Deleuzian Speculative Philosophy. Thought of the Day 44.0


Deleuze’s version of speculative philosophy is the procedure of counter-effectuation or counter-actualization. In defiance of the causal laws of an actual situation, speculation experiments with the quasi-causal intensities capable of bringing about effects that have their own retro-active power. This is its political import. Leibniz already argued that all things are effects or consequences, even though they do not necessarily have a cause, since the sufficient reason of what exists always lies outside of any actual series and remains virtual. (Leibniz) With the Principle of Sufficient Reason, he thus reinvented the Stoic disjunction between the series of corporeal causes and the series of incorporeal effects. Not because he anticipated the modern bifurcation of given necessary causes (How?) and metaphysically constructed reasons (Why?), but because for him the virtuality of effects is no less real than the interaction of causes. The effect always includes its own cause, since divergent series of events (incompossible worlds) enter into relation with any particular event (in this world), while these interpenetrating series are prior to, and not limited by, actual relations of causality per se. In terms of Deleuze, cause and effect do not share the same temporality. Whereas causes relate to one another in an eternal present (Chronos), effects relate to one another in a past-future purified of the present (Aion). Taken together, these temporalities form the double structure of every event (Logic of Sense). When the night is lit up by a sudden flash of lightning, this is the effect of an intensive, metaphysical becoming that contains its own destiny, integrating a differential potentiality that is irreducible to the physical series of necessary efficient causes that nonetheless participate in it. In order for such a contingent conjugation of events to be actualized (i.e. for effects to influence causes and become individuated in a materially extended state of affairs), however, its impersonal and pre-individual presence must be trusted upon. This takes a speculative investment or amor fati that forms its precursive reason/ground. In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze refers to this will to speculate as the dark precursor which determines the path of a thunderbolt in advance but in reverse, as though intagliated by setting up a communication of difference with difference. It is therefore the differenciator of these differences or in- itself of difference. We find a paradigmatic example of this will to make a difference in William James’ The Will to Believe when he writes: We can and we may, as it were, jump with both feet off the ground into a world of which we trust the other parts to meet our jump and only so can the making of a perfected world of the pluralistic pattern ever take place. Only through our precursive trust in it can it come into being. (James) As Stengers explains, we can and do speculate each time we precursively trust in the possibility of connecting, of entering into a (partial) rapport that cannot be derived from the ground of our current, dominant premises. Or as Deleuze writes: the dark precursor is not the friend (Difference and Repetition) but rather the bad will of a traitor or enemy, since the will does not precede the presubjective cruelty of the event in its involuntariness. At the same time, however, we never jump into a vacuum. We always speculate by the milieu, since a jump in general could never be trusted: If a jump is always situated, it is because its aim is not to escape the ground in order to get access to a higher realm. The jump, connecting this ground, always this ground, with what it was alien to, has the necessity of a response. In other words, the ground must have been given the power to make itself felt as calling for new dimensions. (Stengers) Indeed, if speculative thought cannot be detached from a practical concern, Deleuze at the same time states that [t]here is no other ethic than the amor fati of philosophy. (What is Philosophy?) Speculative reasoning is thus an art of pure expression or efficacy, an art of precipitating events: an art that detects and affirms the possibility of other reasons insisting as so many virtual forces that have not yet had the chance to emerge but whose presence can be trusted upon to make a difference.

In Deleuze’s own terms, there is no such thing as pure reason, only heterogeneous processes of rationalization, of actualizing an irrational potential: There is no metaphysics, but rather a politics of being. (Deleuze) For this reason, the method of speculative philosophy is the method of dramatization. It is a method that distributes events according to a logic that conditions the order of their intelligibility. As such it belongs to what in Difference and Repetition is referred to as the proper order of reasons: differentiation-individuation-dramatisation-differenciation. A book of philosophy, Deleuze famously writes in the preface, should be in part a very particular species of detective novel, in part a kind of science fiction. On the one hand, the creation of concepts cannot be separated from a problematic milieu or stage that matters practically; on the other hand, it seeks to deterritorialize this milieu by speculating on the quasi-causal intensity of its becoming-other.

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Meillassoux’s Principle of Unreason Towards an Intuition of the Absolute In-itself. Note Quote.


The principle of reason such as it appears in philosophy is a principle of contingent reason: not only how philosophical reason concerns difference instead of identity, we but also why the Principle of Sufficient Reason can no longer be understood in terms of absolute necessity. In other words, Deleuze disconnects the Principle of Sufficient Reason from the ontotheological tradition no less than from its Heideggerian deconstruction. What remains then of Meillassoux’s criticism in After finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contigency that Deleuze no less than Hegel hypostatizes or absolutizes the correlation between thinking and being and thus brings back a vitalist version of speculative idealism through the back door?

At stake in Meillassoux’s criticism of the Principle of Sufficient Reason is a double problem: the conditions of possibility of thinking and knowing an absolute and subsequently the conditions of possibility of rational ideology critique. The first problem is primarily epistemological: how can philosophy justify scientific knowledge claims about a reality that is anterior to our relation to it and that is hence not given in the transcendental object of possible experience (the arche-fossil )? This is a problem for all post-Kantian epistemologies that hold that we can only ever know the correlate of being and thought. Instead of confronting this weak correlationist position head on, however, Meillassoux seeks a solution in the even stronger correlationist position that denies not only the knowability of the in itself, but also its very thinkability or imaginability. Simplified: if strong correlationists such as Heidegger or Wittgenstein insist on the historicity or facticity (non-necessity) of the correlation of reason and ground in order to demonstrate the impossibility of thought’s self-absolutization, then the very force of their argument, if it is not to contradict itself, implies more than they are willing to accept: the necessity of the contingency of the transcendental structure of the for itself. As a consequence, correlationism is incapable of demonstrating itself to be necessary. This is what Meillassoux calls the principle of factiality or the principle of unreason. It says that it is possible to think of two things that exist independently of thought’s relation to it: contingency as such and the principle of non-contradiction. The principle of unreason thus enables the intellectual intuition of something that is absolutely in itself, namely the absolute impossibility of a necessary being. And this in turn implies the real possibility of the completely random and unpredictable transformation of all things from one moment to the next. Logically speaking, the absolute is thus a hyperchaos or something akin to Time in which nothing is impossible, except it be necessary beings or necessary temporal experiences such as the laws of physics.

There is, moreover, nothing mysterious about this chaos. Contingency, and Meillassoux consistently refers to this as Hume’s discovery, is a purely logical and rational necessity, since without the principle of non-contradiction not even the principle of factiality would be absolute. It is thus a rational necessity that puts the Principle of Sufficient Reason out of action, since it would be irrational to claim that it is a real necessity as everything that is is devoid of any reason to be as it is. This leads Meillassoux to the surprising conclusion that [t]he Principle of Sufficient Reason is thus another name for the irrational… The refusal of the Principle of Sufficient Reason is not the refusal of reason, but the discovery of the power of chaos harboured by its fundamental principle (non-contradiction). (Meillassoux 2007: 61) The principle of factiality thus legitimates or founds the rationalist requirement that reality be perfectly amenable to conceptual comprehension at the same time that it opens up [a] world emancipated from the Principle of Sufficient Reason (Meillassoux) but founded only on that of non-contradiction.

This emancipation brings us to the practical problem Meillassoux tries to solve, namely the possibility of ideology critique. Correlationism is essentially a discourse on the limits of thought for which the deabsolutization of the Principle of Sufficient Reason marks reason’s discovery of its own essential inability to uncover an absolute. Thus if the Galilean-Copernican revolution of modern science meant the paradoxical unveiling of thought’s capacity to think what there is regardless of whether thought exists or not, then Kant’s correlationist version of the Copernican revolution was in fact a Ptolemaic counterrevolution. Since Kant and even more since Heidegger, philosophy has been adverse precisely to the speculative import of modern science as a formal, mathematical knowledge of nature. Its unintended consequence is therefore that questions of ultimate reasons have been dislocated from the domain of metaphysics into that of non-rational, fideist discourse. Philosophy has thus made the contemporary end of metaphysics complicit with the religious belief in the Principle of Sufficient Reason beyond its very thinkability. Whence Meillassoux’s counter-intuitive conclusion that the refusal of the Principle of Sufficient Reason furnishes the minimal condition for every critique of ideology, insofar as ideology cannot be identified with just any variety of deceptive representation, but is rather any form of pseudo-rationality whose aim is to establish that what exists as a matter of fact exists necessarily. In this way a speculative critique pushes skeptical rationalism’s relinquishment of the Principle of Sufficient Reason to the point where it affirms that there is nothing beneath or beyond the manifest gratuitousness of the given nothing, but the limitless and lawless power of its destruction, emergence, or persistence. Such an absolutizing even though no longer absolutist approach would be the minimal condition for every critique of ideology: to reject dogmatic metaphysics means to reject all real necessity, and a fortiori to reject the Principle of Sufficient Reason, as well as the ontological argument.

On the one hand, Deleuze’s criticism of Heidegger bears many similarities to that of Meillassoux when he redefines the Principle of Sufficient Reason in terms of contingent reason or with Nietzsche and Mallarmé: nothing rather than something such that whatever exists is a fiat in itself. His Principle of Sufficient Reason is the plastic, anarchic and nomadic principle of a superior or transcendental empiricism that teaches us a strange reason, that of the multiple, chaos and difference. On the other hand, however, the fact that Deleuze still speaks of reason should make us wary. For whereas Deleuze seeks to reunite chaotic being with systematic thought, Meillassoux revives the classical opposition between empiricism and rationalism precisely in order to attack the pre-Kantian, absolute validity of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. His argument implies a return to a non-correlationist version of Kantianism insofar as it relies on the gap between being and thought and thus upon a logic of representation that renders Deleuze’s Principle of Sufficient Reason unrecognizable, either through a concept of time, or through materialism.

Deleuzian Grounds. Thought of the Day 42.0


With difference or intensity instead of identity as the ultimate philosophical one could  arrive at the crux of Deleuze’s use of the Principle of Sufficient Reason in Difference and Repetition. At the beginning of the first chapter, he defines the quadruple yoke of conceptual representation identity, analogy, opposition, resemblance in correspondence with the four principle aspects of the Principle of Sufficient Reason: the form of the undetermined concept, the relation between ultimate determinable concepts, the relation between determinations within concepts, and the determined object of the concept itself. In other words, sufficient reason according to Deleuze is the very medium of representation, the element in which identity is conceptually determined. In itself, however, this medium or element remains different or unformed (albeit not formless): Difference is the state in which one can speak of determination as such, i.e. determination in its occurrent quality of a difference being made, or rather making itself in the sense of a unilateral distinction. It is with the event of difference that what appears to be a breakdown of representational reason is also a breakthrough of the rumbling ground as differential element of determination (or individuation). Deleuze illustrates this with an example borrowed from Nietzsche:

Instead of something distinguished from something else, imagine something which distinguishes itself and yet that from which it distinguishes itself, does not distinguish itself from it. Lightning, for example, distinguishes itself from the black sky but must also trail behind it . It is as if the ground rose to the surface without ceasing to be the ground.

Between the abyss of the indeterminate and the superficiality of the determined, there thus appears an intermediate element, a field potential or intensive depth, which perhaps in a way exceeds sufficient reason itself. This is a depth which Deleuze finds prefigured in Schelling’s and Schopenhauer’s differend conceptualization of the ground (Grund) as both ground (fond) and grounding (fondement). The ground attains an autonomous power that exceeds classical sufficient reason by including the grounding moment of sufficient reason for itself. Because this self-grounding ground remains groundless (sans-fond) in itself, however, Hegel famously ridiculed Schelling’s ground as the indeterminate night in which all cows are black. He opposed it to the surface of determined identities that are only negatively correlated to each other. By contrast, Deleuze interprets the self-grounding ground through Nietzsche’s eternal return of the same. Whereas the passive syntheses of habit (connective series) and memory (conjunctions of connective series) are the processes by which representational reason grounds itself in time, the eternal return (disjunctive synthesis of series) ungrounds (effonde) this ground by introducing the necessity of future becomings, i.e. of difference as ongoing differentiation. Far from being a denial of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, this threefold process of self-(un)grounding constitutes the positive, relational system that brings difference out of the night of the Identical, and with finer, more varied and more terrifying flashes of lightning than those of contradiction: progressivity.

The breakthrough of the ground in the process of ungrounding itself in sheer distinction-production of the multiple against the indistinguishable is what Deleuze calls violence or cruelty, as it determines being or nature in a necessary system of asymmetric relations of intensity by the acausal action of chance, like an ontological game in which the throw of the dice is the only rule or principle. But it is also the vigil, the insomnia of thought, since it is here that reason or thought achieves its highest power of determination. It becomes a pure creativity or virtuality in which no well-founded identity (God, World, Self) remains: [T]hought is that moment in which determination makes itself one, by virtue of maintaining a unilateral and precise relation to the indeterminate. Since it produces differential events without subjective or objective remainder, however, Deleuze argues that thought belongs to the pure and empty form of time, a time that is no longer subordinate to (cosmological, psychological, eternal) movement in space. Time qua form of transcendental synthesis is the ultimate ground of everything that is, reasons and acts. It is the formal element of multiple becoming, no longer in the sense of finite a priori conditioning, but in the sense of a transfinite a posteriori synthesizer: an empt interiority in ongoing formation and materialization. As Deleuze and Guattari define synthesizer in A Thousand Plateaus: The synthesizer, with its operation of consistency, has taken the place of the ground in a priori synthetic judgment: its synthesis is of the molecular and the cosmic, material and force, not form and matter, Grund and territory.

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Meillassoux, Deleuze, and the Ordinal Relation Un-Grounding Hyper-Chaos. Thought of the Day 41.0


As Heidegger demonstrates in Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, Kant limits the metaphysical hypostatization of the logical possibility of the absolute by subordinating the latter to a domain of real possibility circumscribed by reason’s relation to sensibility. In this way he turns the necessary temporal becoming of sensible intuition into the sufficient reason of the possible. Instead, the anti-Heideggerian thrust of Meillassoux’s intellectual intuition is that it absolutizes the a priori realm of pure logical possibility and disconnects the domain of mathematical intelligibility from sensibility. (Ray Brassier’s The Enigma of Realism: Robin Mackay – Collapse_ Philosophical Research and Development. Speculative Realism.) Hence the chaotic structure of his absolute time: Anything is possible. Whereas real possibility is bound to correlation and temporal becoming, logical possibility is bound only by non-contradiction. It is a pure or absolute possibility that points to a radical diachronicity of thinking and being: we can think of being without thought, but not of thought without being.

Deleuze clearly situates himself in the camp when he argues with Kant and Heidegger that time as pure auto-affection (folding) is the transcendental structure of thought. Whatever exists, in all its contingency, is grounded by the first two syntheses of time and ungrounded by the third, disjunctive synthesis in the implacable difference between past and future. For Deleuze, it is precisely the eternal return of the ordinal relation between what exists and what may exist that destroys necessity and guarantees contingency. As a transcendental empiricist, he thus agrees with the limitation of logical possibility to real possibility. On the one hand, he thus also agrees with Hume and Meillassoux that [r]eality is not the result of the laws which govern it. The law of entropy or degradation in thermodynamics, for example, is unveiled as nihilistic by Nietzsche s eternal return, since it is based on a transcendental illusion in which difference [of temperature] is the sufficient reason of change only to the extent that the change tends to negate difference. On the other hand, Meillassoux’s absolute capacity-to-be-other relative to the given (Quentin Meillassoux, Ray Brassier, Alain Badiou – After finitude: an essay on the necessity of contingency) falls away in the face of what is actual here and now. This is because although Meillassoux s hyper-chaos may be like time, it also contains a tendency to undermine or even reject the significance of time. Thus one may wonder with Jon Roffe (Time_and_Ground_A_Critique_of_Meillassou) how time, as the sheer possibility of any future or different state of affairs, can provide the (non-)ground for the realization of this state of affairs in actuality. The problem is less that Meillassoux’s contingency is highly improbable than that his ontology includes no account of actual processes of transformation or development. As Peter Hallward (Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek and Graham Harman (editors) – The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism) has noted, the abstract logical possibility of change is an empty and indeterminate postulate, completely abstracted from all experience and worldly or material affairs. For this reason, the difference between Deleuze and Meillassoux seems to come down to what is more important (rather than what is more originary): the ordinal sequences of sensible intuition or the logical lack of reason.

But for Deleuze time as the creatio ex nihilo of pure possibility is not just irrelevant in relation to real processes of chaosmosis, which are both chaotic and probabilistic, molecular and molar. Rather, because it puts the Principle of Sufficient Reason as principle of difference out of real action it is either meaningless with respecting to the real or it can only have a negative or limitative function. This is why Deleuze replaces the possible/real opposition with that of virtual/actual. Whereas conditions of possibility always relate asymmetrically and hierarchically to any real situation, the virtual as sufficient reason is no less real than the actual since it is first of all its unconditioned or unformed potential of becoming-other.

Reza Negarestani’s Ontology as Science of Cruelty and Deleuzean Excavation of the Architectonic. Thought of the Day 40.0


The problem of the principle of reason/ground is architectonic. As such it is the great theme of modern philosophy: how and where to begin? The two classical answers are provided by romanticism and enlightenment thinking. If there is a romantic side to Heidegger, as Deleuze says, then Meillassoux inherits and continues a long-standing tradition of enlightenment. Whereas the first always looks for a foundation or ground, even if it turns out be an abyss, the critical reason of the latter rabidly dismantles all grounds. Alternatively, Deleuze calls for a third answer which he calls modernism or constructivism and which always begins by the milieu (par le milieu). Instead of rising out of first principles like a tree from its roots, his metaphysics proliferates like a rhizome, never straying far from the events at the surface in a groping experimentation with the conditions of real experience. For Deleuze, the milieu is not the solid ground on which we stand, but neither is it an abyss or a void. Rather it is the fluctuating ground in which we must learn to swim. It is the element of the problematic as such, an element that matters and calls for an ethics of life. To think by the milieu means to think both without reference to a fixed ground yet also without separating thought from the forces it requires to exist. Whereas Meillassoux reinstalls the Kantian tribunal of reason and the generality of its judgments, Deleuze always emphasizes his own conditions of enunciation, i.e. the matters of concern that enable him to learn. While the anti-correlationist position is one of right, Deleuze’s own position is always one of fact.