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.