The Royal Sciences

Rene Descartes, a royal scientist

—René Descartes [1596–1660], a mathematician of some concern.

While reading Christan Bök’s ‘Pataphysics I came across a passage that began to trail blaze a thought in regard to the kind of knowledge that Cartesian logic allows.

What Deleuze and Guattari might call the royal sciences of efficient productivity have historically repressed and exploited the nomad sciences of expedient adaptability ([1980] 1987, 362). A royal science is a standardized metaphysics: it is deployed by the state throughout a clathrate, Cartesian space, putting truth to work on behalf of solid, instrumental imperatives (law and order). A nomad science is a bastardized metaphysics: it is deployed against the state through an aggregate, Riemannian space, putting truth at risk on behalf of fluid, experimental operatives (trial and error).

Christian Bök (2001) p.14

Here I find some intriguing concepts. That royal sciences puts truth to work while the nomadic sciences put truth at risk. Borrowing from conditional statements (as Bök does) royal science considers knowledge as is, or fixed, while the nomadic science considers it to be as else, or to be ambulatory.

After reading this passage I returned to Deleuze and Guattari’sA Thousand Plateaus. In the following sentences, the authors lay out two forms of knowledge, one that is approximate and one that is categorical. However, both come from respective sciences — the nomadic and the royal.


However refined or rigorous, “approximate knowledge” is still dependent upon sensitive and sensible evaluations that pose more problems than they solve: problematics is still its only mode.

I assume this means that the work of the nomadic sciences is to create or at least identify problems.


In contrast, what is proper to royal science, to its theorematic or axiomatic power, is to isolate all operations from the conditions of intuition, making them true intrinsic concepts, or “categories.”

It is this mention of “categories” that caught my eye. The history of encyclopedias of the seventeenth century include a substantial debate as to the right way to categorize the knowledge that they had collected.

  1. the royal sciences empower categories
  2. the nomadic sciences control flows

They go on to relate how these two sciences interact with one another:

What we have, rather, are two formally different conceptions of science, and, ontologically, a single field of interaction in which royal science continually appropriates the contents of vague or nomad science while nomad science continually cuts the contents of royal science loose.

Finally, there is an air of vision to this last quotation. That there may be a need to explore the moments of tension that occurs between these two sciences.

This opposition, or rather this tension-limit between the two kinds of science—nomad, war machine science and royal, State science—reappears at different moments, on different levels.

I assume that one such “moment” has reappeared in the organization and production of knowledge on Wikipedia and that it is ripe to be studied.

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