10 Aug 2015

Somers-Hall, (3.5), Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, ‘3.5 Plato and the Encounter (138–45/175–83)’, 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

3.5 Plato and the Encounter (138–45/175–83)

Brief summary:
Deleuze is against representation as being the basis for a model of thought, and he has found this to be a problem in Descartes and Kant, for example. One problem they have is that they think the faculties work together to recognize a common object. Deleuze thinks it would be better if the object each faculty deals with were different in kind and that all the faculties worked discordantly. Plato seems perhaps to be closer to what Deleuze is looking for. For Plato, we have the faculties of sense experience and of conceptual thinking. Sense experience sometimes gives us contradictory properties for the same object. For example, two things that appear equal in length when next to one another may appear unequal when one is further away from us. Plato thinks that this experience leads us to recall a supposed experience our soul had before our bodies were born, when we experienced the pure Idea of equality. So when we see unequal things, it seems we are dealing with different objects, namely, a visual impression of imperfect equality and an intellectual recollection of pure equality, and also that our faculties are not working concordantly, since they are dealing with incompatible notions (equality as a concept is not variable, but the equality of things sometimes holds and other times does not). However, the problem is that both the supposed recalled experience and the actual one are taken by Plato to be the same sort of experience, just with the supposed prior one being better at giving us the pure Idea. Also, his model has the four properties of representational thought, namely identity (the Idea is self-same), analogy (our knowledge of things is analogous to our knowledge of Ideas), opposition (we recall Ideas when encountering oppositional properties in things), and resemblance (the imperfectly equal resembles the absolutely equal, which is how the first recalls the second).





Deleuze has an ambivalent relationship to Plato, which we see again here in Deleuze’s final account of the image of thought. Deleuze argues that thinking requires an encounter, and Plato does too in the Republic. [The idea seems to be that we have certain perceptions that make us question them and think about them.]

As Deleuze notes, in the Republic, Socrates also suggests the necessity of an encounter, claiming that ‘some reports of our perceptions do not provoke thought to reconsideration because the judgement of them by sensation seems adequate, while others always invite the intellect to reflection because sensation yields nothing that can be trusted’ (DR 138/175). This untrustworthiness of sensations does not, for Plato, simply lead to scepticism, but to a thought which moves beyond actual experience, and to a difference between the objects of the various faculties.

We will later see how Plato’s theory of knowledge mirrors Deleuze’s theory, since Plato’s idea of recollection (anamnesis) plays a similar role as pure memory does in Deleuze and Bergson. SH will structure Deleuze’s account of Plato around four questions: 1) “what is the encounter with sensation that provokes thought?” 2) “what is the nature of the thinking that is provoked by the encounter?” 3) “what is the relationship between the faculties that becomes apparent in this account of thinking?”, and 4) “why does Plato, in the end, sustain the dogmatic image of thought?” (112).

Socrates claims that “some perceptions summon the understanding to look at them” because they possess both certain properties as well as properties opposite to those (112). Thus, the problem is not with instances when we are unable to recognize the thing since we are making a mistake, (a failure in good sense), but rather when the thing cannot be properly synthesized coherently in the first place (a failure in common sense). “His claim will be that some objects possess both properties and their opposites, and it is encounters with these that lead us to think” (112). One way that properties may be opposed is when they are relative determinations. So a finger is long or short depending on which other one it is compared to. Thus it will be both when we perceive it with its neighbors. Another way they can be inconsistent is when variations over time are taken into account. Something beautiful now might later lack beauty after age as taken its course. “Thinking therefore emerges because of an inherent feature of the object: the contradictory status of the properties which we find within it. When the soul encounters an object of this kind, it ‘would then be puzzled, would look for an answer, would stir up | its understanding, and would ask what the one [object] itself is’ (Plato 1997b: 524e)” (SH 112-113). We are forced to think, then, about something which is not related to the sensible [I am not exactly sure what that is. Perhaps it is the object independent of its perceptual determinations, or maybe it is a thinking about something more general, like asking, what does it mean for an object to have determinations in the first place?] [I will quote this paragraph. I is fascinating and written with remarkable clarity, given the complexity of the topic.]

Deleuze begins his discussion of Plato with Socrates’ claim that some perceptions summon the understanding to look into them. As Deleuze notes, Socrates does not mean by this those cases where our perceptions of the world do not give us certainty about their objects. He is not interested in those cases where in fact there is a limitation on our ability to recognise objects (a failure of good sense), but rather in objections in principle to perception (a failure of common sense). His claim will be that some objects possess both properties and their opposites, and it is encounters with these that lead us to think. Socrates presents the contrast that he is seeking to develop with the following cases [the following up to citation is Plato quotation]:

The ones that don’t summon the understanding are all those that don’t go off into opposite perceptions at the same time. But the ones that do go off in that way I call summoners – whenever sense perception doesn’t declare one thing any more than its opposite, no matter whether the object striking the senses is near at hand or far away. You’ll understand my meaning better if I put it this way: These, we say, are three fingers – the smallest, the second, and the middle finger. (Plato 1997b: 523b-c)

Socrates argues that if we look, for instance, at the length of the finger, we will find that it is long or short depending on what we are contrasting that length with. These properties are relative, and depend on other features of the world (other fingers) for their determination. As such, we cannot, even in perfect perceptual conditions, determine whether something is short or long, as it will have both properties, depending on what we compare it to. As each object ‘comes into being and passes away’ (Plato 1997b: 527b), even properties that are not necessarily relative, such as beauty, will at some moments apply to an object and at other moments no longer apply. Thinking therefore emerges because of an inherent feature of the object: the contradictory status of the properties which we find within it. When the soul encounters an object of this kind, it ‘would then be puzzled, would look for an answer, would stir up | its understanding, and would ask what the one [object] itself is’ (Plato 1997b: 524e). The senses themselves, therefore, ‘summon’ a form of thinking that does not relate to the sensible, or even to the object that is under the consideration of the sensible. For Deleuze, the nature of this encounter that ‘forces us to think’ (DR 139/176) will be broader than just sensible properties, and as examples of encounters, he suggests those with ‘Socrates, a temple, or a demon’ (DR 139/176).

Deleuze then turns to Plato’s Phaedo to explain what thinking is. Here Socrates must die, and he says the philosopher would welcome death, since in life the body confuses the soul and prevents it from obtaining wisdom, and so death offers this opportunity by separating the soul from the body. We are concerned here more with the notion of anamnesis and the doctrine of Ideas. We saw the critique of the sensible in the Republic, and we see it developed more in the Phaedo as well. Here we note that two objects may in some circumstances seem equal while in others seem unequal [I am not exactly sure how this is. Perhaps for example when they are lying close, we can judge them as equal, but when one is farther away, we might judge it is smaller. Or perhaps they are lying near to one another, but one is underwater and looks larger. Let me quote the next sentence, since it is tricky:] “In these cases, we therefore become aware that objects that are equal are not themselves the source of our notion of the Equal, as we think that the Equal itself must always be equal to itself” 113). [I am not entirely sure I understand. Perhaps the idea is the following. We have an idea of the equal. We also sometimes judge things as equal. But we also can judge those same things as unequal. Now, equal means always and everywhere equal. But objects that appear to us inconsistently are not always and everywhere equal. Therefore, we do not from them obtain the idea of equality, since they do not exhibit one of equality’s most fundamental traits. Rather, we obtained the idea some other way, and on the basis of this idea we already possessed, we judge the objects sometimes to have equality and other times to not have it.] The situation is similar for certain prosperities of things, like justice and beauty, which never are found in things in the world in a form as pure as our idea for them is. “Rather, as the world is an imperfect place, these objects amenable to sensation are always deficient cases of justice or beauty. ‘Our sense perceptions must surely make us realize that all that we perceive through them is striving to reach that which is Equal but falls short of it’ (Plato 1997a: 75b)” (SH 113). So on the one hand our senses give us these objects, while on the other hand, “we are also given by these sensory impressions another object, namely that in relation to which the object is seen to be deficient” (113). This other object, for Socrates, is different in kind from the sensory object; “the deficiency of sensory experience relates us to Ideas” (113). SH now addresses two questions, “how do we gain access to Ideas,” and “what are Ideas?” (113d).

We first note how recollection works with regard to Ideas. A person sees an item belonging to one they love, and they recall that other loved person just by seeing the object. However, for things like the Equal, we never experienced them in a pure form before, so it would not be a recollection in this same sense as with the lover’s object (114). [We might assume that the soul itself independent of the body and of this material world would be able to experience pure Equality without adulteration by things which are only imperfectly equal.] So since we never had an experience of the Equal in this life, “the recollection must be a recollection by the soul of a time before it became attached to the body, and thus capable of experiencing the sensory world. In this sense, therefore, knowledge of the essence of equality or beauty – that is, knowledge of the Ideas themselves – must be the recollection of an experience of the Ideas, rather than some kind of extrapolation” (114). [SH then draws a very important conclusion from this, but I might misconstrue it, as I do not entirely grasp it. In Descartes and Kant, there was a common sense of the faculties, where they worked in common to recognize an object they share in common, which is a capacity all people have in common. Here, somehow, the faculties of understanding and sensory experience are not working in common and/or are not dealing with a shared object. The reason seems to be that the sensory experience is not dealing with the idea of equality for example, but the understanding is. And rather than the two faculties working together, the understanding supplies something to the sensory faculties, which they themselves do not obtain, namely, the pure idea of equality, while at the same time, the sensory faculties supply the understanding with two relatively equal things, which is not in the understanding. For, the understanding is more familiar with absolute equality but not with imperfect or relative equality. So here the faculties seem to be working in parallel but the thing they are each dealing with on their own is different from the thing the other is dealing with, as they differ in kind.]

What interests Deleuze in this case is that we do not appear to have a ‘common sense’, as we found in Descartes and Kant, but rather a transmission between two faculties, each of which has an object that is different in kind from the other. As well as the contrary properties we find in sensory experience, we also have, through recollection, knowledge of the Ideas in their purity. As the Ideas are not subject to the effects of becoming, they do not contain contrary properties, and so in this case, we can develop genuine knowledge.

[So if the faculties do not relate by means of common sense, then] “What is the relationship between the faculties that this account presents?” (114). We find that in book 7 of the Republic, Plato gives “three different presentations of the relationship between these various faculties: the metaphors of the sun and of the divided line, and the allegory of the cave” (114). So we consider first the divided line. We said that we can have knowledge of sensible objects and of Ideas. To characterize Plato’s four types of knowledge, we need to imagine a line divided unequally into two segments, such that on one side there is a shorter segment than on the other side of the division. Then, within each division we make a further division that mirrors the same inequality as the whole larger division. Thus each of the larger overall divisions has its own disproportionately small beginning segment, beside a larger one to its right. The smaller of the divisions, both on the scales of the overall and subdivided segments, indicates a lesser value. [The diagram below is taken gratefully from the Thesis Eleven website.]
plato-divided-line. thesis 11.credit
The smaller of the two main divisions represents the visible world of sensory experience, and the larger one is the intelligible world of thinking. On the side of sensory experience, we first have images of objects (like shadows and reflections), then we have the objects which make those images. Then on the side of the intelligible, we have two kinds of knowledge. The lesser of the two still uses images obtained from the visible world, but it is concerned more with universal determinations rather than with specific determinations of the images themselves. Thus geometry is interested with general truths regarding all triangles and not just with the specific accidental features of one triangle we might see. The second kind of intelligible understanding deals just with the pure Ideas themselves, which it reaches through recollection, and it is not interested in “any notion of an image of thought” (115). So with Descartes and Kant, there would be one object that is commonly grasped by the different faculties. But here with Plato, the different faculties are dealing with different objects [One object is the image or reflection of a thing, another is the thing as directly perceived, still another is an image abstracted from its particularity, and another is the pure Idea]. “These faculties do not converge on one object, but instead simultaneously relate to two separate objects. Thus, to judge that two sticks are equal to one another, we do not simply need the relation of the faculty of opinion to the sticks themselves, but also the relation of the faculty of understanding to the Idea of the Equal, in order to recognise the presence in the visible world of a deficient copy of the Ideas” (115).

[So, since when for example seeing things imperfectly equal we call to mind the purely equal] “For Plato, an encounter with the sensible triggers the recollection of something different in kind from the sensible itself. There is a communication that takes place in terms of difference” (115). Recall also recollection of the pure past for Bergson, where the past is virtual and the present actual, and thus the two were different in kind. Plato’s theory likewise makes the presently perceived thing different in kind from the recalled pure form (115). [I do not grasp the next parallel very well, so I will quote it. It seems the basic idea here is that for both Plato and Deleuze, we recall not some specific past events but rather the pure past in general.]

We can further note that, just as in the case of Deleuze’s account of the three syntheses in the previous chapter – where the present and the past were generated in parallel, such that the past was not a past of passed presents – here too we find that what is recollected is something that is never experienced by the actual empirical individual themselves, since it is prior to the soul’s connection to the | body that we have knowledge of Ideas. Thus, ‘transcendental memory . . . grasps that which from the outset can only be recalled, even the first time: not a contingent past, but the being of the past as such and the past of every time’ (DR 140/177)
(SH 115-116)

[Plato does not have the faculties working in common on a common object, so in that sense they might be like Deleuze’s notion of the discord of the faculties. Deleuze however finally finds fault in Plato’s model.]

Plato’s theory of the faculties, with one faculty communicating to another something which cannot be grasped by the first faculty alone (sensibility summoning the Ideas, for instance), thus mirrors the structure of Deleuze’s account of the faculties in Chapter 2. Rather than the harmony of the faculties we discover in common sense, we have here a discord of the faculties, which Deleuze sees as opening the way to a novel account of their interrelation. Plato could, therefore, be seen as offering a radically different characterisation of thinking to Descartes and Kant. Ultimately, however, for Deleuze, ‘the Platonic determinations cannot be satisfactory’ (DR 144/181).
(SH 116)

The problem Deleuze has with Plato’s theory is that the recollection of the Ideas is not really different in kind from the present perception, since what is being recalled supposedly is an experience from some time in the past. [The next idea seems to be that when we see two imperfectly equal sticks, it is not that we see something different in kind from equality but rather we see something which makes it very difficult to see equality. Let me quote since I probably have this wrong:]

Where does Plato go wrong? ‘Everything is betrayed’ (DR 142/178) by the metaphorical nature of Plato’s theory of the faculties. This betrayal takes the form of arguing that what is recollected, the Ideas, have been perceived, but in another, prior life. The perception of the Ideas is therefore not different in kind from perception of objects in the sensible world. Once this move has been made, the notion of recognition is reintegrated into our account. When we perceive two sticks that are equal in length, we are not presented with a test that ‘opposes all possible recognition’ (DR 142/178), but merely ‘an envelopment that is particularly difficult to unfold’ (DR 142/178). It is simply challenging to see the Idea in the empirical instance.
(SH 116)

[The next point is also difficult. SH writes:]

Similarly, we no longer have two different forms of each faculty as we found in the notions of active and passive synthesis. Whereas empirical memory, understood as operating in much the way that Kant described, was opposed to Bergsonian transcendental memory by Deleuze, for Plato, there is merely a difference in degree between the operations of the two forms of memory. Recollection of Ideas is now simply recollection of something further removed from the present than any other possible instance could be. (116)

[For the idea of two different forms of each faculty as with active and passive synthesis, perhaps we need to recall what he says in section 2.11, where there are “extensions” of the active and passive synthesis, but I am not sure. At any rate, the idea here seems to be the following. For Deleuze and Plato, we can have two kinds of memory: empirical and transcendental memory. Empirical memory perhaps is the memory of some specific event in the past, and transcendental memory is the recollection of the pure past. Recall the example in section 2.11 of the child sucking its fingers. This recalls the experience of sucking the mother’s breast. But it is a virtual object. There never was a moment in the past when the fingers actually did squirt milk. So the past that is recalled is not some specific past event but rather somehow a pure past. In this way the two sorts of memory are different in kind. In Plato, however, the past experience of equality, for example, is not some virtual, transcendental memory of a pure past in general but is supposedly a real empirical memory. So it seems that Plato, in Deleuze's reading, does not have a transcendental memory but rather just has two kinds of empirical memory, with the only difference being that one is recalling something much further into the past. There is not, then, a difference in kind but rather a difference in degree between these memories (or it seems, between the remembered experience of equality and the actual experience of imperfect equality), with one being more direct and pure than the other. Let me quote, since I probably got a little of it wrong:]

Similarly, we no longer have two different forms of each faculty as we found in the notions of active and passive synthesis. Whereas empirical memory, understood as operating in much the way that Kant described, was opposed to Bergsonian transcendental memory by Deleuze, for Plato, there is merely a difference in degree between the operations of the two forms of memory. Recollection of Ideas is now simply recollection of something further removed from the present than any other possible instance could be.

[It seems the next idea is that for Plato, both the experience of imperfect equality and the recollection of pure equality both for the most part relate to the same object, equality, and thus in a way it still has the problem of common sense.]

Ultimately, these two failings derive from the fact that rather than enquiring into the being of the sensible and the being of memory, that is, the way in which the objects of these two faculties are structured, Plato takes the sensible and memory each to relate to a being. In this sense, the notion that the faculties relate to objects is reinstated.

[For the next point, let me recall SH’s points from section 1.6, by quoting from our “brief summary” of that section: “If we understand ‘being’ as power rather than as substantiality, then we can grasp it as univocal and affirmative. Deleuze builds from Nietzsche’s notion of subjectivity being a fabrication created by the weak in order to externalize blame for their weakness. In reality there are just competing forces expressing themselves at their fullest and finding relative value in their competitions. This is a nomadic understanding of what makes up the world. It sees the world as made of pure difference, that is, exclusively of differential relations between competing forces. And it is affirmative, since these powers are understood as being as great as they can be and never arbitrarily self-limiting. They are expressions of a pure affirmative will.  A sedentary understanding would instead section off regions in this field of differential power relations and say we have substances with different moral values, depending on how they seemingly choose to dominate others. This sees one thing as being defined by the limits that separate it from other things, thus it is based on negation rather than affirmation. Also, it can only come after the more basic differential field of change and becoming.” SH’s point now seems to be that Plato has a sedentary rather than a nomadic distribution, since perhaps an Idea for him is really a fixed object, like Equality, rather than being somehow a more flexible concept. But I am not sure, so I will quote:]

As we saw in Chapter 1, Deleuze suggests that there are two fundamental distributions: the sedentary and the nomadic. The sedentary understands the world in terms of objects, and understands difference in terms of nega- | tion (‘this is not that’), whereas the nomadic distribution understands the world as composed of processes. In treating the Ideas as objects, Plato has put into play a sedentary distribution. This essentially means that Plato’s conception of reminiscence is static, as opposed to Deleuze’s non-objectival, processual conception of difference, which consists in ‘introducing time or the duration of time into thought itself’ (DR 142/179)
(SH 116-117)

[Now recall again from section 3.4 the four qualities of representation: identity, analogy, opposition, and resemblance. We see them in Plato’s model. I will misconstrue them, but it seems it works like the following. Opposition in contrary properties causes us to think about the pure forms of things. So the objects are both equal and unequal, which makes us recall pure equality. This pure equality is not variable like in sensory experience, so it is self identical. The reason we were able to connect the imperfectly equal to pure equality was the resemblance between them. Finally, there is an analogy between the perception of the empirical sun with the perception of the Idea of the Good, because “the transcendental exercise of the faculties is conceived of on the model of the empirical exercise of them”. I think this perhaps refers to the idea that our perception of a pure Idea that we supposedly obtained prior to our body’s life that is recalled on the basis of something we see now is understood analogically to be like how a lover is recalled when seeing an object of theirs. So since Plato’s model has these four traits, he “founds representation by making the structure of the object the paradigm case for knowledge” (117). Let me just quote again to be safe:]

In this sense, the four categories of representation can all be found in Plato’s model. The encounter is triggered by opposition in the sensible between the contrary properties. In opposition to the sensible world, in which properties possess this oppositional nature, the Ideas are what they are in themselves. That is, the Idea of the Large is absolutely large without also being its contrary. It is thus self-identical. The resemblance of the sensible to the Ideas allows recognition to take place. Finally, Plato compares the Idea of the Good to the sun, which indicates the fact that the transcendental exercise of the faculties is conceived of on the model of the empirical exercise of them (perception of the empirical sun is analogous to perception of the Idea of the Good). Through these various claims, Plato, according to Deleuze, founds representation by making the structure of the object the paradigm case for knowledge.





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.


Plato (1997b), ‘The Republic’, trans. rev. C. D. C. Reeve, in John M. Cooper (ed.), Plato: Complete Works, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 971–1223.

Image credits:

Thesis Eleven.
< https://thesiseleven.wordpress.com/philosophy/platos-republic/simile-of-the-divided-line/ >




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