed education in real-life settings and social networks. This is an irresistible invitation for those with Silicon Valley ideology when it comes to rethinking education.

Now, what seems significant about this is that the infiltration of technological models and teaching machines appears to have moved beyond individual choice agendas to the level of systemic delivery. Educational technology apparatus’ are opening their own charter schools (I’ll leave you to decide on how charter schools are located in your moral/ethical code), and marketing themselves on their cutting edge digital tools:  a significant growth market in charter school enrolments in the US is online, sometimes for-profit, charter schools.

And so we return to the desire for personalisation and what it means for education…


And we could go on. The question it seems to me is how we think about the line of what is acceptable and non-acceptable at structural and systemic levels for digital service and providers in education. This is the role of digital sociology to lay bare. And to start designing strategies, setting limits etc to ensure technical democracy.

On defending shit work

In response to On Reading (Part I) Greg Ashman responded with his post Dense and Complex. While I welcome the debate, and thank Greg for his consideration of my post, I think there are factual, logical and nonsensical problems with his work. Greg’s arguments, if I may summarise, and respond underneath to each one, are as follows:

1. All sociological/critical theory/poststructural work share certain outlooks: ‘In particular, there is a scepticism about objective truth and a disdain for using scientific methods in the social sciences. This is given the signifier of ‘positivism’.’

Unbeknownst to many (it would appear) there is a strong tradition of positivism in both sociology and  philosophy. Whilst I don’t subscribe to these positions myself, the argument that all sociology etc is anti-positivist is nonsense. A little bit of research (ie googling the terms) can simply refute this.

2. While Science and Maths are difficult, New Scientist (and presumably other publications) make this complex work like string theory easy to understand.

Just for fun, I googled ‘introduction to poststructuralism’ reasoning that if this field of endeavour was being deliberately obtuse, you wouldn’t be able to find anything. Here is a screenshot:


Given that there are around 342,000 introductory posts, papers, podcasts, lectures and comic books available for study, I disagree that explaining  poststructuralism has been shirked. There is more than enough for study there, and while I wouldn’t suggest that they are of equal quality, there is more than enough to go on with.

3. The Sokal Affair showed that postmodernism is nonsense.

The Sokal Affair showcases shit editorial work, and I’m not going to defend it. The editors deserve to be called for publishing the nonsense paper. However, as I’ll explain below, this is not a failure of the academic field and/or peer review. Sokal’s paper is often trotted out for rhetorical effect, with scant engagement with the actual details of the affair. Just to clarify:

  • The nonsense paper was sent to what I would call a literary magazine, not an academic journal, and as such was not subject to peer review. The editors read the paper, and asked for revisions, which Sokal refused to do, and they decided to publish anyway. Obviously this was a mistake, and the editors (and their journal) have had to cop the humiliation of publishing a nonsense paper. This is harsh but fair. However, and I stress this, because the Sokal paper was not published in a peer reviewed journal, the argument that it is an indictment of academic work in the area is not a valid inference.
  • Further, Sokal also published a book which ridiculed many post-modern and structural thinkers. This book was enthusiastically received by the anti-PoMo crowd, until a number of problems of logic and fact were pointed out with the work. Here is one refutation. Someone who can’t even get the history of their own field correct seems to me to be of dubious authority as your go-to-guy for slaying the big bad PoMo wolf.
  • Finally, we all know that Science is not immune from egregious errors in publication. These include plagiarism, fudging results, and downright lying in areas such as cancer research. Now I, and I assume most people, would see these egregious and dishonest acts as exceptions to the rule and that the vast majority of science researchers are ethical, methodical and making their best possible contribution to their field. I am interested that this generosity isn’t extended to much of the theoretical work in and around education. Interestingly, I work as an editor on two education journals that publish sociological and philosophical work in education. Both of these journals have high rejection rates because they are rigorous, methodical and exacting. These rejection rates are as high as for some Science journals. If it was ever true that once upon a time all you had to do was mention ‘discourse’, ‘power/knowledge’ etc to get published, it is certainly not so now.

4. Given ‘that taxpayers are funding thousands of academics to research this stuff, it needs to do a much better job of explaining itself’. On the one hand, I think that all disciplines could do with better outreach communication. Broadly speaking, I agree with the second half of that argument, but as I’ve pointed out above, there is lots of (unread) explanatory and introductory material. However, in the spirit with which the comment was intended, over the next few weeks I’ll take the challenge of explaining poststructuralism in a series of posts, so watch this space.

  • My first problem with this statement is that the idea that we can choose where our tax dollars go isn’t how parliamentary democracy and taxation work. For example, if we could decide how our tax dollars would be spent, I’d imagine that there’d be a number of very nervous elite private schools in Australia. Of course,  wishing that governments would spend tax dollars how we would is the stuff of fantasy.
  • Second, each year government funding makes up less and less of the budget of universities, around 45% on average in this latest report. Following the taxpayer logic (remembering that academics also pay tax, so I suppose they could just refuse as taxpayers if tax payment confers some special authority), academics could manipulate their workload allocation on paper to show that they don’t use the government funding of their wage (approx 45% minus the tax that they pay as taxpayers themselves) for their poststructural research and devote the tax-funded aspects to teaching and service. Given the teaching/service/research workload split most academics work under, I doubt they’d have to change anything that they do. Of course, this example is nonsensical, sketched out to show the messiness of the ‘I’m a taxpayer’ argument.
  • Third, given that many of the most wealthy corporations in Australia pay no tax, one of which is NewsCorp which owns a number of newspapers which comment on Australian education, I wonder if the argument is that as non-taxpayers they don’t really have the right to that commentary? Of course, I would disagree with this because a) the status of taxpayer doesn’t seem to confer the authority in practice that the blog suggests and b) silencing public voices in most cases should be avoided.

Ultimately, this post has extended well beyond the 500 words I set myself for each blog post. If you’ve read this far, congrats, and sorry for the length.