Intuition as a Method in Philosophy

Gilles Deleuze

Intuition as a Method in Philosophy

by Adrian Lessegers

In Chapter 1 of his book entitled Bergsonism, Deleuze emphasized that intuition is a method of ‘precision’ that follows a set of ‘strict rules’. This is indeed counter-intuitive to what we usually think as ‘intuition’. Intuition is not a gut feel; neither it is the feeling that wins you over a bet or a game of luck. It is, for Bergson and also for Deleuze, a philosophical method, a decisive turn in a given duration or state of things. Intuition provides us precise ways of knowingand differentiating lived experiences and reality itself.

Deleuze wrote that Bergson considers intuition as a simple act but this simplicity is accompanied by the act’s involvement with the plurality of meanings and irreducible multiplicities in any given experience. The intuition as a method follows three rules:

  • Statement and creation of problems (a method of problematizing)
  • Discovery of genuine difference in kind (a method of differentiating)
  • Apprehension of real time (a method of temporalizing)

Intuition as a Method of Problematizing

Deleuze’s first criterion for the method of intuition is to ‘apply the test of true and false to problems themselves. Condemn false problems and reconcile truth and creation at the level of problems.’

In philosophy, problematizing something i.e. an event, an object, a set of relations, is one of the first steps in drafting a philosophical proposition. Problems are always tied to philosophical concepts and percepts. Bergson (via Deleuze) proposes that it is not enough to state one’s problems accompanying a set of solutions. One has to discern or evaluate whether the stated problem is true or false. In order to do so one uses intuition as a method of qualifying and evaluating problem statements.

What are False Problems


One of the misconceptions about problem statements is that they do not offer solutions. In Deleuze’s version, once the problem is properly stated, the solution is already given. 

For Deleuze, false problems are usually ‘ready-made’. They are usually given to us by existing institutions. In basic education, for example, teachers usually give us scientific problems, mathematical problems, ethical problems and historical problems to solve. They are usually in rubric form, already positioned by authorities in a system of knowledge. We are forced to solve them in order to get a degree or pass a test. Deleuze considers these ready-made problems as ‘forms of slavery’, a form of systemic and institutional oppression, which is altogether contrary to the notion of ‘true freedom [which] lies in a power to decide, to constitute problems themselves.’ (p. 15). Philosophy, science and art must find their ways to constitute their problems in their own terms without subscribing to problems ready-made by institutions.

This brings us to the next part of the argument: ‘a speculative problem is solved as soon as it is properly stated.’ (p. 15) Problematizing an issue is not only a rhetorical engagement i.e. once a problem has been stated, the others (or its audience) are left to decide on their own on what solutions are best for the problem. For example, in mathematics, grand problems (they call it Millennium Prize Problems) are hard to solve because of their resistance to be stated properly. The ‘statement of the problem’ in mathematics is always only a ‘statement of the given relation or object’. It does not, however, provide a full-scale statement that would also involve the solution. When Andrew Wiles was trying to solve Fermat’s last theorem, he struggled to properly express and re-express the problem using his own innovations in mathematical expressions.

In philosophy, the process is all the same. Intuition is a rigorous evaluation of problem statements. Karl Marx’s Das Capital is an exposition of a problem, but Marx did not proceed by saying: ‘We have a problem. It’s capitalism. We have to go against it.’ He took the pains to write the most basic relation of use value and exchange value within a small subset of society. From this small subset, which amounted to his theory of commodities, Marx expanded his critical analysis of capitalism to production processes of industries and how these industries are complicit to the political-economic dimension of class societies and the establishment of the nation-state.

Statement of the Problem as Invention

For Deleuze, stating the problem is a form of invention, by invention meaning giving birth to ‘what did not exist’. It is rather surprising, however, for Deleuze to view this problematizing as invention as a project of humanity (or we can call it the human), that, when one constructs problems, one is directly participating in the dynamic process of history making. Bergson, on the one hand, pushes this envelop of problematizing as invention as intensively connected to life itself or the élan vital, which extends beyond human life:

‘Life is essentially determined in the act of avoiding obstacles, stating and solving a problem. The construction of organism is both the stating of a problem and a solution.’ (p. 16)

This idea of the ‘construction of organism’ or ‘life-matter’ as complicit with life itself solving its own ‘problems’ is perhaps one of Bergson’s most important philosophical concepts which orients the ontological question of Being as a form of vitalism. The last chapter of Bersgonism talks about Bergson’s concept of élan vital. So I will only properly articulate this segment in the last chapter summary of Bergsonism.

In complimentary to the first criterion of problematizing as invention, Deleuze also added another criterion that focuses on determining false problems:

‘False problems are two sorts: “nonexistent problems,” defined as problems whose very terms contain a confusion of the “more” and the “less”; and “badly stated” questions, so defined because their terms represent badly analyzed composites.’ (p. 17)

Let us take time in qualifying these two types of false problems.

A. Nonexistent problems: “More” or “Less” Problems

Deleuze emphasized that false problems are usually stated in terms of difference in degree, which usually manifest in a dual or binary position of “more” or “less”, as in:

  • Theory is less important than practice.
  • White lie is a lesser evil than a criminal lie.
  • A communist state is more appropriate form nation-state compared to a democratic state.
  • Indie cinema is better than mainstream cinema.
  • Truth is relative.

These are false problems and a lot of them appear in the social media i.e. ‘This is currently what people believe in. I must stand in opposition to it.’ A problem constituted as a difference in degree is nonexistent because it only replicates what existsA problem only becomes a form of invention if it gives rise to what did not exist. Deleuze affirms Bergson’s critique of the negative or negation in favor of inventing ‘what did not exist’, or the introduction of the ‘new’ in the world, which resonates with Deleuze’s idea of the reactive or reactionary forms of problematizing in his book on Nietzsche. In negation, the negative only replicates what already existed. Negation is just inversion, a projection of the positive as a false positive, replicating only the ‘what is’ but oriented differently. It is, in other words, only an issue of polarity: oriented leftor oriented right. It never really seeks to change the whole relation and conditions that accompanies this left-handedness or right-handedness.

B. Badly Stated Questions resulting from Badly Analyzed Composites

‘Badly stated questions arise from badly analyzed composites.’ Unlike ‘more’ or ‘less’ problems, which are problems stated only in terms of differences in degree, the falseness in badly stated questions is a problem of grouping together two different objects or relations that differ in kind.

For example, the question: ‘is Andrei Bazin’s ‘realism’ reducible to the ‘realism’ of contemporary filmmakers like Lav Diaz and James Benning?’ mistakes that Bazinian realism can be representative of different realisms from different epochs. Another example of Deleuze is: ‘is happiness reducible to pleasure?’ This badly mistakes that happiness is a form of pleasure. The key thing here to remember is that each of these concepts (Bazinian realism, contemporary realism, happiness or pleasure) has its own natural articulations or singularities. Deleuze writes: ‘If the terms do not correspond to “natural articulations” then the problem is false, for it does not affect “the very nature of things.”

Deleuze insists that we should avoid thinking and ‘knowing’ the world only in terms of differences in degree – ‘more’ or ‘less’ – and rigorously engage in questioning and problematizing in terms of differences in kind. This is for him the ‘illusory mistake of thinking’ which is a ‘general error of thought in philosophy and science.’ So how does one proceed in knowing and problematizing these differences in kind?

Intuition as a Method of Differentiating

Lucy using intuition to differentiate various phone signals.

Intuition provides us the faculties to differentiate differences in kind, which are, for Deleuze, ‘articulations of the real.’ Differences in kind are difficult to intuit in reality because all objects and relations – a cup of coffee, a small urban community, Tom Cruise, Lav Diaz, Harry Potter, or even a rock by the side of the road – are composites or mixtures. They are mixtures of different other things.

In order for one to differentiate, say, a fake 1-dollar bill from an authentic one, composites must be divided according to their ‘natural articulations’ or elements which differ in kind. For example, in chemistry, in order to determine the difference in kind between two gaseous substances, its chemical compositions must be determined (what are the percentages of hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, etc.). One cannot differentiate, say, a gas emitted by a chemical plant as more toxic (difference in degree) than the gas emitted by cars by just visual inspection or gut feel without determining their individual compositions. In another example, it would be erroneous to say that impoverished groups are more politicized than the bourgeoisie because impoverished groups are more class conscious without qualifying and differentiating each of their differences in kind.

Deleuze conceives intuition as method of division with a preconceived notion that reality and experiences are mixed. The difficulty of dividing composites lies in the fact that our units of measure are already mixed objects themselves. In order to divide a composite, Deleuze suggests that one should divide it ‘according to qualitative and qualified tendencies’. Deleuze discusses the example of time as a composite. Deleuze identifies time’s component as duration and extensity. In using intuition to divide the compositeness of time, Deleuze suggested to explore how its components (duration and extensity) relate to ‘movements and directions of movement.’

How to Qualify Differences in Kind

For Deleuze, intuition as method of division is an overcoming of human experience. The goal of intuition is to overcome experience in order to reach the conditions of real experience. In order to know the differences in kind among composites, one has to ask: What are the conditions that create this experience? Deleuze cites Bergson’s critique of metaphysics for its erroneous treatment of time as difference in degree because metaphysics privileges the dualism of perfection and nothingness as in its privileging of eternity over spatialized time of the everyday. But what does it take to qualify differences in kind?

Deleuze also identified Bergson’s qualifications for differences in kind.

  • First qualification is that there is no difference in kind if there is only a difference in degree between the perception of matter and matter itself. For example, there is no difference between an object viewed in bright conditions compared to the same object viewed in dark conditions. Yes, there is a difference in degree in terms of brightness, but the object’s composition still remains the same, hence, no problem exists in this system.
  • The second qualification is the necessity of fictions: a preconditioned idea that the body is ‘a pure mathematical point in space, a pure instant, or a succession of instants in time.’ (p. 25)

Deleuze also highlighted the role of perception in qualifying these differences in kind. He wrote that perception is impersonal and that it puts us directly into matter. We therefore coincide with the object at the moment of perception. And at the moment of perception, what occurs in the cerebral interval, according to Bergson are three-fold processes:

  • Affectivity – gives the object a volume in space via affect. Affect transforms the body into ‘something other than a mathematical point’
  • Recollection-memory –links instants to each other; interpolates the past in the present
  • Contraction-memory – contracts matter to make quality appear

Representation, for Deleuze, is composite divided into two elements: perception, which puts us directly into matter, and memory, which puts us into the mind at once.

The Overcoming of Experience: The Nietzschean Turn in Bergsonism

The overcoming of human experience in Lav Diaz’s Century of Birthing(2011)

It is quite pleasurable to read this section in Bergsonism, which happened from pages 27 to 30. Here, we find Deleuze writing about Bergson while invoking Nietzsche’s concept of the Overman:

‘To open us up to the inhuman and the superhuman (durations which are inferior or superior to our own), to go beyond the human condition: This is the meaning of philosophy, in so far as our condition condemns us to live among badly analyzed composites, and to be badly analyzed composites ourselves.’ (p. 28)

This overcoming of the human is more perceptual than conceptual. Concepts are only models of a thing or an experience. Overcoming of experience is a divergent perceptual process, a ‘divergence beyond the turn’. It is similar to how we respond to, say, watching an experimental film or a phenomenal Hollywood blockbuster. But in Deleuze’s configuration, for intuition to occur and therefore for philosophy to occur, this divergence must converge in a virtual point beyond the turn. This virtual point of convergence returns us to sufficient reason of the thing or experience. This seems to emulate Deleuze’s favorite Nietzschean concept: the eternal return. But I would like to ask an open question: is the return to sufficient reason also constitutes a return to rational thinking?

Indeed, given these movements of divergence and convergence in philosophical intuition, philosophy is never really an artistic practice. This return or convergence to sufficient reason is precisely what separates art from philosophy. Or we can put it this way, this is where the philosophies of Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Derrida depart from each other, with Derrida’s leaning over the impossibility of converging into sufficient reason and with Deleuze’s moving (as always) towards convergence.

This is why cinema and other art forms are designed not as conceptual  but rather as perceptual events. It privileges the percept over the concept.  To be a filmmaker involves a mastery of extending the perceptual field of cinema to overcome the human, ‘to open us up to the inhuman and the superhuman (durations which are inferior or superior to our own)‘. Filmmakers do not need philosophical concepts to create a film. Cinematographic ideas are always perceptual in nature. Most of the time, and especially in experimental cinema, films of incredible perceptual scale are incapable of returning us to sufficient reason. They extend our human experience to infinity (i.e. 2001: A Space Odyssey [1968], Stalker [1979], Death in the Land of Encantos [2007], The Tree of Life [2011], etc.) causing a great rift to the original constitution of our humanity. In a sense, this is what constitutes Deleue’s idea of becoming. Becoming is overcoming.

It also makes ‘life’ possible in art, because life is always a becoming, always diverging, always extending to infinity. This is the very idea that preserves art. Cinema’s form of overcoming the human experience does not always promise a return to sufficient reason. It is always extending out towards irrationality, towards the empirical field unmitigated, transforming us in each shot, in each camera movement, in each bloc of sensations. On the other hand, philosophy requires a two-step process. It is both an overcoming of human experience and a return to sufficient reason, a differentiation followed by an integration. This convergence to sufficient reason is what makes philosophical intuition precise.

In complimentary to the rule intuition as method of differentiation, Deleuze added:

The real is not only that which is cut out (se decoupe) according to natural articulations or differences in kind; it is also that which intersects again (se recoupe) along paths converging towards the same ideal or virtual point.’ (p. 29)

This complimentary rule refines Bergson’s idea of contraction-matter, or matter as a form of contraction in time. The return of the real to the virtual point guarantees the complicity of the real to the mind itself and to reason. In other words, the real is not only a perceptual event but it is also ‘cerebral’ event regardless of organism (i.e. a human, a bacterium, a parakeet, a cat, etc.).

What Deleuze brings us is the idea of superior probabilism as a method of intuition applicable to all kinds of organism, which allows each of these organisms to solve problems by first unraveling the compositeness of experience (an experience not only limited to human experience) via the overcoming of such experience towards the condition of the experience, and after which returning the ‘condition back to the conditioned’. This constitutes philosophy as a destructive and restorative project of humanity.

Intuition as a Method of Temporalizing

Time intervals play a greater role in music than space. 

The third rule of intuition is to ‘state problems and solve them in terms of time rather than of space.’ This rule still plays up the dualism between difference in kind and difference in degree by orienting it in terms of duration and space. Deleuze associates difference in kind with duration or time related to alteration, while space, as a ‘quantitative homogeneity’, is associated with difference in degree or with augmentation (“more”) or diminution (“less”).

At this point, I cannot help but think about Heidegger’s thesis of being and time. Duration, for Deleuze, encloses differences in kind with its totality and multiplicity. Intuition, in this sense, from being a method of problematizing and differentiation, becomes a method for reconciling with the immediate:

‘Intuition is not duration itself. Intuition is rather the movement by which we emerge from our own duration, by we which we make use of our own duration to affirm and immediately recognize the existence of other durations, above and below us.’ (p. 32-33)

In this section, there is a play of rupture or interruption against a contending generality of things. The role of intuition is to interrupt the usual and the general, to ‘emerge from our own duration’. Deleuze associates false problems with the reduction of difference in kind within a field of generality. Generality homogenizes difference in kind into difference in degree. This reduces time to spacequality to quantity. This particular disavowal of Deleuze to space hinges on the idea that space is only an illusion, ‘not merely grounded in our nature, but in the nature of things.’


At the end of Chapter 1, Deleuze left us with a summary of three points on how intuition can be used as a method:

  • Problematize – critique false problems & invent genuine ones
  • Differentiate – diverge (overcome the human experience) and converge (return to sufficient reason)
  • Temporalize – think in terms of durations or differences in kind, stay away from homogenizing natural articulations of things.
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