Deleuze's Hume: Philosophy, Culture and the Scottish Enlightenment

Deleuze's Hume: Philosophy, Culture and the Scottish Enlightenment

Deleuze's Hume: Philosophy, Culture and the Scottish Enlightenment

Deleuze's Hume: Philosophy, Culture and the Scottish Enlightenment

Synopsis

This book offers the first extended comparison of the philosophies of Gilles Deleuze and David Hume. Jeffrey Bell argues that Deleuze's early work on Hume was instrumental to Deleuze's formulation of the problems and concepts that would remain a focus of his entire corpus. Reading Deleuze's work in light of Hume's influence, along with a comparison of Deleuze's work with William James, Henri Bergson, and others, sets the stage for a vigorous defence of his philosophy against a number of recent criticisms, and it extends the field of Deleuze studies by showing how Deleuze's thought can clarify and contribute to the work being done in political theory, cultural studies, and history, particularly the history of the Scottish Enlightenment. By engaging Deleuze's thought with the work of Hume, this book clarifies and supports the work of Deleuze and exemplifies the continuing relevance of Hume's thought to a number of contemporary debates.

Excerpt

Deleuze begins the preface to the 1987 English language edition of Dialogues with the assertion ‘I have always felt that I am an empiricist, that is, a pluralist’ (D vii). A few lines later, Deleuze details what this means: a pluralist assumes that the abstract ‘must itself be explained,’ and explained so as to ‘find the conditions under which something new is produced (creativeness)’ (ibid.). Thirty-four years earlier, in his first published book, Empiricism and Subjectivity, Deleuze found just such an explanation in Hume. With the premise that ‘Mankind is an inventive species’ (T 484), Hume set out in his Treatise of Human Nature to explain how the principles of human nature can account for this inventiveness. More precisely, Hume argues that the principles of association draw relationships between ideas in the mind, ideas that are themselves copies of corresponding impressions, and as a result of these relationships and the easy transition from one idea to another they facilitate, what is produced is the belief in causation and necessity, a belief that is irreducible to the impressions themselves. As Hume puts it, the belief in causal relations enables the mind to go ‘beyond what is immediately present to the senses’ (T 73).

Hume’s approach, although profoundly influential, has nonetheless received significant criticism. For our purposes the most warranted of these criticisms are those of William James and Henri Bergson. For James, who like Deleuze claimed to be an empiricist and a pluralist, Hume was wrong to do ‘away with the connections of things … [and to insist] most on the disjunctions’ (James 1987, 1160). In particular, Hume wrongly insists upon the disjunctions between impressions, arguing that it is contrary to experience to assert, as Hume does, that ‘as all distinct ideas are separable from each other, and as the ideas of cause and effect are evidently distinct,’ there is consequently no intrinsic connection between these ideas (T 79). This was precisely why the belief in a causal connection goes ‘beyond what is immediately present to the senses.’ Hume’s ‘preposterous view,’ as James characterizes it, is typical of the ‘intellectualist method [which] pulverize[s]

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