Monthly Archives: March 2014

Discursive and Non-Discursive Philosophy

In his very kind and generous response to my post Eric is right that in the passages I cite from the Treatise and the Enquiry I do “not remark upon” Hume’s claims that “custom and practice…have settled the just value of everything.” My concerns in this post were to sketch the manner in which a Deleuzian metaphysics of multiplicity offers a rapprochement of Spinozist monism and a Humean affirmation of multiplicity. But since Eric is correct to point out that Hume’s comment occurs both in one of the passages I cite and yet again in his dissertation on the passions, it’s worth exploring the implications of Hume’s comments.

What Eric finds surprising in Hume’s claim is that, contrary to what Hume says, it appears that “custom and practice” will not always “produce just values in philosophy” Eric offers an example from early on in the Treatise where Hume claims that in his opinion there has arisen a “common prejudice against metaphysical reasonings of all kinds,” an opinion that can be justified only by “the most determined skepticism, along with a great degree of indolence.” For Hume this prejudice is not justified, and this is for the reason, Hume will conclude a few passages later, because “‘Tis evident, that all the sciences have a relation, greater or less, to human, nature.”

It is this relation that I’ll turn to in order to uncover what gives rise to the apparently conflicting claims that Eric finds surprising.

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I’ll be giving a series of lectures at the Deleuze Camp (Workshop) in Osaka at the end of May. Here are the abstracts of the lectures. Any comments or feedback are welcome.

“Learning to Think: Deleuze and the Art of Philosophy”

Lecture 1: The Problem with Solutions

In this first of three lectures I will begin to defend what I take to be Deleuze’s metephysics of multiplicity, a metaphysics that combines both an affirmation of Humean multiplicity and a Spinozist affirmation of monism. A guiding theme in these lectures will be Hume’s theory of taste, as found in his essay “Of the Standard of Taste.” This theme is not arbitrary, for in Chapter 3 of What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari argue that it is taste that is the “philosophical faculty of coadaptation” that  relates the three elements that “constitute the philosophical trinity”—namely, the plane of immanence, conceptual personae, and concepts. This lecture will take up the theme of problems and argue that what is distinctive about philosophy is that it has a taste for the problems that are immanent to the solutions that supposedly resolve and displace them.

Lecture 2: Where there’s a will, there’s a way

In this lecture I will revisit the problem that Deleuze takes to be central to Hume’s philosophical project—that is, the problem of how a “subject transcending the given [can] be constituted in the given.” For Hume this was the problem of accounting for how one comes to the belief that A causes B when there is nothing in A, nor in the succession of A and B, that necessitates the causal relationship between A and B. For Deleuze this emerges as the problem of accounting for how an identity that is irreducible to difference is nonetheless constituted in difference. In short, how does difference-in-itself serve as the principle of sufficient reason for any and all individuated identities. The concept of conceptual personae, we will see, needs to be understood in the context of Deleuze’s efforts to respond to this problem.

Lecture 3: Learning to Think

The focus of the final lecture will be Deleuze’s claim, in Difference and Repetition, that “to think is to create – there is no other creation—but to create is first of all to engender ‘thinking’ within thought.” (DR 147) The first two lectures will have begun to lay out the conditions necessary for engendering thinking in thought. In this lecture we will look further at the relationship between thought and thinking. Learning to think, I will argue, entails a taste for the problems within thought itself, and both Hume and Deleuze had a taste for such problems; or, both were adept at learning to think.

Facebook Friends

In his second letter to Lucilius (discussed here), Seneca encourages him to linger over the texts of “master-thinkers” and “select one [thought] to be thoroughly digested that day.” (Letter 2). We are to befriend thought rather than be merely an acquaintance of thought. Yet the question arose as to how best to determine which thoughts to befriend. How do we select our thought for the day? In Letter 3 we begin to get an answer to this question when Seneca challenges Lucilius for his use of the term “friend.” When Lucillius had a friend – “as you call him” Seneca adds – deliver a letter to Seneca, Lucilius goes on in the next sentence to warn Seneca “not to discuss with him all the matters that concern you, saying that even you yourself are not accustomed to do this.” Seneca’s conclusion: “in the same letter [you have] affirmed and denied that he is your friend.” A true friend is one with whom we share everything. As Seneca puts it, “I would have you discuss everything with a friend; but first of all discuss the man [friend; jb] himself” (ipso prius).

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Befriending Thought

If the lesson of Seneca’s first letter to Lucilius is to recognize, in light of the fact that we are “dying daily,” that our time is precious (see this post), the second letter cautions Lucilius to avoid what is no doubt a likely consequence of this recognition: namely, the conclusion that we ought to hurry up and live intensely and in haste for there is precious little time. This is the opposite of how we are to live if we are to live to our “purpose” (Letter 1). For Seneca to live in such haste, to hurry about from place to place, person to person, and book to book, “is the sign of a disordered spirit.” The key is for one to “remain in one place and linger in one’s own company,” be content with a few friends, and read just a “limited number of master-thinkers.” Hurrying about from place to place, person to person, text to text, may give one a vast number of acquaintances but no friends, and yet if we are to live to our purpose and fulfill “today’s task” (Letter 1), we will become a friend to ourselves, persons, and texts. In short, and most importantly, we will become a friend to thought.

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Seneca and the Condemned Prisoner

To begin with Seneca and take on board the problems that motivated his philosophical writings, we can start with the concluding paragraph of his first letter to Lucilius. The paragraph begins with the question: “What is the state of things, then?” to which Seneca answers that we are not to “regard a man as poor, if the little which remains is enough for him,” and then he directly advises Lucilius “to keep what is really yours.” The problem then for Seneca is a problem of loss, and of keeping and having enough, and that which can and is most frequently lost and which we seem never to have enough of, and yet which is most ours, is time. “Nothing, Lucilius,” Seneca urges, “is ours, except time.” This problem, however, is a substantial problem, a problem of substance and being (ousia), and connected to this problem is a relationship to time, to that which belongs to us more than anything else, and yet it is time that is least appreciated and most frequently lost. Thus the subject of Seneca’s first letter is to caution Lucilius to be wary of the ease with which we lose time, and hence lose ourselves.

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“fourfold root” of representation

Since much of the impetus for Deleuze’s approach to the PSR stems from a critique of representation, I thought it would be good to post a quick summary of this critique. In short, Deleuze argues that for representational modes of thought difference is always mediated by an already presupposed identity, when it is precisely the conditions for the possibility of identity itself that most concerns Deleuze. The mediation of representation by identity occurs in four ways, what Deleuze calls the “fourfold root” (see DR 29): namely, identity, analogy, opposition, and resemblance.

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Strange Encounters II

As I concluded the previous post, I argued that the Deleuzian extension of Hume’s project entailed both the affirmation of monism (Spinoza) and multiplicity (Hume). This point is made crystal clear in A Thousand Plateaus when Deleuze and Guattari announce that “pluralism = monism” (ATP, p. 2; see this earlier post where I discuss this theme in the context of William James’ radical empiricism). This effort to bring Hume and Spinoza together, however, is fraught with difficulty, or at least apparently so, in a philosophical landscape that has been forever altered by Kant’s project. Since Kant was woken from his dogmatic slumber, Hume and Spinoza have come to be rethought, if rethought at all, in the context of the conditions for the possibility of experience. In the case of Hume, this has largely led his philosophy to be read as a project in epistemology. Hume comes to be seen as a precursor of a Bayesian epistemology whereby knowledge comes to be constituted through a process of induction that constitutes degrees of belief. Spinoza, at worst, is thrown into the refuse pile of philosophical dogmatists, one of the philosophers who accepted, without question, that guarantees of our knowledge. Spinoza, in fact, goes much further than either Descartes and Leibniz in that while they accept God as the unquestioned guarantor of our knowledge of the world (Descartes) as well as the harmony of the world itself (Leibniz), God remains inaccessible and unknowable; Spinoza, by contrast, argues in the last half of Part 5 of the Ethics that even God can be known.

To state the contrast between Spinoza the dogmatist and Hume the skeptic, one could say that Spinoza presupposes the identity that grounds knowledge while Hume argues that this identity comes to be constituted. Husserl remarked upon this aspect of Hume’s thought, and it is for this reason that I have argued for a Humean phenomenology (see this). So how then can one bring Hume and Spinoza together? Put simply, through a rethinking of the principle of sufficient reason (PSR). And this brings me back to the issue that in part spawned the New Hume debate – to wit, Hume’s claim that the “particular powers, by which all natural operations are performed” are powers that provide the reason for the regularities of nature but these powers “never appear to the senses.” What are these powers? The simple answer to this question is that these are the laws of nature that are the subject of natural science, and it is precisely the nature of these powers that are revealed, over time, through the process of scientific enquiry. We could say that this is a scientific explanation of facts. That which appears to the senses, therefore, would bring in our mental faculties and the epistemological problems of how we come to know the “particular powers” of nature. With this we have an epistemological explanation, and form here we are not too far from the Bayesian epistemology mentioned above.

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