Friday, July 15, 2011

Guest Post: Alice Pittet on Deleuze

By good fortune, I recently became acquainted with Ms. Pittet through, who is working on Deleuze in conversation with both contemporary French and classical pragmatist/Americanist thought.  I found it especially interesting since it is pro-pragmatist/Americanist and contra Meillassoux.  While I can speak for the pragmatist side, I let it to my readers whom I know to be more familiar with Meillassoux.  After some conversation, she agreed to send the English-language abstract of what is roughly a master's thesis (Masters 2/Bac+5)--the educational levels of the US system are not equivalent after high school.    I invite her and the readers to discuss this, knowing that Deleuze, Meillassoux, and process metaphysics are of high interest. Below is her translation, and you should feel free to converse in English or French, although my grasp of l'argot is limited.

Empiricism and metaphysics in the work of Gilles Deleuze:
A semiotics of Idea

The aim of my work is to consider the renewal of metaphysics in particular through the work of Gilles Deleuze. The main contribution of my memory is to show that the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze is not an overflow or a deconstruction of metaphysics, or a new form of Platonism, but a renewal of metaphysics by American and English empiricism. We support that the metaphysics of Deleuze opens a third way or a new challenge for contemporary metaphysics: this metaphysics is neither a "multiple Platonism" could defend it Alain Badiou, nor a scientific metaphysics or an overflow of the Kantian criticism as argues Claudine Tiercelin. In reality, the metaphysical issue of Gilles Deleuze is less the return of the absolute both Platonic and Kantian than a discovery of a new form of metaphysical absolute, absolute immanent, empirical and concrete. Unlike Quentin Meillassoux, we do not believe that the current metaphysical issue was taking place in a possible return to the absolute, considered a limit by "corélationnistes" philosophies, but in the reform of the absolute paradigm, reform undertaken by the English empiricist and Americans such as Whitehead, Peirce and William James. Our work is positioned against two interpretations of the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze: an anti-metaphysician interpretation and an interpretation that aims to make the metaphysics of Deleuze a “conversly” of Platonism.
If there is a metaphysical absolute in the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, Deleuze calls "Idea". But we will show that this "Idea" is a reversal of the metaphysical idealism (Platonic and German idealism) by what Deleuze calls, like Jean Wahl, a "transcendental empiricism" and inherits from the English idealism especially Peirce and Whitehead. The main thesis of our work is to show that the concept of “transcendental empiricism” implies a reversal of metaphysical idealism that we will try to trace the history from Plato to Kant, and that inherits especially of the semiotics of Peirce and Whitehead’s idealism. Idea is not an essence or substance, but a concrete and cosmological entity that requires two types of processes or experiences for its construction: a mental process because Idea is considered "differential" of the thinking, and a semiotic processes since each empirical sign suggests and envelopes an Idea. We will establish a classification of all of the signs which suggest, in other words a semiotics of Idea.


  1. And now I take the privilege of the first question. Funny how that happens...

    Ms. Pittet, being a curious pragmatist scholar, I ask what you have to say about the "reform of the absolute paradigm" by such as James, Pierce, etc. That is, what reform do you think is needed, and what do you think the pragmatist/americanist school has offered?

    I ask these questions in the spirit of curious and mutual understanding, that we can learn from each other, and not because I have any specific views to impart on the matter.

  2. I want to thank Jason Hills for this discussion and criticism, which gives me the opportunity to deepen my work and to compare it to other points of view, especially for people like you who are specialists of the pragmatists. If in France, many academics have concealments for this exercise, I find it particularly rewarding. As you say, we have much to learn: I have a "Deleuzian" on Peirce look that I want to compare with your American look.

    To answer your question absolutely central and goes to the heart of my work, I would say that I consider the reform of the paradigm of the absolute with the point of view of a philosopher who has been very important in France because he introduced the American philosophy and English in France and which has much influence in Gilles Deleuze: Jean Wahl. Jean Wahl wrote a great text and which is entitled " a renewal of metaphysics is possible". Jean Wahl, in fact, operates a huge conceptual shift: he is not seeking a renewal of metaphysics is possible opposite the linguistic turn of Wittgenstein or overrun by Heidegger, but by mobilizing a criticism of the possible of Bergson, he asked rather what current philosophy (we are in 1950) is to renew the contemporary metaphysics. In relying on the philosophy of Whitehead and James, it identifies the renewal in a paradigm shift: for him, the metaphysics is passed from a paradigm of the substance, of being (Plato, Aristotle and even Kant) to the paradigme of the event and the process.

    I use this concept of "renewal" and "paradigm shift" own to j. Wahl to confront in the metaphysics of Gilles Deleuze. J. Wahl has been Gilles Deleuze Professor for many years, and has so much influenced it, and claims in some writings this filiation. In The words of G. Deleuze himself: it is not sensitive to the death of metaphysics or the overflow because metaphysics is that change of paradigm. The philosophy of Gilles Deleuze proposes to turn a renewal of metaphysics. I support the following position that can criticize: transcendental empiricism, concept that Deleuze resumed at j. Wahl, is not reducible to the triad Spinoza-Niesche and Bergson, it involves a conversion of the transcendental by empiricism and it tends to overlook the important influences of Peirce and Whitehead in the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze.

    For example, to directly answer your question the reform of the absolute in the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze occurs from the idealism of the pragmatists like James, Peirce and Whitehead. Empiricism and pragmatism does not condamn the absolute, but proposes a reversal of the metaphysical idealism of Plato and Kant. This reversal is not a "death" of idealism. It is from this point of view I understand the absolute: from idealism. This was also the case of Meillassoux who has dedicated many courses at the ENS ULM on idealism. Or Mr Meillassoux (at least it is my view), as Badiou, considers that only the Platonism can confer a exists in the absolute (realism of the idea). It is as he harshly attacked the Kantian and the idealism of Hume that reduce the absolute and the idea to an impression of reflection (Hume) or in the transcendent that it cannot know (kant). Thus, the idealistic corrélationisme would abandon the absolute. But, I think that transcendental empiricism that brings together all of the empiricist idealism (James, Whitehead and Peirce) including Hume, sets a new absolute and a new metaphysical issue against Plato: the idea is built by thinking but it is no less real. Is a real, concrete, cosmological entity. The absolute is not only Platonic.

  3. Je remercie Jason Hills pour cette entreprise de discussion et de critique, ce qui m’offre l’occasion d’approfondir mon travail et de le confronter à d’autres points de vue, en particulier à des personnes comme vous qui êtes spécialistes des pragmatistes. Si en France, beaucoup d’universitaires ont d’énomes réticences devant cet exercice, je trouve cela particulièrement enrichissant. Comme vous le dites, nous avons beaucoup à apprendre : j’ai un regard « deleuzien » sur Peirce que j’aimerais confronter avec votre regard américain.

    Pour répondre à votre question absolument central et qui va au cœur de mon travail, je dirais que j’envisage la réforme du paradigme de l’absolu du point de vue d’un philosophe qui a été très important en France puisque c’est lui qui a introduit la philosophie américaine et anglaise en France et qui a beaucoup influence Gilles Deleuze : Jean Wahl. Jean Wahl a écrit un grand texte qu’il a déféndu devant la Société Française de Philosophie et qui s’intitule « Un renouvellement de la métaphysique est-il possible ». Jean Wahl, en réalité, opère un déplacement conceptuel énorme : il ne se demande pas si un renouvellement de la métaphysique est possible devant le tournant linguistique de Wittgenstein ou devant le dépassement entrepris par Heidegger, mais en mobilisant une critique du possible de Bergson, il se demande plutôt quelle philosophie actuelle (nous sommes en 1950) est entrain de renouveller la métaphysique contemporaine. En s’appuyant sur la philosophie de Whitehead et de James, il identifie ce renouvellement dans un changement de paradigme : pour lui, la métaphysique est passé d’un paradigme de la substance, de l’être et de l’essence (Platon, Aristote et même Kant) à celui du devenir, de l’évènement et du processus.
    J’utilise cette notion de « renouvellement » et de « changement de paradigme » propre à J. Wahl pour les confronter à la métaphysique de Gilles Deleuze. J. Wahl a été le professeur de Gilles Deleuze pendant de nombreuses années, il l’a donc beaucoup influencé et revendique dans certains écrits cette filiation. Comme le dit G. Deleuze lui-même : il n’est pas sensible à la mort de la métaphysique ou à son dépassement car la métaphysique ne fait que changer de paradigme. La philosophie de Gilles Deleuze propose à son tour un renouvellement de la métaphysique. Je défends la position suivante que l’on peut critiquer : l’empirisme transcendantal, concept que Deleuze reprend à J. Wahl, n’est pas réductible à la triade Spinoza_Niesche et Bergson, il implique une conversion du transcendantal par l’empirisme et l’on a tendance à négliger les influences importantes de Peirce et de Whitehead dans la philosophie de Gilles Deleuze.
    Ainsi, pour répondre directement à votre question la réforme de l’absolu dans la philosophie de Gilles Deleuze s’opère à partir de l’idéalisme des pragmatistes comme James, Peirce et Whitehead. L’empirisme et le pragmatisme ne condamne pas l’absolu, mais propose un renversement de l’idéalisme métaphysique à la fois de Platon et de Kant. Ce renversement n’est pas une « mort » de l’idéalisme. C’est de ce point de vue que je comprends l’absolu : à partir de l’idéalisme. C’est d’ailleurs aussi le cas de Meillassoux qui a consacré de nombreux cours à l’ENS ULM sur l’idéalisme. Or Monsieur Meillassoux (du moins c’est mon avis), comme Badiou, considère que seul le platonisme peut conférer une existe à l’absolu (réalisme de l’Idée) . C’est ainsi qu’il attaque durement le kantisme et l’idéalisme de Hume qui réduisent l’absolu et l’Idée à une impression de réfléxion (Hume) ou à une transcendance qu’on ne peut penser (kant). Ainsi le corrélationisme idéaliste aurait abandonner l’absolu. Or je pense que l’empirisme transcendantal qui regroupe l’ensemble de l’idéalisme empiriste (James, Whitehead, Peirce) y compris Hume, définit un nouvel absolu et un nouvel enjeu métaphysique contre Platon : l’Idée est construite par la pensée mais elle n’en est pas moins réelle. C’est une entité réelle, concrète, cosmologique. L’absolu n’est pas seulement platonicien.

  4. Response to Pittet

    Thank you to both Ms. Pittet and Mr. Hills for the post and the comments. I come to this discussion primarily as a scholar of Chinese philosophy, so please forgive my questions if they address points already well-known to readers of Deluze.

    This second post actually addresses one of the concerns I had from reading the original post, which is the degree to which retaining usage of the term metaphysics is either helpful or harmful: does the attempt to rehabilitate the term generate more problems than it ultimately solves? But this is a general question, and as I said, I think Ms. Pittet's second post provides some ideas as to why this is an important rehabilitation.

    Based on that, however, I wonder at a possible tension that may be encountered in the works of both Ms. Pittet and Mr. Hills. In seeking to elevate the importance of transcendental empiricism in understanding Deluze, I think it begs the larger question about the role of transcendence in transcendental empiricism. What metaphysical structures are required in by empirical idealism, and do these inadvertently direct thought back towards older, more problematic understandings of metaphysics?

    I can provide a possible alternative example from Buddhism. Buddhism proposes a radical empiricism that begins with no further assumptions of anything other than the current moment of experience, which, from experience, is momentary. From this observation further assumptions are made, which in classical Theravada leads to observation of the skandas, the genesis of desire, and the perpetuation of suffering. All of these might best be regarded as emergent models of personhood and consciousness. Instead of invoking a transcendence, however, Buddhism invokes Enlightenment, or nirvana, which is actually NOT a transcendence, but simply a letting go or "putting out" of desire. There are multiple ways of interpreting this, but even in classical Theravada this involves mindfulness, which again occurs in an empirical context.

    So, a hypothetical question - can one have transcendence without assumed metaphysical structures, and if not, then to what degree are those metaphysical structures posited by necessity versus posited by observation? And if posited through observation, why continue to use the term metaphysical?

  5. Ms. Pittet,

    Thank you for such a thorough and professional response, as well as the clearness of your writing (en francais). I will be responding to your French text, which I note is not identical to the translation, as translations rarely are.

    Bergson had an enormous influence on James and Dewey, and possibly Peirce--my biographic knowledge is less with him--and that is a good marker of the historic departure of pragmatism from traditional metaphysics, although it is neither the only nor the first departure. It is with us, as you say, a shift in paradigms.

    I would not associate pragmatism with idealism, although I admit that compared to contemporary anglo-american philosophy it appears such. The terms "speculative realism" and Whitehead's "speculative rationalism" are better, although classical pragmatist scholars might find this controversial. The problem of names begins precisely in the paradigm shift that you mention.

    I have read a few articles by Meillasoux, and I must admit that I do not understand this move to the "absolute" (l'absolu). What is the absolute and what is it? I have the suspicion that this is a point of disagreement between pragmatism and Meillasoux, whereas the former has a specific theory of truth that may not be held in common and may therefore complicate comparisons. Moreover, please do explain the existence of the absolute or realism of the idea ("le platonism peur conferer une existe a labsolu (realisme de l'Idee)")?

    Moreover, know that the role of idealism, especially Hegel, in John Dewey is especially controversial. My friend James Good is the foremost Hegel-Dewey scholar and has been fighting over this for some time. I mention this to be more concrete about the delicacy of connecting idealism with pragmatism, especially Dewey, although I think it apt. I'm in a vast minority position, however. Aside, I don't think this point affects your project.

    In case you are not aware of the American philosophy and English language distinctions, "pragmatism" usually refers to James, Dewey, and Peirce primarily, whereas Whitehead follows closely under the wider designation "American." Tertiary to this would be work such as Gabriel Marcel. It's a minor point, but I thought it would be helpful to point out as Whitehead would not be called a "pragmatist" by pragmatist scholars, although many know him as well. This would instantly cause confusion in English-language circles.

    Final thought for now. What you (Meillassoux?) refer to as the "absolute" sounds like what we Americanist would call "realism" (what is implicated by it). "Realism" within the context of Peirce is not anglo-American's realism; see my previous posts on causality that should look alien to any from that quarter. It includes the reality of generals (derived from scholastic realism), multiple modalities of being, the embrace of some form of teleology, the equiprimordiality of time and chance/possibility with actuality and existence, etc. So, what is the comparison of this realism with the absolutism of Meillassoux? I would say more about what I'm referring to in pragmatism, esp. Peirce, but perhaps you're already familiar with that issue. If not, I can explain as it is at the heart of my own research, whereas I would agree that the idea constructed by thought is not less real, but is a real entity, concrete and cosmic (paraphrase).

  6. Carl,

    Thank you for posting.

    As you likely know from my own work, I refer to "immanent transcendence," which gets to the question. Phenomenologically speaking, such moments appear to be transcendence, the overcoming of limitation and transformation of experience, but metaphysically speaking, they are not. What is transcended is one's own momentary limitations, and this the movement of transcendence is largely a temporal affair. See Heidgger on self-transcendence--it's one of his earlier essays and I forget which one, but I can look it up.

    Also, from a pragmatist stance, there are various ways to do metaphysics that are all quite distinct from traditional or contemporary anglo-american varieties. The two most common are the speculative realism/rationalism of Peirce or Whitehead that are abductive forms of argumentation, and the descriptive-pragmatic metaphysics of Dewey. Dewey's does not rely heavily on abduction, but on finding the "generic traits of existence" in various non-reductive empirical manners.

    In direct answer to your question about transcendence, yes. But in my case, transcendence means something different from the traditional model, which meant "not bound by natural law and its causal necessity." Read that quotation within a modern european context to get the sense that I mean. However, we might quibble on whether emergent naturalism qua emergence implies transcendence.

    Carl, a question back at you. It is frequently alleged that classical Buddhism "metaphysicalizes" experience, and thus your implication that Buddhism doesn't do metaphysics is highly questionable. Response? I know that there are various schools, so being more concrete about who does and does not do that would be part of an answer.


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