16 Feb 2015

Somers-Hall, (0.3), Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, ‘0.3 Kant’s Moral Law (3–5/4–5)’, summary

Corry Shores
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[The following is summary. All boldface, underlining, and bracketed commentary are my own.]

Henry Somers-Hall

Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition.
An Edinburgh Philosophical Guide

Part 1
A Guide to the Text



0 Introduction: Repetition and Difference

0.3 Kant’s Moral Law (3–5/4–5)

Brief summary:

It might seem that moral laws which tell us to do the same thing in the same situations are instances of real repetition. But they are really just the application of the mechanistic operation of natural laws into our moral life, and thus they are generalities like scientific laws rather than real repetitions.




Previously we saw how repetition is not f0und in the laws of nature (found through scientific experimentation). Now we see if it repetition can be found in the moral realm (9). Deleuze works here with Kant, who distinguished natural and rational law (9). Consider if all our actions were mechanically determined. Then we would not be morally responsible for our actions, as we would not have chosen them. In Kant’s ethics, we need instead to be free autonomous beings in order to be moral agents (9). [We might say that there is something irrational about acting mechanistically. There is no deliberate thought involved. In order to conduct moral actions, one needs to be using one’s rational faculties in order to reason about situations and decide on the basis of that reasoning rather than on the basis of mechanical reactions.]

Kant’s essential claim is that if we are to be autonomous, that is, self-legislating, then, given that we are rational creatures, self-legislation must involve giving ourselves rational laws to govern our conduct. Furthermore, in order that these laws be purely rational, they should not contain any empirical content whatsoever. That is, the principles of morals must be purely formal principles. So Kant appears to create a sharp distinction between two realms, and two kinds of laws. On the one hand, empirical laws, which deal with determinate content, and on the other hand, moral laws, which are purely rational and formal.

We then wonder if in the rational do we find true repetition? (9)

[Any time we contradict ourselves, we are not being rational (you might think). As such, our rational moral behavior would be guided by laws which do not lead to contradictions.]

Kant proposes that if there is to be a formal criterion, it has to be based on the notion of rational consistency. The only way that we can provide a determination as to what we should do in a given circumstance is negatively. If the act can be performed without contradiction, | then it is a moral act. He formulates the key criterion, the categorical imperative, as follows [the following italicized sentence is quotation of Kant]:

Act only in accordance with a maxim through which you can at the same time will that it be a universal law. (Kant 1998: 31)

The central idea behind Kant’s account is therefore that if we can understand an action as hypothetically governed by a maxim that everyone held to without it producing a contradiction, then that action is a moral action.
(9-10, quoting: Kant, Immanuel (1998), Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Mary Gregor, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.)

One example is that it would not be moral to promise to repay borrowed money while having the intention of not paying it back. For, if everyone did this, no one would believe such a promise in the first place. [The following is from the Kant text:

2) Another finds himself urged by need to borrow money. He well knows that he will not be able to repay it but sees also that nothing will be lent him unless he promises firmly to repay it within a determinate time. He would like to make such a promise, but he still has enough conscience to ask himself: is it not forbidden and contrary to duty to help oneself out of need in such a way? Supposing that he still decided to do so, his maxim of action would go as follows: when I believe myself to be in need of money I shall borrow money and promise to repay it, even though I know that this will never happen. Now this principle of self-love or personal advantage is perhaps quite consistent with my whole future welfare, but the question now is whether it is right. I therefore turn the demand of self-love into a universal law and put the question as follows: how would it be if my maxim became a universal law? I then see at once that it could never hold as a universal law of nature and be consistent with itself, but must necessarily contradict itself. For, the universality of a law that everyone, when he believes himself to be in need, could promise whatever he pleases with the intention of not keeping it would make the promise and the end one might have in it itself impossible, since no one would believe what was promised him but would laugh at all such expressions as vain pretenses.
(Kant, 32)


This seems to be repetition. To universalize the action into a law would appear to mean to suppose it is repeatable.

If an action could become a universal law, that is, if it could be repeated, then it is a moral act. In this sense, repetition is not just something that is present within the moral realm, but is even the test or criterion by which we determine if something belongs to the moral realm.
(SH 10)

We then wonder if Kant provides “an account of repetition as strict universality?” (10).

[Notice a tension here. Natural law is supposedly a generality which applies in all cases. Autonomous rational thinking supposedly is not bound to such mechanistic repetition. However, to be moral for Kant, we need to strip away our autonomy and blindly obey a law of behavior as if we were robotically programmed.]

Deleuze presents the following antinomy in Difference and Repetition [the following quotes DR]:

Conscience, however, suffers from the following ambiguity: it can be conceived only by supposing the moral law to be external, superior and indifferent to the natural law; but the application of the moral law can be conceived only by restoring to conscience itself the image and the model of the law of nature. (DR 4/5)
(SH 10)

Somers-Hall quotes from Deleuze’s Kant’s Critical Philosophy where Deleuze explains that supersensible nature (rational moral law) can only be understood by analogy with sensible nature (natural law). (10-11)

While we may posit the existence of the free moral realm, we lack any way of conceiving of it, since it differs in kind from the world we find around us. Thus, if we are to represent it to ourselves, we have to rely on an analogy with the world we find around us.

[So we do not find real repetition in moral law, because our understanding of it is contaminated with natural law, which we saw was generality and not repetition.] Deleuze also thinks that Kant’s notion of duty is modeled on habit. [Since habit is also mechanical in the sense of determinism and natural law, then] as such, duty as habit is concerned more with similarities by ignoring the differences between events (equalization). (11)

Citations from:

Somers-Hall, Henry. Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition. An Edinburgh Philosophical Guide. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University, 2013.

Or otherwise from:

Kant, Immanuel (1998), Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Mary Gregor, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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