10 Aug 2015

Somers-Hall, (3.3), Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, ‘3.3 Descartes and the Postulates of Common Sense and Recognition (132–4/168–70)’, 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

3.3 Descartes and the Postulates of Common Sense and Recognition (132–4/168–70)


Brief summary: 
Deleuze’s first postulate that describes traditional philosophy’s problematic “image of thought” was good sense, that is, the belief that our methods of reasoning are sufficient in themselves for finding truth and for philosophical thinking in general. The second is common sense, which has two meanings of “commonality:” 1) all our faculties work in common to synthesize givens into a common object, which we may recognize by judging what it is, and 2) all people commonly share this ability to organize coherently their givens. This common sense is always at work. But in cases of misrecognition, our reason might incorrectly judge the organized givens as something which they really are not.





SH begins by asking, what is the structure of thinking, for Deleuze [since it is not to be found in reason and its structures such as the structure of judgment]. As we have noted, “Deleuze argues that there are eight postulates of representational thought which together allow it to function as a coherent system” (104). Deleuze’s critical account of the image of thought operates on two levels: 1) “it is concerned with the presuppositions inherent in prior philosophical systems,” and 2) it is also concerned “with the implicit assumptions of everyday | thinking from which such formal philosophical structures will be traced” (104-105). As such, “Each of the postulates will have a double structure” (105). We previously discussed the first postulate, which is “the ‘cogitatio natura universalis’, the presumption which emerges from a paralogism that the structure of systematic thought is such that it is in accordance with knowledge” (105). [We saw this double structure in Descartes’ account, since the Everyman “Polyander” was able to think philosophically using his own inherent abilities to reason, and Eudoxus questioned the Aristotelian method of generating knowledge through genus-species definitions. And Deleuze was critical of the Descartes assumptions that all people equally can find truth using their own reason and also that such a method really is pure of presuppositions in the first place.] “The double nature of this assumption is clear in that both Polyander (Everyman) and Eudoxus (sound judgement) both held to it. Thought therefore relies on a good will on the part of the thinker, and a good will on the part of thought itself” (105). We also noted in this prior section that “Feuerbach’s claim was that such an account is really an account of the structures of communication, rather than the structure of the world” (105).

We also noted how for both Feuerbach and for Deleuze, philosophical thinking originates with an encounter [with something outside reason]. It might seem that all philosophy seeks this encounter, since it wants knowledge of the world around us. Descartes for example wants to base his account of the natural world on his method of reasoning. Deleuze however thinks that representation hinders our ability to have such an encounter. To understand why, we need to see two more of his postulates of thought and how they operate in Descartes’ Mediations. The first one is “the postulate of the ideal, or common sense,” and the second one is “the postulate of the model, or recognition” (105). Deleuze refers to the second meditation’s example of the piece of wax.

Here, Descartes attempts to reinforce his privileging to the cogito by showing that material objects are not as well known as the self. Descartes gives us the following example [the following up to citation is Descartes quotation]:

Let us take, for example, this piece of wax. It has just been taken from the honeycomb; it has not quite yet lost the taste of honey; it retains some of the scent of the flowers from which it was gathered; its colour, shape and size are plain to | see; it is hard, cold, and can be handled without difficulty; if you rap it with your knuckles, it makes a sound. In short, it has everything which appears necessary for a body to be known as distinctly as possible. But even as I speak, I put the wax by the fire, and look: the residual taste is eliminated, the smell goes away, the colour changes, the shape is lost, and the size increases; it becomes liquid and hot; you can hardly touch it, and if you strike it, it no longer makes a sound. But does the same wax remain? It must be admitted that it does; no one denies it, no one thinks otherwise. So what was it in the wax that I understood with such distinctness? Evidently none of the features which I arrived at by means of the senses; for whatever came under taste, smell, sight, touch or hearing has now altered – yet the wax remains. (Descartes 1984a: 20)
(SH 105-106)

So here Descartes is arguing that we do not really perceive objects, since all their perceivable properties can change all while we regard it is the same thing. Descartes then introduces another example to explain what gives unity to objects, since it is not perception [the following quotes Descartes].

But then if I look out of the window and see men crossing the square, as I just happen to have done, I normally say that I see the men themselves, just as I say that I see the wax. Yet do I see any more than hats and coats which could conceal automatons? I judge that they are men. And so something I thought I was seeing with my eyes is in fact grasped solely by the faculty of judgement which is in my mind. (Descartes 1984a: 21)
(SH 106)

[So what we see has certain visual properties. But they could be properties of one thing, people, or of another, robots dressed like people. What unifies them as either one or the other is the subject perceiving them and making that judgment.]

In this sense, it is the subject that is responsible for unifying the various properties of the object into a coherent object, since the possibility of error shows that the object is not given to us as such. For this reason, even when we are dealing with objects outside of the subject, we are still in a position whereby we only recognise them as objects in so far as they are brought together by the thinking subject into a unity under the form of an object. In this case too, therefore, we can note that we are in a position whereby what is perceived (or what we take to be important in what is perceived) is a function of reason itself.

[So we see that we have a series of perceptions. In this case we see hats and coats worn by walking figures. And perhaps also there are other givens that are not directly perceived. For example, perhaps our imagination supplies us with vague images of other visual elements, like faces, and maybe also images from the other senses, like sounds and so on.] But by themselves the perceptual elements are given independently of one another. It takes another action to relate them all to an object. There is a faculty that brings all these various givens together and judges them to be attributed to some common source, either humans or robots. This faculty is the common sense, and it is what allows us to recognize things.

The faculty of the subject that is responsible for unifying the different sense modalities of the subject by relating them to the structure of an object is, for Descartes, common sense, or sensus communis. If we look at the example of misrecognition, we can say that what leads us to posit the hats and coats as men is the | fact that different sense impressions are all in accordance. This accord leads us to misrecognise them as properties of people. As Deleuze notes, the concepts of common sense and recognition are therefore intimately linked: ‘An object is recognised, however, when one faculty locates it as identical to that of another, or rather when all the faculties together relate their given and relate themselves to a form of identity in the object’ (DR 133/169).
(SH 107)

There are two sorts of commonality involved in the common sense. The first is that there is some common object to which all the sense modalities are informing us about, and also that all our faculties are working in common to organize the givens coherently. The second is that everyone shares such a unifying faculty in common, meaning that any person who would also be given similar sense modalities would likewise recognize probably the same object. [SH then relates this to an idea in Merleau-Ponty, which seems to be that for the sake of communication, we forget the perspectivalism of our experience which makes it unique to us and thus not common to all. I will quote in case I missed the point.]

Common sense in fact refers to two kinds of commonality. On the one hand, it allows different sense modalities to be related to one another, and brought together into a judgement. On this reading, it literally presents what is common to the senses. On the other hand, it is also intimately linked with the ‘everybody knows’ which was the first postulate of the image of thought. If we return to the work of Merleau-Ponty, we can see that the fact that consciousness is ‘forgetful of the perspectivism of my experience’ (Merleau-Ponty 1962: 70) in positing objects as the source of my perceptions allows the kind of objective world that makes objective knowledge, and hence communication, possible. Referring directly to Descartes’ account in the second meditation of the central role of judgement to perception, Merleau-Ponty writes that [The following up to citation is Merleau-Ponty quotation]:

like the object, the idea purports to be the same for everybody, valid in all times and places, and the individuation of an object in an objective point of time and space finally appears as the expression of a universal positing power . . . I now refer to my body only as an idea, to the universe as idea, to the idea of space and the idea of time. Thus ‘objective’ thought (in Kierkegaard’s sense) is formed – being that of common sense and science – which finally causes us to lose contact with perceptual experience, of which it is nevertheless the outcome and natural sequel. (Merleau-Ponty 1962: 71)
(SH 107)

Now SH distinguishes good sense and common sense. [Note, Deleuze seems to define good sense in Descartes as the capacity for thought. “Descartes's famous suggestion that good sense (the capacity for thought) is of all things in the world the most equally distributed rests upon no more than an old saying, since it amounts to reminding us that men are prepared to complain of lack of memory, imagination or even hearing, but they always find themselves well served with regard to intelligence and thought” (p.132 of DR, Continuum edition). I am not sure I completely understand the distinction between good sense and common sense as SH describes them. I think the idea is that common sense is what allows us to unify our perceptual (and other) givens in a coherent way, but good sense is what enables us to make rational judgments about those unifications. It seems perhaps SH is also saying that part of common sense  is the assumption that whatever we encounter will always be structured in such a way that we may make judgments about it. (Or actually this might be the good sense, but I am not entirely sure). So common sense (or maybe it is the good sense) tells us that what we see, for example, will be a thing which has properties, and so on the basis of the properties, we may discern what thing it is. Then, in the case of misrecognition, good sense fails, since our rational faculties failed to deduce correctly which object takes the properties we see. Nonetheless, common sense did not fail, since it properly unified the givens, even though the good sense made the wrong judgment about them. Let me quote to be sure we have it right.]

We can further note a distinction between two problematic notions of sense. Common sense provides us with the formal nature of a unified subject to which objects correspond. Good sense, on the contrary is how we actually carve up the world. Thus, common sense is operative in both reality and in dream states, as in both we see worlds that are constituted by objects. To mistake a dream for reality would be a failure of good sense, however, as this would be to illegitimately apply the model of common sense in a given case. Deleuze claims that common sense and recognition form two distinct but strongly interrelated postulates of the image of thought. We recognise something as an object when the same element is presented to each of the faculties (as in the case of | the wax example). However, as the wax example shows, recognition is only possible on the basis of the fact that reason presupposes that what it will encounter will be structured in accordance with judgement (an object with properties). Even where good sense fails, common sense is preserved.
(SH 107-108)

So we have seen these postulates regarding the common sense, the good nature of thought, and recognition. [But since they give a view of thinking which is limited just to those cases which take the structure of judgment, and since in reality there is more to thinking than this representational kind, they give us just a “restricted vision of the world”. Really, there is more to what thinking can do than just what rational thinking can do. The good nature of thinking, however, assumes that the nature of rational thought is adequate for expressing all thoughts, when in fact there is more to thinking than rational thinking. Moreover, in reality, not all thinking involves all the faculties and all the givens working in common and uniting around a common object, and also not all thinking will be common to all people. Yet this is what the idea of common sense suggests. Deleuze will show how these problematic assumptions are found in the major tradition of philosophy, by turning to Kant.]

The postulates of the good nature of thought, common sense and recognition therefore operate together in order to guarantee that philosophy only produces a restricted vision of the world. The good nature of thought guarantees the communicability of philosophy through a paralogic confusion of the nature of thought and the conditions for the expression of thought. Common sense forces an understanding of the world in terms of unified subjects, whose faculties are in (or at least can be brought into) accord with one another, and recognition posits a world of objects as a correlate to the unified view of the subject. Deleuze’s claim is that while each philosophy puts these assumptions into operation in different ways (‘No doubt philosophy refuses every particular doxa [popular opinion]; no doubt it upholds no particular propositions of good sense or common sense’ [DR 134/170]), the essential features of the image of thought that they constitute are at play in the major tradition of philosophy. In order to show this, and to introduce the fourth postulate, the postulate of representation, we need to return to Deleuze’s analysis of Kant.



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.

Descartes, René (1984a), ‘Meditations on First Philosophy’, trans. John Cottingham, in John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff and Dugald Murdoch (eds), The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, Vol. II, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1–397.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1962), Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.





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