8 Aug 2015

Somers-Hall, (3.2), Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, ‘3.2 Feuerbach and the Postulate of the Principle (129–33/164–8)’, summary

Corry Shores
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[The following is summary. All boldface, underlining, and bracketed commentary are my own. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my typos and other distracting mistakes. Somers-Hall is abbreviated SH and Difference and Repetition as DR.]

Summary of

Henry Somers-Hall

Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition:
An Edinburgh Philosophical Guide

Part 1
A Guide to the Text


Chapter 3. The Image of Thought

3.2 Feuerbach and the Postulate of the Principle (129–33/164–8)



Brief summary:
The “dogmatic image of thought” is the problematic way that philosophy understands philosophical thinking. Deleuze discusses eight “postulates” of it. The first is the belief that rational thought itself is good-willed and trustable for the task of arriving at truth, since it supposedly can be utilized without any other presuppositions that might contaminate the inquiry. Thus Descartes thinks that the method of doubt can lead all people to rational thinking itself, on the basis of which we may safely and fruitfully conduct our philosophical inquiries. Hegel as well begins with thought itself. Feuerbach criticizes this notion, since it forgets that such methodologies assume many things, like the philosopher is speaking the truth, as this is required to understand what she is saying in the first place. Instead, Feuerbach argues, philosophical thinking must go outside reason to encounter pure sensuous intuition. Deleuze agrees that philosophical thinking must encounter something outside reason, but it would not be sensuous intuition. Rather, it would be the transcendental ground for the passive synthesis of sensuous intuition, which is not a transcendental active ego like in Kant.





Recall how in Chapter 1, Deleuze criticizes Aristotle’s “representational” philosophy. Now Deleuze turns to Descartes, who was also critical of Aristotle (97d), referring specifically to Descartes unfinished dialogue The Search for Truth by means of the Natural Light (98a). This dialogue has three main characters. Eudoxus represents Descartes. He has a modern intellect, and his judgments are uncorrupted by false beliefs. He is debating with two other characters on how to properly conduct philosophy. Epistemon (Knowledgeable) “represents the Aristotelian Scholastic tradition,” and Polyander (Everyman) “is ignorant of philosophy” (98). “Descartes’ aim in the dialogue is to show the insufficiency of the Aristotelian method of definition, and to replace it with a method that relies on reason alone” (98). Descartes will accomplish this by showing that Aristotle’s method of definition by genus and specious does not work on the most indubitable thing, namely, one’s own existence as a doubting thing. As we saw with Aristotle’s interpreter Porphyry, were we to give a definition for man, we could say that man is a rational animal. But this is using concepts not available to pure reason alone. Were we instead to doubt everything, we would not have at our disposal such concepts that define animal and rational. So following Aristotle’s method, we might define animal as an animate body, and a body as a corporeal substance. But “A term such as ‘corporeal substance’ does not tell us anything more about the world than a term such as ‘body’, because if we cannot conceive of the terms corporeal and substance clearly, then conjoining them will not help us to conceive of the term ‘body’” (98). Thus without additional concepts, how could we determine “the meaning of the ‘I’ of the cogito?” (98). Now, in the method of doubt, we still having thinking itself available to us. This, Polyander concludes, is the best resource we would have for defining the doubting self.

Once Polyander has concluded his exercise in Cartesian doubt, guided by Eudoxus, he realises that ‘of all the attributes I once claimed as my own there is only one left worth examining, and that is thought’ (Descartes 1984b: 415). That is, the I is determined according to an attribute that is clearly conceived by reason itself.

So the Aristotelian scholastic approach is inadequate for Descartes, since it relies on determinations from the senses [which are doubtable] and it requires an endless chain of terms to define other terms (98-99). SH then notes key claims Descartes is here making regarding the true method of philosophy. 1) It grants reason the privileged status of being able to decide truth from falsity [thereby saying reason has a ‘natural light’]. 2) Because reason has this truth-determining power, philosophy’s method operates within reason and should not be contaminated by the other faculties which might mislead our reasoning. 3) This method would not presuppose anything except reason itself. Deleuze also notes how it is Polyander, the “Everyman”, who conducts the method of doubt. This suggests that for Descartes, good sense is equally distributed among all people and also that all people’s reason has a pure nature that can be trusted in its investigation into truth. Thus there is a “good will on the part of the thinker” and an “upright nature on the part of thought” (DR 131/166), and this is Deleuze’s first “postulate of the image of thought” (SH 99). But it assumes that there is a way, namely by light of reason, that all people can begin inquiries into truth without any presuppositions (99-100).

However, Deleuze thinks that this method still is hindered by certain subjective presuppositions (100).

Deleuze turns to Feuerbach’s Towards a Critique of Hegelian Philosophy to elaborate on these presuppositions. In this text, Feuerbach criticizes both Hegel and philosophy in general (100). It will take a few steps to follow through the ideas here. We first note that thinking is an activity, since “a philosophical argument is not of value in itself, but only in so far as it is taken up by the understanding of the person to whom it is addressed” (SH 100). Thus in Descartes’ dialogue, Eudoxus does not just state his argument but rather walks Polyander through a series of cognitive actions to arrive upon his basic point. “[P]hilosophical texts do not impart information, but simply act as a trigger for the reader’s own reason to determine truths for itself” (100). But this means that philosophical texts are primarily means of communication rather than being themselves demonstrations. If so, then “under what conditions is thought able to be communicated?” (101).

In order for another person to understand our own thought, we need to make it less particular to ourselves. We must strip it of its “mine-ness,” which is what we do when we express that thought in language (SH 101, citing Feuerbach 1997: 104). Thus, “philosophical thought abstracts from the particularity of my thinking, and operates by presupposing that which is universal to all thinkers. As Deleuze puts it, ‘Everybody knows, no one can deny, is the form of representation and the discourse of the representative’ (DR 130/165)” (SH 101). And so, for Feuerbach, “there is a fundamental distinction between thinking and the presentation of thought” (SH 101). [Feuerbach also seems to assume that thinking is not something temporal, since the parts of that thinking are somehow simultaneous, but presenting thinking in language places one’s thoughts into a temporal sequence. I do not understand how thinking is not something temporal, since it is an activity. Here is the Feuerbach quotation:]

And yet, systematic thought is by no means the same as thought as such, or essential thought; it is only self-presenting thought. To the extent that I present my thoughts, I place them in time; an insight that contains all its successive elements within a simultaneity within my mind now becomes a sequence. (Feuerbach 1997: 101)
(SH 101)

The problem comes when philosophers “mistake the successive, abstract representation of thinking for thinking itself” (101). One reason we may make this mistake is that our conventions for presenting philosophical ideas have been systematized in a rational way and thus the very presentation of the ideas itself can have the appearance of being philosophical thought (101). “We therefore mistake the abstract, communicable element of thought for thinking itself” (101). Deleuze also notes the moral assumption in this view, since “to trust in the structure of thinking as communicative implies a fundamental accord between man and the world, and presupposes the belief that ‘thought has a good nature and the thinker a good will’ (DR 132/167)” (SH 101d).

SH says that

Feuerbach’s claim that ‘every system is only an expression or image of | reason’ (Feuerbach 1997: 106) can be seen as a forerunner of Deleuze’s own claim that representational thinking rests on an ‘image of thought’, and the aim of Chapter 3 of Difference and Repetition is to explore in more detail what this image consists in, and how it is possible to think outside of it. This error of mistaking the image of thought for thinking itself has a number of implications for Feuerbach which are directly relevant for Deleuze’s account. 

SH then addresses those implications. The first is that “even projects such as those of Descartes and Hegel that attempt to remove all objective presuppositions still make a number of presuppositions in order to operate” (SH 102). For example, Hegel wants abstraction to stand at the beginning, when in fact it is sensible, concrete, empirical being which is only secondarily stripped of its mine-ness to become abstract and communicable (102). This also presupposes a form of the representation of thinking that is sharable with all people. Feuerbach says for example that before we can understand a philosopher’s thoughts, we need to assume that they are true (SH 102, citing Feuerbach 103). Thus, “The history of philosophy can from this perspective be seen, not as a progressive extension of our knowledge of the world, but rather as a series of more and more accurate ways of providing a systematic image of the presentation of reason” (102).

[So the first implication is that in fact systems that try to remove all presuppositions still will bear them.] “The second implication is that if philosophy simply maps out the | image of thought in systematic terms, then it will be incapable of novelty” (102-103). This is because by working according to some such method, we are only reworking and developing thinking that is already given within us rather than creating new thinking (103).

“The third implication is that philosophy must begin with something that is outside of thought” (102). Descartes and Hegel both begin with thought itself and arrive at philosophy. This only works because they assume the good nature of thought [that is, that it has the tendency and ability to arrive at truth, and this possibility is available to anyone who employs rational thinking]. [The next idea seems to be that those who take this image of thought believe that first there is thinking, then on its basis, we can arrive at philosophical thought. However, Deleuze’s and Feuerbach’s point seems to be that since philosophy is not inherent to reason, philosophy must encounter something radically outside reason in order to operate. Let me quote, as I might have gotten this point wrong:]

if systematic philosophy is simply an expression of pre-philosophical reason, Deleuze argues that philosophy must ‘find its difference or its true beginning, not in an agreement with a pre- philosophical Image but in a rigorous struggle against this Image, which it would denounce as non-philosophical’ (DR 132/167). That is, if it is not simply to draw out what is contained in our (rational) commonsense prejudices, it must not begin with reason as we discover it either in its naive or systematic forms. Here, Deleuze is referring directly to Feuerbach’s rejection of reason as a foundation for philosophy. In contrast to the Cartesian account, philosophy must begin with a radical encounter with something outside of it [the following up to citation is Feuerbach quotation]:

Demonstrating would be senseless if it were not also communicating. However, communication of thoughts is not material or real communication. For example, a push, a sound that shocks my ears, or light is real communication. I am only passively receptive to that which is material; but I become aware of that which is mental only through myself, only through self-activity. (Feuerbach 1997: 105)

We will see that Deleuze presents a similar need for an encounter.
(SH 103)

SH ends this section by explaining the difference between Deleuze’s and Feuerbach’s positions. They do not agree on what it is that philosophy is supposed to encounter (103d). “For | Feuerbach, true thinking begins through an encounter with sensuous intuition, which is prior to the abstractions that generate the ‘mediating activity of thought for others’ (Feuerbach 1997: 102)” (SH 103-104). Recall something similar in Kant’s active and passive syntheses: “the understanding was responsible for active synthesis, and therefore organised the world according to its own categories. The active, synthetic nature of the understanding meant that it rediscovered on an empirical level what it had previously put into the world on a transcendental level” (SH 104). So for Kant, as perhaps also for Hegel and Descartes, “the understanding is incapable of discovering genuine novelty, since sensibility merely provides the material that is organised by the understanding” (SH 104). Feuerbach rejects the active synthesis as the source of philosophy, and so he turns to the passive synthesis of sensibility. But, we can still inquire into the transcendental grounds that possibilize the passive synthesis of the sensible, which is what Deleuze thinks needs to be encountered.

Once we have recognised the possibility of a passive synthesis, however, we open the possibility that what is given in sensibility is not the sensible itself, but that which gives rise to the sensible. It is this transcendental which is prior to the sensible that will be the site of an encounter for Deleuze. In order to explore how thought is able to operate outside of the image of thought provided by representation, Deleuze proposes to analyse in more detail how the image of thought operates, developing in parallel an alternative account of thought that takes account of its non-representational origins.


Citations from:

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

Or if otherwise noted:

Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994/London: Continuum, 2004.

Feuerbach, Ludwig (1997), ‘Towards a Critique of Hegelian Philosophy’, in Lawrence S. Stepelevich (ed.), The Young Hegelians: An Anthology, Amherst, NY: Humanities Press, 95–128.





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