Deleuze: The Song of Sufficient Reason

After another post on the structure of normativity I owe people some metaphysics, so I’m going to return to my continuing elaboration of Deleuze. In my earlier posts I have indicated how what I have called the strong version of the principle of univocity is at the heart of Deleuze’s metaphysics, in that many of the other decisions he makes in his metaphysics follows from it. I have also said that Deleuze’s system can be understood as a reinvention of Spinoza’s system to incorporate this principle (and thus also the ontological difference). In this post I want to talk about the other principle at the heart of Deleuze’s metaphysics, one which he shares with Spinoza: the principle of sufficient reason. In talking about this I hope to elaborate how other aspects of his metaphysics function, most importantly his monism.

I’ve been working on this post for a little while, and it’s ballooned to nearly 6000 words and climbing, so I’m going to break it up into parts. The first two parts I’m posting now will set the stage, and the following one’s will do some more in depth metaphysical work.

1. Sufficient Reason and Onto-theology

People have a tendency to ignore the fact that Deleuze accepts some form of the principle of sufficient reason, despite the fact that he says at one point that D&R is a book about sufficient reason. The fact that Deleuze accepts this is of a great deal of relevance in contemporary debates, given how fashionable it has become to reject it (see Badiou and Meillassoux, who I’ll will talk about a little below). However, the other important thing about Deleuze’s acceptance of the principle is that it at once both underscores his similarities with the key rationalist thinkers – Spinoza and Leibniz – but in doing so highlights the relevant ways he moves beyond them.

I’ve already noted in part how Deleuze moves beyond Spinoza, namely, by denying that Substance is a being and all that implies, but this move also alters his version of the principle of sufficient reason. The fact is that both Spinoza and Leibniz ground their versions of the principle in God. It doesn’t matter whether God is conceived as the only substance, of which all else is a modification (Spinoza), or whether God is one substance among others, through which the best possible world is realised (Leibniz). In both cases God is a being, and the beingness (and thus in a limited way, the Being) of all other beings is thought in terms of that being. The point is that both Spinoza and Leibniz ground their versions of sufficient reason in onto-theology.

What exactly is this grounding, then? In each case, it is a matter of guaranteeing the complete intelligibility of the whole causal network which determines how the world proceeds at each moment. It is a matter of reconciling the necessity of deterministic causality with the necessity of thought, but doing so in totum.

Leibniz does this in his interpretation of the distinction between truths of essence and truths of existence. Truths of essence are those which we mortals can reach through finite chains of inference, whereas truths of existence can only be reached by God, through infinite chains of inference. It it God’s perfect intellect that grounds the completeness of the intelligibility of causality.

Similarly, in Spinoza, there is an infinite chain of efficient causation between modes stretching off in either direction, without beginning or end. Nonetheless, its complete intelligibility is guaranteed by the Idea of God, which, as the intelligible content of all that is, functions as a kind of plan of creation, dictating the whole of this causal series in advance (even if it should not be thought as coming before the series temporally, Substance is an atemporal immanent cause, not an efficient first cause). This is a genuine guarantee of intelligibility because of what Deleuze, in his book on Spinoza, calls the univocity of thought: God thinks in the same sense that we (modes) think, and the attribute of thought is just him thinking himself in his entirety (as indeed, there is nothing else to think), thus the whole of such causation is indeed thinkable, even if we can’t think it.

My thesis is that Deleuze’s commitment to the strong principle of univocity – the claim that there is only one kind of existence – precludes him from grounding the principle of sufficient reason in such an onto-theological way. This is because in both cases there is a being with a unique ontological status (i.e., God, which consists in the existence of all other beings being thought in terms of it), which implies that it exists in a different way to other beings, and the infinite intellect of this being is used to ground the complete intelligibility of causation. The strong principle of univocity precludes the reconciliation of the order of thinking and the order of Being through a special kind of being.

2. Determinism, Possibility and Probability

In order to show how Deleuze makes the principle of sufficient reason compatible with univocity, it is first necessary to rehearse some of Deleuze’s problems with the notion of possibility (and probability), and how it relates to his determinism. Their are obviously many places in which Deleuze voices his problems with the notion of possibility, but I think the best place to start is the Series on the Ideal Game in LOS.

Here he puts forward his problem with the classic understanding of possibility and probability. So for instance, in thinking about the outcome of a dice throw, we produce a closed space of possibilities indicating the different possible outcomes, and then to work out the probability of the various outcomes we divide certainty (1) between them in an equal fashion (so a 1/6 for each possibility when rolling a six sided die). We treat the selection between these different outcomes as purely random, something which is not itself determined (something which is in a certain sense without reason). We can of course also artificially alter the probabilities by distributing certainty in a different fashion, perhaps giving one possible outcome a larger share to compensate for an uneven die (we may even work this out by statistically averaging a set of actual throws). When it comes to representing series of events with different combinations of possible outcomes (for instance, throwing one dice after another), even when the outcome of one event affects the possible outcomes of subsequent events, we treat each new event as the same kind random chance (albeit one partially restricted by previous outcomes). We thus have this image of chance as a cause that functions outside of sufficient reason, which enters the causal network at certain fixed points.

Deleuze repeatedly emphasizes that there is nothing about the space of possibility itself which produces the actual outcome. The selection between possibilities is something external to them, an irruption of chance. The possibility that is actualised is indifferent to its actualisation. The same can be said of the matrix of probabilities we add to the space of possibility. These are mere predictive aids, they tell us nothing of the real genesis of the outcome. Possibilities and probabilities are simply retrojected on the basis of existing actual occurrences.

To reconcile this picture of possibility with determinism (and sufficient reason) one has to be able to ask the question why a certain possibility was actualised rather than another (why 2, not 1, 3, 4, 5, or 6?). But a proper answer causes a regress, where by we must know why the conditions which brought about that actual outcome were actualised, rather than other possibilities, and so on for their conditions, ad infinitum. At the limit, this regress collapses all spaces of possibility into a single one, with a single choice. This is what occurs with Leibniz, where in the end there can only be a choice between complete and internally compossible worlds. Even then, when determinism might be happy to stop at the actual initial conditions of the whole causal series (in opposition to the other possible initial conditions), sufficient reason proper demands still more, and so the reason for the choice of the actual world is given as the principle of harmony or continuity, which defines a best possible world, which God necessarily chooses in accordance with his essence (as infinitely understanding and infinitely benevolent).

In both Spinoza and Leibniz, the ultimate reason why any given thing is as it is is thus “it is in God’s essence to bring it about”, and this reason is intelligible insofar as God himself comprehends it.

This is a horribly unsatisfactory answer for any atheist and indeed for anyone who accepts the strong principle of univocity, but if we think of causation in terms of possibility and actuality, it seems that we are forced to choose between this alternative and some variant of indeterminism in which chance irrupts in the world at various different points. This is precisely what contemporary thinkers such as Badiou and Meillassoux agree to in their rejection of the principle of sufficient reason. However, whether one talks of Events irrupting from the void of Being (literally ex nihilo), or the irruption of pure contingency from Chaotic Time, I cannot escape the feeling that we have here traded onto-theology for negative theology. Indeed, this is negative theology taken to its proper conclusion: some aspect of Being (not a being), shed of all theistic predicates (perfection, benevolence, understanding, etc.), pushed to the point of sheer unintelligibility (as either absolute Nothing or absolute Chaos respectively), is taken to select what actually occurs (although, for Badiou, this is only at specific points).

I think that Deleuze’s conjoining of the principle of univocity and the principle of sufficient reason let him tread a path between onto-theology and negative theology. He claims that chance does not enter at any specific point, but rather, at every point, in every pure instant. I now have to show what this means, and how it is compatible with a robust determinism.

That’s it for now, I’ll post the first bits about Deleuze’s own metaphysics tomorrow.

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31 Responses to “Deleuze: The Song of Sufficient Reason”

  1. […] Similarly, the exemplary metaphysical question (”Why are there beings rather than nothing?”) touches on Being in a way that the primary question (”What are beings?”) does not, insofar as it provokes us to think the structure of ‘what is the case’ independently of what happens to be the case. However, this moment of touching on Being can be appropriated by onto-theological metaphysics if it interprets this structure in terms of some particular being or set of beings.Two pertinent examples of this tendency are Leibniz and Spinoza (whose onto-theological metaphysics I have discussed here and here). […]

  2. De,

    Your recent post on Deleuze, whole parts of which I agree, caused me to return to this past claim of yours and look at it again with a specific view towards what Spinoza holds.

    De: The fact is that both Spinoza and Leibniz ground their versions of the principle in God. It doesn’t matter whether God is conceived as the only substance, of which all else is a modification (Spinoza), or whether God is one substance among others, through which the best possible world is realised (Leibniz). In both cases God is a being, and the beingness (and thus in a limited way, the Being) of all other beings is thought in terms of that being. The point is that both Spinoza and Leibniz ground their versions of sufficient reason in onto-theology.
    Kvond: There are two problems with this summation of Spinoza:
    a). You specifically have isolated the “being” (or for you “a being-ness”) of Substance within the Attribute of Thought: “all other beings is thought in terms of that being”. Thinking Substance does not constitute its Beingness, but rather within the Attribute of thought individual beings are thought only through the totality of Substance’s expression. To use recent point you made about Deleuze and the Plane of Immanence (a, the), you have confused the ontological with the epistemic, in the sense that you have confused the being of things with our capacity to think them.
    b). But this is a more important point. You have left out a vital aspect of Spinoza’s argument for nature of Substance/God. It is not just that it helps explain/ground all modes in that they gain their being through its productive powers. God is not “a being” because Substance/God itself cannot exist without the modal expressions, it is the process of existence itself. As Goethe wrote of Spinoza “Spinoza does not prove the existence of God; existence is God”. The reason for this is due to its very immanent nature. Much neglected is that it can only exist via the modes: “Singular things are modes…that express, in a certain and determinate way, God’s power, by which God exists and acts” (E3p6dem). The onto-theological critique actually makes something of a category mistake which does not fully grasp God’s ontological status – and this is probably due to the pan-en-theist reimaginings of Spinoza that came with the Idealist flowering, the 18th century emphasis on “One” in Lessing’s Hen kai pan, the Idealist tradition of which Heidegger was a child.
    Again you return to the wrong conflation of thought and being in Spinoza:
    De: “Similarly, in Spinoza, there is an infinite chain of efficient causation between modes stretching off in either direction, without beginning or end. Nonetheless, its complete intelligibility is guaranteed by the Idea of God, which, as the intelligible content of all that is, functions as a kind of plan of creation, dictating the whole of this causal series in advance (even if it should not be thought as coming before the series temporally, Substance is an atemporal immanent cause, not an efficient first cause).”
    Kvond: There is of course no Spinoza reference for any of this at all, the idea that a “complete intelligibility” is guaranteed by an “intelligible content”; or even the notion that the Idea of God functions as a kind of “plan of creation”. Thought is an Attribute of Substance, it is not the “plan” of creation, any more than extension is. And it certainly does not “dictate” the causal series. (Again, I would like references to Spinoza himself.) But then you go further into the Idealist interpretation of Spinoza:
    De: This is a genuine guarantee of intelligibility because of what Deleuze, in his book on Spinoza, calls the univocity of thought: God thinks in the same sense that we (modes) think, and the attribute of thought is just him thinking himself in his entirety (as indeed, there is nothing else to think), thus the whole of such causation is indeed thinkable, even if we can’t think it.
    Kvond: Spinoza actually contradicts in a number of ways that God thinks in the same sense that we do. First of all, we think in a largely imaginary, passive way, and Spinoza’s God does not at all. We think in terms of possibilities, Spinoza’s God thinks in terms of actualities, and certainly not in terms of representations. As such God thinking is not “thinking himself”, there is nothing reflective about it. God’s thinking is God acting (which in us is only exhibited in degrees). And God is not “thinking the whole of causation” (as if the whole of causation were the subject of God’s thought). Rather, causation (which Spinoza calls the order and connection of things and ideas) expresses itself in thought, and not just thought, extension.
    Again you make the mistake of conflating Being with Thought for Spinoza:
    De: “This is because in both cases there is a being with a unique ontological status (i.e., God, which consists in the existence of all other beings being thought in terms of it), which implies that it exists in a different way to other beings, and the infinite intellect of this being is used to ground the complete intelligibility of causation.”
    Kvond: The unique ontological status of God/Substance is not founded on the thinkability of beings (which only guarantees their coherence as things thought), but rather on its very Immanent Nature (which no being shares). To confuse God/Substance with “a being” (which special qualities) is actually to forget Spinoza primary divide natura naturans and natura naturata (God’s immanent processes, and God’s concrete expression). Indeed natura naturans cannot exist without its expression as natura naturans, but it would be pretty silly to call natura naturans “a” natura naturata. It forgets his entire distinction and caricatures his position in order to make a distortive point. Further, the infinite intellect is not used to ground causation (again, give me a Spinoza reference), but rather causation grounds the Intellect, or better, is expressed as both Intellect and Extension (E2p7).

    If you do respond I would appreciate much less reference to what Heidegger says, or even what Deleuze says, and that we can keep our eye on what Spinoza says as of yet you have spent very little time actually citing him in your summation of his position. I hoped in the above to draw out some of the problems of your descriptions, and if you can correct my references perhaps we can come to greater agreement.

  3. sorry for the lack of spacing in the paste.

  4. deontologistics Says:

    First of all, I have to say that I’m not working on Spinoza (hell, I’m not even working on Deleuze), and so I can’t really justify spending a great deal of time combing through the Ethics for references. If this is inadequate for you, then I can only apologise for a lack of time to go through and give the detailed exposition of Spinoza I would of course prefer (and may yet provide in the future). The reading of Spinoza (and Leibniz) above plays a role in the exposition of a wider point (as does the even more minor reading of Meillassoux and Badiou), and thus it is obviously over-schematic. That being said, I don’t think there’s anything you’ve said which puts me off of that reading.

    I’m not going to requote either you or myself, but I’ll try to number the sections in a way that corresponds to your comments.

    1. I don’t entirely understand why you think I’ve isolated Being to the attribute of thought. Yes, I do say that the beingness of all other beings is thought in terms of God (which I take to be a being). What does this mean? Simply, that the metaphysical _theory_ of modes (of what they are qua modes) involves a necessary reference to God. The sense of ‘thought’ here isn’t technical, it’s simply being used in describing the general theoretical structure of onto-theological metaphysics. I didn’t say anything about the thinking capacities of modes or of Substance in the quoted piece. You might disagree that Spinoza’s philosophy displays that structure, but you shouldn’t confused what I’m saying about the structure of the theory with the content of the theory. This is awkward, because there are technical references to the notion of ‘thought’ and ‘intelligibility’, but this isn’t one of them.

    2. I’m happy to accept the fact that God only exists in his expression through modes. I simply think that the move to the claim that God is nothing but existence itself is not entirely justified. I don’t know how many more times I have to make the point, but Spinoza is committed to the fact that God is a being in a very minimal sense. It is not that God is anything like a mode. Nonetheless, we talk about God as existing, i.e., as an existent, and there are corollaries of this, such as the fact that God has an essence, and that he has an Idea, albeit in both cases in a way distinct from the way that modes do. That God’s kind of existence is distinct from modal existence does not undermine the fact that it is existence, and thus that God is a being in some sense.

    3. Your challenge to my claim that the Idea of God functions as a sort of plan of creation is perhaps your best point. Here I accept that my interpretation needs further justification. It is true that at any time there is are only ideas corresponding to those modes which actually are, insofar as the ideas just are those modes in the attribute of thought. This is in contrast to the containment of the essence of all modes that ever were or will be in the essence of God. Nonetheless, God’s fully adequate grasp of this current totality implies a complete grasp of the complete chain of causes leading up to this current point (insofar as one understands through causes in Spinoza) and beyond. Immanently, God grasps the whole atemporally. Of course, this understanding in act is just the actual production of the chain of causation itself. The fact that the chain of ideas in thought and the chain of mechanistic causation in extension are entirely commensurate with one another lies in their co-production in this act. I can thus see that there is a tension here between the immanent and atemporal understanding as expressing attribute, and its temporal correlate in the temporal production of each moment. I recognise that if I were to work this up into a more professional paper I’d need to do some more detailed work on this, but I don’t have the time at the moment unfortunately. Nevertheless, the former is as much thought as the latter, even if it is a thought quite different from our own. And this brings us to the next point.

    4. It is indeed the case that there are many differences between the way God thinks and the way we think. Nonetheless, there is some common sense in which we both think. This case is parallel to the case of existence I’ve been arguing for. Substantial existence and modal existence are different, but they are nonetheless both forms of existence. It is this commonality despite difference which allows for the grounding of the principle of sufficient reason I’ve argued for above. The totality of reasons (causal and otherwise) need not be thinkable by us, but it must be thinkable in some sense. This minimal common sense in which both God and we think is enough.

    5. There are two points here. Firstly, I was not claiming that the unique ontological status of God, for Spinoza, consisted in anything to do with the thinkability of beings. The point was a general one about the unique ontological status that such entities have in onto-theological metaphysics as such. It was a point about the role that such entities play within such metaphysical theories. That was an external analysis of the structure of onto-theology, not an internal analysis of Spinoza’s own position. Obviously, God’s unique status in Spinoza is constituted by many things, not least that he is self-causing.

    Secondly, I haven’t forgotten the distinction between natura naturata and natura naturans, but it still doesn’t dent my claim that God is a being. As I mentioned in point 2 above, it doesn’t matter how one conceives of the unique character of God’s existence, even if that existence consists in the processual and expressive production of modes, as long as one conceives it as existence, which Spinoza clearly does in the very foundational arguments at the beginning of the ethics. There is nothing essential about conceiving beings as static, or produced, even if they have for the most part been thought that way in the history of philosophy. Thus, to claim that something cannot be a being because it is neither static nor produced is a non-sequitur.

    I hope you find this response in someway adequate, as it is all I have time for at the moment.

  5. De: “The sense of ‘thought’ here isn’t technical, it’s simply being used in describing the general theoretical structure of onto-theological metaphysics.”

    Kvond: Unfortunately the casualness of your use of the term, which has a technical place within Spinoza thinking is a difficulty. But, as I point out, this “general theoretical structure” is not a justification. The very substance of such a structural “error” has to be justified. When you try to justify it through the very thinking of theory you make the same confusion of someone who confuses “a” plane of immance with “the” plane of immanence.. Once you place the “thought” back within Spinoza’s theory and realizing that “thinking” the modes is itself a modal action, the idea of God being “a” being aquires its proper place. It becomes either a contradiction in terms (like calling God “a” mode), or a problem of epistemology.

    De: “I don’t know how many more times I have to make the point, but Spinoza is committed to the fact that God is a being in a very minimal sense.”

    Kvond: Then you are playing nomological, defintional games. You are saying that “a” being is anything that has “an” essence or “an” idea (which is merely for Spinoza the equivalent of saying “that which can be thought”). But again, being able to BE thought, and having BEING simply is not equivalent. You have conflated thought and being. Things that have being, and are a being, are expression in thought (but also an infnity of other attributes), but the only reason why God can be thought is that we are God’s expression (not because his being is dependent upon our ability to think him). One could just as easily say that “a” being is one that is determined by other beings (which clearly God is not) and be done with your provisional “minimal” being. Goethe’s point that Spinoza does not prove God goes right to the mistake made in thinking that for Spinoza is “a” being, that is or is not proven to exist. A category mistake. God rather is the power of existence itself. To try to prove that the Power of Existence itself, as if it were “a” being that Exists is for Spinoza kinda silly.

    You seem to concede most of point three, but in the part where you resist,
    De: “This is in contrast to the containment of the essence of all modes that ever were or will be in the essence of God. Nonetheless, God’s fully adequate grasp of this current totality implies a complete grasp of the complete chain of causes leading up to this current point (insofar as one understands through causes in Spinoza) and beyond.”

    Kvond: In no way that I can tell that such a containment of essences means that the Idea of God is a “plan” for creation. In fact Spinoza works hard against any such notion of “plan” which ends up being thought of just the kind of representational action that Kant dreamed up. It is exactly that Spinoza refuses teleology that it is, at least in my mind, a serious mistake in describing Spinoza. One might as well also inconcordantly say that such a containment of essences is a “final cause” of all creation, something else that Spinoza works very hard to deny.

    De: “It is indeed the case that there are many differences between the way God thinks and the way we think. Nonetheless, there is some common sense in which we both think. ”

    Kvond: Unfortunately, this is not what you said at all, you seid that they are the same. You continue…

    De: ” This case is parallel to the case of existence I’ve been arguing for. Substantial existence and modal existence are different, but they are nonetheless both forms of existence.”

    Kvond: Because you see these as parallel, this actualy helps. And Spinoza helps out too in your claim that they are “the same”. In a well known passage he is very strong on how different they are. Us thinking and God thinking is the same in NAME only, so radically different are they. He compares them to the “sameness” of a dog barking and the heaven constellation:

    Spinoza: “Further (to say a word here concerning the intellect and the will which we attribute to God), if intellect and will appertain to the eternal essence of God, we must take these words in some significations quite different from those they usually bear. For intellect and will, which should constitute the essence of God, would perforce be as far apart as the poles from the human intellect and will, in fact, would have nothing in common with them but the name; there would be about as much correspondence between the two as there is between the Dog, the heavenly constellation, and a dog, an animal that barks.” (E1p17cor, sch)

    This is a very important point to the claim that both “thought” and “existence” are the same in God and the modes for Spinoza. They are not kinda different, they are so different that to compare the one to the other is foolish. But Spinoza is being more than simply hyperbolic or humorous here. The reason why the heaven constellation is CALLED a dog is because we have imaginarily projected our image of “a” being (an actual dog) up into the heavens, and made “a” being, the constellation of Canis Major. In exactly the same way you have reasoned that God is “a” being for Spinoza because he is the “same” as “a” being here. As Spinoza would have it, this is foolishness and a deep misunderstanding. Spinoza says it outright, God’s Intellect and our Intellect is the “same” in name only. The word “intellect” has to mean something quite different than it usually bears.

    But it is more than this because the “a” being reasoning for Spinoza is itself a kind of illusion. The modes for him are distinct, but they are not singular, bordered thing (that is imaginary, presentational thinking). When we are thinking, we are thinking as a kind of illusion. Our inadequate thoughts are actually God’s adequate thoughts under a register of LIMITED being. In calling God “a” being, you actually are reversing Spinoza’s entire point. When we are thinking as “a” being, this is actually us having limited being, and it is an illusionary state of God’s full Beingness, his process of BE-ING. God could not be “a” being, because “a” Being-ness (if I can put it that way) is subsumed by God’s full being. You are comparing a contellation to a dog that barks.

    De: “It was a point about the role that such entities play within such metaphysical theories. That was an external analysis of the structure of onto-theology, not an internal analysis of Spinoza’s own position. Obviously, God’s unique status in Spinoza is constituted by many things, not least that he is self-causing.”

    Kvond: Then you are making the same mistake of those that call Deleuze an Idealist (and the thought that God is “a” Being is derived precisely from the 18th century revival and alteration of Spinoza).

    De: “As I mentioned in point 2 above, it doesn’t matter how one conceives of the unique character of God’s existence, even if that existence consists in the processual and expressive production of modes, as long as one conceives it as existence, which Spinoza clearly does in the very foundational arguments at the beginning of the ethics. There is nothing essential about conceiving beings as static, or produced, even if they have for the most part been thought that way in the history of philosophy. ”

    Kvond: The thing is that you are taking positional defintions which are not within Spinoza’s thinking, and then projecting them back onto him and declaring that this is what he claims. Spinoza does make an “a” being distinction, “singular things called the modes”, but he works very hard to show that God is nothing like things “a” being things. You have invented a defintion of what “a” being involves from a Heidegger persepctive (which is itself derived from Idealist Husserl), and then made Spinoza correspond. Spinoza’s naturans/naturata distinction is made precisely to avoid this kind of conflation, as are his relegation of thought to being only one of an infinity of Attributes (he is no Idealist). To turn his processual, super abundant immanent God into “a” anything is to really shoehorn your own theeory of being back onto him, when he did all that he could to argue against such a conflation. It is to read parts of Spinoza while leaving the rest out, which is deadly in explaning his attempt to speak on both halves of an apparent contradiction. The very processual naturans is used to alleviate the sense that “a” anything is the soure of the finite things we perceive. It’s like saying that because Spinoza defines and explains the Finite in terms of the Infinite, the Infinite must be a “kind” of Finite Infinite. This is precisely the kind of absurdity that you claiming.

    In a general sense I do have great empathy towards your inability to actually cite Spinoza. You are using Heidegger’s (and then Deleuze’s) position on Spinoza to launch your own thinking and you probably don’t really care much about Spinoza at all. The problem is that Heidegger didn’t much care about Spinoza in the same sense (Deleuze less so), and the vital distinction you are trying to make is based upon a misreading of Spinoza from your source (come from the Idealist tradition). I certainly do appreciate that returning to Spinoza doesn’t serve your purposes or interest.

    But the thing with Spinoza is that you have to read him comprehensively. You cannot just pick out one aspect of his declamation, give it a great deal of emphasis and think you have found hisi position. He regularly, and I mean regularly, goes back and QUALIFIES what he has previously said. So, when you are trying to typify Spinoza’s thinking, but cannot actually cite him, we are both at a deep dis-service. You have to read what he says that grounds an interpretation, and THEN you have to look at his qualification of that statement. Your reading of Spinoza, taken from Heidegger (and others) was obviously meant to forward THEIR theories, their view of Being. Spinoza intends to see Being in THIS way, while I see Being in THIS way: I do not make the onto-theological mistake.

    But if you are interested in Spinoza’s actual position, his statements have to be taken as a WHOLE, and made as coherent as possible. Heidegger comes from a distinct Idealist foundation, a conception of Being that was conditioned by the Idealist reaction to Spinoza. But one need onlly look at the Pantheism Controversy in the 18th century and the various ways that people tried to position themselves unto the horror of Spnoza’s “atheism” and refusal of a categorical “I” to see that there was no “a being” behind Spinoza’s thinking. This was the great fear, that rationality has removed the “a being” behind the meaning of all beings. People reacted to this differently. Some thought Spinoza had produced the logic of a Nihilism, while the Romaniticists thought he had discovered a processual, pagan totality, and the Idealists sought to re-insert both the “Oneness” (God) and the “I” back into what seemed like a great erasure and nullification. But all of this reaction was because Spinoza denied the very “a” being status of God. Heidegger’s criticism of Spinoza actually comes out of the very Idealist attempt to normalize Spinoza.

    But, as I said, if you don’t actually cite Spinoza, wherein a proposition of his can be put in context with other propositions of his, I’m not sure if we can proceed.

  6. deontologistics Says:

    Firstly, I’m not really using Heidegger’s Spinoza, as Heidegger says almost nothing about Spinoza (at least that I’ve read). I am indeed applying some Heideggerian concepts to Spinoza, but that’s a different matter entirely. With Deleuze on the other hand, I am indeed very deeply indebted to his reading to the point at which it might be legitimate to claim that I am often talking more about Deleuze’s Spinoza than Spinoza. This isn’t to say that I have no familiarity with Spinoza outside of Deleuze, only that I agree that I could do with seriously sitting down and doing some deep reading of Spinoza. However, I have no time for this. I need to sit down and do deep readings of Kant that I also don’t have time for, and the same for several thinkers before I return to Spinoza. If this means we have reached the point at which the discussion can go no further, then I must apologise for it.

    However, I still think you’re being slightly uncharitable to my reading. I think this is in part because you don’t seem to admit the possibility of reading Spinoza from a non-Spinozistic perspective. This is not merely the truism that one cannot simply dip into a thinker, and must instead try to understand their system from the inside, but something more substantial. You seem to disallow entirely that I could provide something like a general characterisation of what constitutes an onto-theological position and then apply this to Spinoza, and in fact accuse my of conflating the epistemological and the ontological on this basis, something which I’m afraid I find most confusing. Of course I cannot justify my application of the onto-theological schema to Spinoza by saying that it is a schema, but neither can you criticise my application of it to him for the same reason.

    The two points in your comment that I can connect with are the following:-

    1) Your claim that the sense of ‘thought’ used between man and God is radically different is very important and I would not like to dismiss it. Insofar as I have to go back to Spinoza and develop a subtler reading this is definitely a point I need to examine. I have been relying heavily upon Deleuze’s claims about the univocity of thought in Spinoza. However, I’m still not certain that the difference between God’s thinking and modes’ thinking is so radical as to undermine the point. There is some commonality, even insofar as the same attribute is involved (though qua attribute in the former and as contained in the attribute in the latter), and the question is whether this is _sufficient_ for the point I am trying to make about the grounding of the principle of sufficient reason. Nonetheless, I concede that more in depth work on Spinoza is here required.

    2) I am not playing definitional games. The term ‘existence’ is one of the few substantive and undefined terms in the Ethics. It is deployed in definitions, but is not itself defined. The very reason this is possible is because there is a very minimal but common formal sense to the notion of existence (as there is to other notions such as identity, predication, essence and so on), which is part of our pre-ontological understanding of Being. The point about existence has always been a formal one about the structure of the argument Spinoza deploys, and no matter how you want to redefine a substantive or contentful notion of existence you can’t get away from the brute formal point.

    You might want to claim that the positing of such things as ‘pre-ontological understanding’ is very un-Spinozan, or even ‘idealist’ or what-not. However, there must be a way of judging Spinoza from outside of the perspective of his system, and to do it in terms of the formal notions implicit in the structure of argument as such (which Spinoza uses insofar as he deploys a certain form of argument) is about the least question-begging position to do it from. There must be a way of talking about Being and beings prior to any given conception of what they are, such that we can assess the various different contentful conceptions of them. If one repeatedly insists that there is no way to understand these terms outside of Spinoza’s own philosophy then it is you who are playing definitional games, as you are trying to erase the common links which connect Spinoza’s philosophy to any of the other ontological positions which lie outside of it.

  7. Hmmm. Your point seems to be that you have not really read Spinoza closely apart from Deleuze’s interpretation of him (we all have cases of this, its no crime), and that Spinoza must be criticizable from the outside. The problem is this, if you are going to claim that Spinoza claims “x” you are going to have to orient this claim within the meaning of it in the context of his other claims.

    Now your point seems to be that Spinoza claimed that Substance is “a” being. There are element of support for this within Spinoza’s philosophy (his notion of God’s essence and Idea, as you point out), but these MUST be placed within his over all argument, the way that God’s Idea and essence function within his other claims, and also the way in which he wishes to distinguish how we think about individual things (beings) and the way that we should think about God.

    Its probably a good time to stop here as you don’t really seem to want to talk about Spinoza’s claims within his philosophy itself, but rather would like to extrapolate a meaning of his terms apart from that which he specifical meant (at least in my opinion). Further talk will really just end up with me wanted to talk about Spinoza’s meanings as he oriented them, and you wanted to talk about Deleuze and Heidegger.

    As to the notion of the Pre-ontological, as I told you before, Heidegger did not come up with this at all. Plotinus posits the Hen as pre-ontological, and indeed Spinoza has strong Plotinian influences.

  8. […] than itself). I don’t want to cover the discussion there as you can read it if you like, here.  But as a point of interest much of his point rests with the idea that God/Substance for Spinoza […]

  9. DE,

    It occurs to me that I might be able to express myself succinctly, in a manner that I could get to just where we disagree.

    1. Spinoza’s Substance is very much like Plotinus’ Hen, it is pre-Ontological.

    2. All essences are contained in Substance, pre-ontologically, just as “all things run through” Plotinus’s Hen.

    3. The modes are the things that are said to “exist”. Therefore Substance exists because it is expressed through the modes.

    4. There is an Idea of God only because God is expressed through the modes.

    5. To call Substance/God “a” being that “exists” would be to treat it as a mode, an individual thing: Substance/God is pre-ontological.

    Perhaps if you can tell me at which point of these five. No need to write a treatise, just something like “I don’t agree with three, for reason x”

    • deontologistics Says:

      This is helpful.

      Actually, I disagree with point 1. I think you don’t quite understand what Heidegger or myself mean by pre-ontological understanding. It is not a matter of understanding the pre-ontological, whatever that is (which you take to be the One or God). It is rather a matter of our understanding of Being prior to the enactment of ontology, or prior to the development of an implicit or explicit conception of Being that would further elaborate what it is.

      So when I have been arguing that there is a pre-ontological notion of existence that is contained in this pre-ontological understanding it has nothing to do with what you have been meaning by the pre-ontological One.

      I recommend looking at this post: https://deontologistics.wordpress.com/2009/08/28/applied-critique-existence-pseudo-existence-and-ooo/

  10. DE,

    Whe you say that I “don’t quite understand Heidegger” (not a very helpful phrasing) I simply respond by saying “You in trying to apply Heidegger to Spinoza, you don’t quite understand Spinoza”. In making this a game of “understanding” you are confusing the epistemological with the ontological, in a sense.

    So, when you say that there is a “pre-ontolocial notion” in Spinoza this is taken to be the activity of the Idea of God, which is an expression of the VERY ontological pre-ontological Substance. This is to say, Heidegger is an Idealist (in root), he is concerned with what it means to “think being”. Because humans are not centraliized for Spinoza, he is interested in how human beings FAIL to think being sufficiently.

    The Hen is pre-ontological for Plontins because if you predicate it of Being, it is subject to not being its negation. Very much the same, the superabundance of the possibility of the predication of Being, assumes an ontological fixity that does not equate “existing” with its ground.

  11. But even aside from this, beside the difference in project between Heidegger and Spinoza, because Substance is pre-ontological AS A CLAIM, that is to say, it is the status that it has in his thinking, to regard Substance as “a” being is non-sense (literal non-sense).

  12. deontologistics Says:

    I think we aren’t getting anywhere here. The point above was to diagnose where we’ve been talking past eachother, which seems to be with regard to this notion of pre-ontological understanding. I take this notion from Heidegger, but I take it that there are good reasons for using this concept, independent of Heidegger’s own work. I haven’t made any claims to the effect that this can be found in Spinoza, and I certainly haven’t been making any claims about what you seem to mean by the ‘pre-ontological’, which seems to mean something like ‘before beings’ rather than ‘before ontology’.

    The point of invoking the idea of pre-ontological understanding, which is motivated independently of any interpretation of Spinoza, was to explain why I am not ‘playing definitional games’ with the notion of existence. You seem to think that the notion of ‘being’ can be defined entirely internally to Spinoza’s work, as in effect equivalent with ‘mode’. My point is that the notion of existence, and thus of ‘a’ being, is something independent of Spinoza’s work, and indeed of any explicit philosophical ontology whatsoever. It is a purely formal notion that makes any ontology at all possible. This is in fact demonstrated very well in Spinoza’s work itself, insofar as he deploys it as an undefined term in his definitions. One cannot subsequently try to redefine existence as modal existence, because it is used in the very definition of modes (and in Substance for that matter).

    I might need to study more Spinoza, but you need to be able to read some of the things I say outside of the context of Spinoza’s own system. You are in effect denying that many things I say (which aren’t about interpreting Spinoza) are wrong, by assuming that Spinoza is simply right. This is illegitimate. It is only by being able to get outside of someone’s system that we can assess it in relation to others, and if we cannot then it is obvious that all others will be found lacking, as they are by definition inconsistent with it.

    If you want to undermine my notion of pre-ontological understanding, you need to argue against it on its own terms, not by claiming that it is inconsistent with Spinozan philosophy, because I do not accept the premise that Spinoza is automatically correct.

  13. DE: “You are in effect denying that many things I say (which aren’t about interpreting Spinoza) are wrong, by assuming that Spinoza is simply right. This is illegitimate. It is only by being able to get outside of someone’s system that we can assess it in relation to others, and if we cannot then it is obvious that all others will be found lacking, as they are by definition inconsistent with it.”

    Kvond: Hmmm. Well you are trying to get “outside” Spinoza’s thought, while I am trying to “inside” (or prior to) Heidegger’s thought. That is, Heidegger for me, comes from the branch of the tree that made a tremendous philosophical mistake. His assumptions come out of Idealism. Actually the two thinkers are for me very close. Heidegger and Spinoza are speaking about the consequences of pro-ontological Being. The thing is Heidegger wants to make the human realm a cut off realm pretty much characterized by Negation (an Idealist mistake), while Spinoza refuses just such a cut off point. But again, they are very close.

    If you haven’t seen it here is my juxtapostion of them in terms of Heidegger’s hammer, which actually Spinoza already himself argued in terms of a hatchet:

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/02/18/heideggers-hammer-the-pleasure-and-direction-of-the-whirr/

    But if you charge me with starting from a position which assumes Spinoza correct, indeed you do the same with Heidegger. For me Spinoza exacts a very radical criticism of Heidegger and the entire tradition he stems from.

    But perhaps we should wait until there is more clarity.

  14. deontologistics Says:

    I understand your beef with Heidegger, and I’ve read both that post and the post on his conception of Truth. I agree with some of the former, but not much of the latter. It is also important to point out that I think Heidegger is wrong, that I do think he is too close to idealism. However, I think that there are some ideas in his philosophy, specifically methodological ideas, which have independent merit, i.e., merit that can be demonstrated independently of the assumption that Heidegger is right. I do not start with the assumption that Heidegger is right.

    The notion of pre-ontological understanding is one such notion, and it has nothing to do with pre-ontological Being. If you want to reject my criticism of Spinoza, you need to actually address my claims about pre-ontological understanding, which are motivated independently of the assumption that Heidegger is right about everything, and not interpret them as claims about pre-ontological Being, whatever that might be.

  15. Geez, I just wish that we could come to an understanding, because we really are very close. And my own biased opinion is that it is only because you have USED Spinoza, rather than read him closely as a philosopher in his own right (again, we all do this), reading him instead as others have USED him, that you cannot appreciate what I am saying. But, if I try again at the value of what you take POU (Pre-ontological understanding) to be, instead of POO (Pre-ontological ontology) – to use the ridiculous modes of official lettering offered by Harman and Levi.

    You right of this…

    DE: If there were not some minimal meaning that all of these different theories or implicit conceptions had in common, then it would be legitimate to say that they weren’t talking about the same thing, that at best, ontology is just a sort of family resemblance term which groups a bunch of interrelated attitudes and theories that have no unifying thread. In this case, ‘Being’ would be a sort of empty signifier that floated between disparate discourses, and the question of its meaning would be without good sense.

    Kvond: If we are not to be IDEALISTS (which you offer as a point of agreement), if we are not to cut off the human realm from all other realms, then Spinoza’s answer to what all these theories of Being have in common is NOT just our Idea of Being at large, but the totality from which it all is generated. For Spinoza, what is happening when everyone is “thinking Being” in a POU sense, they are thinking with the Idea of God. The Idea of God is not “a” thing and God is not “a” thing, but the very activity of coming to be “a” thing. In this sense, POU relies up POO. Our understanding comes out of our larger relation to beings, and Being itself. And this is precisely what happens when you refuse the IDEALIST approach.

    DE: Heidegger’s answer to this question is that what is common to all of these conceptions of Being, be they implicit, explicit or somewhere in between, is what he calls the pre-ontological understanding of Being. This is that minimal understanding of Being that we all share insofar as we can understand anything, that is insofar as we can understand beings. For Heidegger, this pre-ontological understanding is necessarily held in common and ahistorical.

    Kvond: This is just, plain and simple, the activity of the Idea of God for Spinoza. The IDEA of God, God as an Ideational expression. There really is no contradiction here.

    DE: Heidegger’s other important insight, which I take to be a critical insight, is that the formulation of the question of the meaning of Being, or what I have called the delimitation of the constraints upon ontology, must be carried out through first making explicit the structure of this pre-ontological understanding. This does not mean that answering the question is simply a matter of clarifying our existing understanding. This is the kind of approach that analytic philosophers inspired by Quine take (’to be is to be the value of a bound variable’, or ‘there is nothing more to Being than the existential quantifier’). Rather, the explication of the structure of our pre-ontological understanding is not yet ontology at all. Ontology proper proceeds from that understanding, but develops it into an account of Being as it is in itself.

    Kvond: Okay. And Quine’s student, Donald Davidson, who was influenced by Spinoza offers just such a solution in his Anomalous Monism. We are are able to describe reality in two distinct conceptually non-reducible ways (for him mental predicates and physical causal relations). This matches up to Spinoza’s two Attributes. The only thing is that Davidson (and Quine) both make a kind of Sciencism mistake of assuming an implicit metaphysics of Sciencism, that is collapsing Substance (what is being described) with the physical description. There is no real argument for this, it is pretty much assumed. The Spinozist response, at least the Spinozist response that allows the “linguistic turn” is that yes, there are two ways of describing the world conceptually, but it is monistically one world, but Substance cannot be reduced to either description.

    There is no “structure of being” (really what you are arguing for the “structure of thinking about being”) that should collapse the descriptions of things as physical entities back onto the very formulation of Substance itself. You have, at least to me, in taking up Quine’s Sciencism, assumed too much, literalizing a description. What Spinoza tells you, in ways friendly to Davidson, is that yes, we have a POU of being, and yes we have irreducible mental and physical descriptions, but ultimately there is a process giving rise to both.

    And nothing in POU determines that POO is an “onto-theology”.

  16. deontologistics Says:

    I do also wish we could come to an understanding, even if it is only a matter of agreeing to disagree. I think we can make some progress now through, insofar as we’ve disambiguated POU and POO (I can barely type this with a straight face btw).

    I must say straight out that I’m not entirely sure what Davidson’s anomalous monism has to do with any of this, so I’ll try to just stick to elaborating my point about POU. You say:-

    “Spinoza’s answer to what all these theories of Being have in common is NOT just our Idea of Being at large, but the totality from which it all is generated.”

    Now, the point I would like to make in relation to this is that this is seems to be a Spinozistic interpretation of what pre-ontological understanding consists in. This is not problematic in itself. But we have to ask why we should prefer this over Heidegger’s conception of pre-ontological understanding consisting in a special kind of Being that all Dasein share (namely, existence), which he later talks about in terms of ‘openness’ and the ‘gift of man’s essence unto man by Being’. I’m not here advocating Heidegger’s theory. In fact, I disagree with it.

    What I’m trying to point out is that these are both retrospective characterisations of something that makes the theory possible, from within the theory itself. In the former case, Spinoza’s ontology of Substance and modes is used to articulate what the mode’s implicit grasp of this divide consists in, and in the latter case Heidegger’s phenomenological interpretation of Being as presencing is used to interpret what those to whom it presences’ (Daseins’) grasp of this structure consists in.

    The structure is thus something like this in both cases:-

    1. Pre-ontological understanding
    2. Explicit ontology developed out of pre-ontological understanding
    3. Interpretation of pre-ontological understanding in terms of this explicit ontology

    I think that there is an additional step between point 1 and 2. Namely, I think one can make explicit the structure of pre-ontological understanding before doing explicit ontology. However, this must be done in terms that are completely non-ontological, that don’t decide upon the nature of what is in anyway (be it in an idealist way or a materialist way, a monist way or a non-monist way). This is what I’ve been calling fundamental deontology. The idea here is that pre-ontological understanding is purely formal, and that step 2, the development of this formal understanding into an explicit conception of Being, is a matter of adding content to this form.

    Now, when I accuse Spinoza (and others) of onto-theology, it is in virtue of how his explicit ontology develops this formal understanding, specifically, in terms of the way it deploys and develops the formal notion of existence. As I pointed out above, Spinoza appeals to an undefined notion of existence. His initial demonstrations are thus grounded in our pre-ontological understanding of existence (an aspect of our pre-ontological understanding of Being as such). Moreover, he defines Being/Substance in terms of the way it exists. Now, as far as I’m concerned, this means that Spinoza’s position, from the outset, is in some minimal sense understanding Being as ‘a’ being. This is because our minimal common understanding of what ‘a’ being is is just provided by our pre-ontological understanding of existence.

    From my perspective, it’s all very well to show how Spinoza radically dissociates his conception of Substance from all of the things that are classically associated with beings (and overhalls the classical notion of beings in his conception of modal existence), but this doesn’t erase the formal point.

    No matter what you do in Spinoza’s system, you can never erase that small definition on which it the system was built without fundamentally trying to move past Spinoza himself. I think there are many wonderful things about Spinoza’s system, and I think his account of modal existence provides us with a very good outline of an account of beings (in their beingness), but I nonetheless think that in light of this point that we have to move beyond him, and I think Deleuze already has to a certain extent.

    Now, you might disagree with my claims about the formality of pre-ontological understanding and what-not, but you can’t appeal to Spinoza’s ontology to refute them. You can of course show how my claims are inconsistent with Spinoza’s ontology, but this does not tell us who is right, only that both I and Spinoza can’t be.

  17. DE: “This is not problematic in itself. But we have to ask why we should prefer this over Heidegger’s conception of pre-ontological understanding consisting in a special kind of Being that all Dasein share (namely, existence), which he later talks about in terms of ‘openness’ and the ‘gift of man’s essence unto man by Being’.”

    Kvond: Simple. We are not Idealists (and we do not privilege the human realm as a cut off realm). I thought we were agreed on this. How we think about things is not the final determinant. Indeed Spinoza provides that we are a special kind of Being, which is to say, we think in a combination of imaginary, rational and intuitional ways. But this is a mode of being that is not cut off from all other modes of being. It is interwoven.

    DE: “Now, when I accuse Spinoza (and others) of onto-theology, it is in virtue of how his explicit ontology develops this formal understanding, specifically, in terms of the way it deploys and develops the formal notion of existence. As I pointed out above, Spinoza appeals to an undefined notion of existence. His initial demonstrations are thus grounded in our pre-ontological understanding of existence (an aspect of our pre-ontological understanding of Being as such).”

    Kvond: This is the thing, you are STARTING with our IDEA of it. This is what Spinoza refuses to do (and I as well). I do not take our idea of something (which is to say, in the Idealist sense, our Representation of it) as determinative of what it is, whatever “it” may be. And this is the primary fault in your thinking that Substance is “a” thing.

    DE: “Moreover, he defines Being/Substance in terms of the way it exists.”

    Kvond: But it is not reduced to its existence. In fact essences have pre-being. The sub-exist. It is in surplus of its existing. As such it is Pre-ontological. It is beyond, but subsumes, the predicate of being. Only by trying to reduce Substance to our Idea of it (the Idealist move) do you end up with your conclusion.

    DE: “No matter what you do in Spinoza’s system, you can never erase that small definition on which it the system was built without fundamentally trying to move past Spinoza himself.”

    Kvond: Spinoza’s system was meant to INDUCE the intuition of God (that is the whole meaning of the fifth part of the Ethics), not to present it, and not even to prove it. You are missing the function of his system. It is not just plain old metaphysics, trying to effect a truth as neutrally as possible. It is to transform the thinking process into a more powerful thing.

    DE: “Now, you might disagree with my claims about the formality of pre-ontological understanding and what-not, but you can’t appeal to Spinoza’s ontology to refute them.”

    Kvond: As a non-Idealist I certainly can though. A formal distinction, at least as far as Duns Scotus goes and as Deleuze applies it to Spinoza, is a distinction that is mimimally real but that does not touch the Radical Simplicity of Being itself. By the very nature of the formal distinction Spinoza’s Real Being(ness) supercedes the effect of the distinction itself.

    Perhaps though, because you rely very heavily upon Deleuze (for reading Spinoza) you can helpfully point out where he criticisizes Spinoza on this very point, the point of the formal distinction, and I can investigate the source of your thinking.

  18. To put it differently. You say this:

    1. Pre-ontological understanding
    2. Explicit ontology developed out of pre-ontological understanding
    3. Interpretation of pre-ontological understanding in terms of this explicit ontology

    I say this:

    1. A pre-ontological Expression of God/Subtance (that which lies beyond “beings”)
    2. A necessary Idea of this as expressed because we are expressions of #1
    3. A ontological understanding of things based upon #2, as well as a primary causal, determinative connection between things and ideas.

    It is because knowledge is Intutional for Spinoza, and only aided by the rational that one does not START with a representational discussion of thinking itself. One starts with that which is intuited. This is prior to even the idea of the idea of a pre-ontology.

  19. deontologistics Says:

    Well, here we go again. I think you’re still just appealing to the truth of Spinoza’s approach in order to justify it, in a fairly circular fashion. This is perhaps demonstrated most clearly by your last claim:-

    “It is because knowledge is Intutional for Spinoza, and only aided by the rational that one does not START with a representational discussion of thinking itself. One starts with that which is intuited. This is prior to even the idea of the idea of a pre-ontology.”

    The crucial little phrase here is ‘knowledge is intuitional FOR SPINOZA’. Your claim is that my formal analysis of our pre-ontological understanding of Being is somehow derivative because really we do not start with such an understanding but with the Intuition of the Spinozistic God itself. How do we know that we start with this intuition, and what the character of this intuition is? We know it through attending to this very intuition, and although Spinoza’s arguments are needed to get there, they ultimately pale in comparison to the intuition they bring about.

    All of this is still dependent on an appeal to Spinoza. In effect your argument boils down to ‘read Spinoza, and you will ultimately receive the intuition that you’re wrong’. I’m afraid I find this very difficult to swallow. Philosophy for me is a matter of rational argumentation. This is something that one cannot get round insofar as one wants to express anything in philosophy. If one has an effective argument for why I need to attend to intuition, then fine, but I must be able to criticise that argument on its own terms. I cannot be told that my criticisms are automatically illegitimate because I have not yet achieved the very intuition the necessity of which is being argued for. This kind of argument is terribly frustrating.

    Two more points. You seem to be saying that my position is idealist, insofar as I advocate starting with an explication of our pre-ontological understanding of Being. This might be the case if I was identifying Being with our pre-ontological understanding, but I’m not. Our pre-ontological understanding is not equivalent to a full understanding of Being as it is in itself. The other way to be an idealist is to claim that the structure of Being as it is in itself necessarily involves some relation to thought. I’m not claiming this either. All I’m saying is that in trying to provide an account of something we must start with that implicit understanding we have of it which guarantees that we’re talking about the same thing. To start with anything less is to lose the possibility that we’re even talking about the same thing when we use the word ‘Being’.

    As a final point, the sense of ‘formal’ I’m using is not the exact sense handed down by the scholastics. Its much closer to Kant’s sense when he talks aout the distinction between the forms of judgment and the categories. The categories provide the content to the pure form of the different kinds of judgment. It’s a form/content distinction, rather than a formality/reality distinction, although there may of course be a relation between the two.

  20. So you’ve made up a meaning of the phrase “formal distinction”, and important phrase in Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza. What am I to do?

    Please, let’s just get to the bottom of this and, if you would, cite the Deleuze criticism of Spinoza that you have made so miuch of. I have both books on Spinoza here, and some of his lectures. If indeed Deleuze has made a distinct improvement on Spinoza it should be found in there (since your understanding of Spinoza comes from Deleuze himself…largely).

    This really should iron it out.

  21. deontologistics Says:

    I haven’t made up the meaning of ‘formal distinction’, I am just not as familiar with its scholastic origins as you obviously are. But I’ve never ussed the notion of formality in relation to Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza, so I don’t think the incredulity is exactly called for. I’ve only been using it to describe my conception of pre-ontological understanding (which I have been applying to Spinoza and Deleuze, which is a different matter from claiming to find it in them).

    Well, as you well know, there is no substantive criticism of Spinoza in the Spinoza books. Deleuze is kinder to Spinoza than to almost any of the other philosophers he reads. However, as I noted in the original post on Deleuze, Spinoza and Univocity, Deleuze criticizes Spinoza in Difference and Repetition (pg 50 in the continuum edition). It is a slight criticism and it is not entirely elaborated on, except to say that Nietzsche is the one who thinks univocity in a manner superior to Spinoza in the eternal return. But, if you want me to quote:-

    “Nevertheless, there still remains a difference between substance and the modes: Spinoza’s substance appears independent of the modes, while the modes are dependent on substance, but as though on something other than themselves. Substance must itself be said _of_ the modes and only _of_ the modes.”

    The first sentence indicates Deleuze’s (underelaborated) criticism of Spinoza, while the second sentence indicates how Deleuze wishes to push beyond Spinoza, and the pages after this turn to Nietzsche as a way of carrying this out. My posts have been an attempt to elaborate this criticism, and to do so I have gone back to Deleuze’s main book on Spinoza and found resources in his interpretation.

    One of the arguments I gave in my first post is that if one accepts Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza as a thinker of the univocity of predication (as found in Duns Scotus), then it follows automatically that Spinoza is an onto-theologian, insofar as the point of the univocity of predication is that the ‘is’ of predication is applied in the same fashion to all beings. If it is meant to apply to Substance in the same way that it applies to modes, then by implication Substance is a being. This is a good place to locate the basis of Deleuze’s above criticism of Spinoza, as one can then see the move from Spinoza to Nietzsche as a move from a weaker univocity of predication to a stronger univocity of existence.

    You might disagree with Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza, but if you do agree with his reading of the importance of univocity in Spinoza then you must agree with the implication of onto-theology. It is then at this point that it is best to find the significance of Deleuze’s claim that “Spinoza’s substance appears independent of the modes, while the modes are dependent on substance, but as though on something other than themselves”, and on this point to establish the difference between Deleuze and Spinoza (which there must be, insofar as Deleuze sides with Nietzsche over Spinoza).

  22. If this is the entirety of the foundation upon which you claim a radical break of Deleuze from Spinoza this is very, very weak, as you quote:

    ““Nevertheless, there still remains a difference between substance and the modes: Spinoza’s substance appears independent of the modes, while the modes are dependent on substance, but as though on something other than themselves. Substance must itself be said _of_ the modes and only _of_ the modes.”

    I will tell you, that this is a misreading on Deleuze’s part as far as I am concerned. Substance is INDEED dependent upon the modes. It cannot exist or act without the modes, so the acute asymmetry is not there. (Deleuze is not always a very close reader of Spinoza, it should be noted.)

    As far as the notion of the univocality of predication, and I assume you are asking about what Spinoza himself means, internal to his philosophy, Spinoza is NOT Duns Scotus. He reads predication itself in a different way. That is to say, “a” being taken in itself doesn’t even really have “being” (it only has a degree of being, a degree of reality). So to call Substance “a” being is simply to not understand the standing “a being” has in his thinking. This is of course within Spinoza’s thinking, as you asked me to compare Spinoza to Duns Scotus.

    But really this is the biggest problem, let me just outline the problem I have here.

    1. You have gotten your knowledge of Spinoza almost exclusively from studying Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza (and not really a systematic study of him yourself) – again, this is no crime, we all have others as our gateway.

    2. Deleuze himself in the two books and multiple lectures on Spinoza does not AT ALL display the criticism that you suggest is of radical importances, while you still assert that this is a fundamental disagreement between Deleuze and Spinoza. (Oddly, you characterize the lack of criticism of Spinoza as “kindness”. In the normal world this is regularly taken to be “agreement”. Spinoza is not some old man you have to help to cross the street.)

    3. Given that you have almost no textual evidence in the near 500 pages Deleuze has written on Spinoza for this radical and important difference between Spinoza and Deleuze, you have turned to a single sentence of Deleuze’s where he presents the POSSIBILITY of a difference, ie why I likes Nietzsche in this way.

    4. Deleuze is just plain wrong on his reading of Spinoza here, as the earlier cited “God is and acts though the modes” displays. There is no separation between the two in that way. Without the modes God does not exist or act, in fact, God simply wouldn’t be God. Deleuze does have a history of over reading this idea of a distant or removed God. In particular he is also wrong, I believe in his characterization of the difference between Plotinus and Spinzoa wherein he reads “emanation” in the one and “immanence” in the other. Part of this may be because of translation problems, which I discuss here:

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/04/15/plotinus-and-the-degree-of-being-conception-ennead-v-ii-1/

    His brief characterization of Spinoza on the question of dependence seems also of this order (and because it is unsupported by any reference I can’t see the nature of his passing claim).

    5. The reason why I had incredulity over your use of the phrase “formal distinction” is that you have bandied it about as if it were some sort of self-explanatory proof of your point, but we were talking about Deleuze’s relationship to Spinoza, where the phrase has a very specific meaning. Of course you can use phrases all that you want, but the whole time I thought we were on the same vocabulary page – its a bit frustrating.

    6. So, what it really feels like is that you are taking me on a tour of some profound error that Spinoza made (but that Deleuze corrected), which is not allowed to be discussed in terms of what Spinoza said and meant, NOR what Deleuze said and meant about Spinoza in his 500 pages written. Instead we are to be extrapolating the meaning of a difference Deleuze sees between Nietzsche and Spinoza, weaving out a grand critique that somehow Deleuze forgot to mention. The only reasonable thing to say is: Perhaps you have misunderstood Deleuze’s understanding Spinoza – and I do not say this meanly. I understand that you are carrying out a creative theoretical enterprise, but there also comes a time when the philosophers being talked about have to taken as the ground of any such creativity.

    In the end, Substance does not appear independent of the modes. Substance is not Substance without modal expression.

  23. deontologistics Says:

    Where are the incredible criticisms of Kant in Deleuze’s Kant book? Or the criticisms of Bergson in his Bergson book? Despite disagreeing with them on numerous points, most ferociously in the case of Kant, these criticisms turn up in his own philosophical works rather than his commentaries. In this case the fact that there are no criticisms in the Spinoza books is hardly surprising. And I could perhaps go through the rest of Deleuze’s body of work to find further points where he expresses differences from Spinoza, but this was the first that came to mind. That being said, it is not an unsignificant one.

    What I find so bizarre about your last response is that you seem to want to have it both ways. To both admit that this is a criticism of Spinoza (and claim that it an incorrect criticism) and then to act as if this does not indicate that Deleuze saw himself as moving beyond Spinoza in any sense. You are entirely entitled to think that Deleuze’s criticism of Spinoza in D&R is wrong, and you are equally entitled to think that aspects of his reading of Spinoza in his other books are wrong in certain respects, but you can’t both claim that they are wrong and maintain that Deleuze does not distinguish himself from Spinoza in any significant way.

    Maybe I have misunderstood Deleuze’s understanding of Spinoza. It is always possible, but I don’t think you’ve given me any good reason to think so. Deleuze’s ‘kindness’ to Spinoza consists in his under-emphasizing (or explaining) of this difference between them. We are forced to reconstruct this from Deleuze’s scant remarks on the difference and his uncritical interpretation of Spinoza. I may have reconstructed this wrong, but so far I have seen you say nothing about what the difference consists in. All you have done is deny the difference, despite Deleuze’s own admission of it, and deny the importance of any other clues (including Deleuze’s endorsement of Heidegger’s ontological difference.

    Maybe I have misunderstood Spinoza himself, this is indeed more likely than my misunderstanding Deleuze’s own understanding of his relation to Spinoza. All I can do here is promise to go away and read more Spinoza. All I can say is that your defenses of Spinoza have simply refused to engage with the possibility that Spinoza could be wrong. I’ve got no problem with being pointed to specific bits of Spinoza I might have misunderstood. Some of the bits you have pointed out have been helpful. However, the your defenses seem to take one of two forms: assuming the correctness of Spinoza’s system in order to undermine an external perspective critical to it, rather than engaging with it, or undermining criticisms of specific parts of Spinoza’s own arguments by appealing to the glorious intuitions that these arguments are meant to usher us into. I find neither strategy very compelling.

    However, it seems we have reached an impass. All you can do is demand that I reach higher and higher exegetical standards (that I have no time for). And all I can do is entreat you to entertain the possibility, for the sake of argument, that Spinoza could be wrong, and thus that the justification of his position cannot take place on the basis of his own picture of the world. Neither seems to be getting us anywhere.

  24. I agree. I feel much better about our disagreement now that I know where your sources lie. I fully support your desire to be original and your theorizing, but I thought I was missing something. I will continue to think on your appropriation of Deleuze, and then again of Spinoza, but one small thing:

    DE: “Where are the incredible criticisms of Kant in Deleuze’s Kant book?”

    Kvond: You might want to consider the preface/introduction (I forgot which) where Deleuze says that he was giving Kant a monstrous ass-baby he would never want. This is not a “criticism” so much as an admition that he was attempting to distort Kant to a very great degree, as best that he could, for his own procreative purposes. This is not something at all that he attempted in his treatment of Spinoza. While his interpretation of Spinoza is not always close (for instance the way that he reads the essences or some say that affects), he to a very great degree is standing in agreement with Spinoza.

    As for the time table, Difference and Repetition was published in the same year as the Spinoza monograph (and his book on Nietzsche 6 years prior); Spinoza Practical Philosophy, then came two years after that. In otherwords the vital sentence you read as core to your argument actually was written roughly concurrent to or before the bulk of Deleuze’s treatment of Spinoza (not to mention his lectures years hence). If indeed this is was to form a radical break that he was to exact on Spinoza, it surely, and I really mean surely, would have been evident in those texts.

    But again, I fully support your creative process.

  25. deontologistics Says:

    Thanks for supporting my own creative endeavours. I wish you the best of look in your own work on Spinoza.

    To tackle your last points, I’m well aware of the timetable. I agree that it is a very significant fact that the big Spinoza book and D&R were the two halves of Deleuze’s doctoral thesis. I also agree with the fact that, whereas Deleuze is known for his very violent readings of other thinkers (trying to make them more consistent than they are, which is very evident in the Bergson and Nietzsche books), he presents a very faithful an gentle reading of Spinoza. This is part of what I meant when saying that Deleuze is kinder to Spinoza than perhaps any other thinker he talks about.

    Overall, I don’t disagree with the claim that Deleuze is closer to Spinoza than to any other thinker (even Nietzsche). I’ve made this claim myself, by saying that it perhaps best to interpret Deleuze as a modern Spinoza. However, this is not to say that there are no disagreements, or that there is no way that Deleuze takes himself to improve upon Spinoza (regardless of whether he is right or not). We must not only understand Deleuze’s similarity to Spinoza, but also how he contrasts himself to him, how he takes himself to be improving on him. And although there are perhaps scant references to this, they are there. The rest of the work is a matter of trying to interpret these references by interpreting Deleuze’s systematic metaphysics and isolating the points of divergence.

    I believe Deleuze always saw himself as a Spinozist, which explains the understated tone of his criticisms of Spinoza (compared to Kant and others), but I don’t think he saw himself as an orthodox Spinozist, which explains why there are indeed some criticisms. A similar situation is present in his relation to Bergson. He always sees himself as Bergsonian, and even though he criticises Bergson (also by appealing to Nietzsche and the eternal return) his criticisms are always friendly and somewhat understated (though perhaps not as understated as those of Spinoza).

    You are perfectly entitled to disagree with my interpretation of the difference between Deleuze and Spinoza, but I think you must be prepared to provide your own account of the difference between them, as it does seem to be there.

  26. I do have an interpretation of the difference between the two of them, but it does not constitute a radical break. I sense though that discussing it here is not productive. As I can see from your recent Badiou post, you seem to be on a kind of “Let’s find the Theist” hunt, in the way that people try to identify the “Communist” or the “Terroritst”. Badiou is an Onto-Theologist!, its not even an interesting thought even if it was true. Its just not a productive way to look at a theory, at least in my opinion.

    All the same, I look forward to your future posts.

  27. I know that this will not convince you DE, but for the record it is worth posting that Deleuze describes exactly the same imaginary relationship of number to the world and substance, as I did. I just came across this passage, for whatever it is worth:

    “Number is the correlate of the [inadequate] abstract ideas, since things are counted as members of classes, kinds and species. In this sense, number is an “aid to the imagination” (Letter 12, to Meyer). Number is itself an abstract insofar as it applies to existing modes “considered in the abstract,” apart from the way in which they follow and relate to one another. On the contrary the concrete view of Nature discovers the infinite everywhere, whereas nothing is infinite by reason of the numbers of its parts – of which an infinity of attributes is affirmed without going through 2, 3, 4 (letter 54, to Schuller), nor the existing mode, which has an infinity of parts – but it is not because of their number that there is an infinity of them (Letter 71, to Tschirnhaus). Hence, not only does the numberical distinction not apply to substance – the real distinction between attributes is never numerical – but it does not even apply adequately to the modes, because the numerical distinction expresses the nature of the mode and of the modal distinction only abstractly and only for the imagination” (46)

    Spinoza: A Practical Philosophy

    This imaginary status of “number” pretty much forecloses the argument that for Deleuze Spinoza erred in thinkiing of Substance as “a” being.

    The point is even further driven home in the same book under Deleuze’s entry on Substance comes right out and states it:

    “In return, from the standpoint of being, there is only one substance for all the attributes (and here again, the term “one” is not adequate). For if a numerical distinction is never real, conversely a real distinction is never numerical.”

    For Deleuze, Spinoza’s Substance has “complete ontological unity” without being “a” being, that is “one” being.

    Again, this is not really to open up the whole discussion, as you clearly are commited to your vision of seeing Deleuze as correcting a fault Deleuze himself saw in Spinoza (but did not write about). It is more that I stumbled across this passage while reading up on other things, and thought it worth posting for the context of our disagreement.

  28. […] my affection for Deleuze, who I consider to be the neo-Spinozan thinker par excellence (see here, here, and here), attempting to think through determinism and its principle of sufficient reason while […]

  29. […] post discusses two posts on Deleuze and the PSR by Pete Wolfendale, here and here. These posts offer detail relevant to my previous […]

  30. […] pointed out the importance of the principle of sufficient reason (PSR) to Deleuze’s thought (here and here) and I think this shows how we can understand Deleuze better by opposing him to […]

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