deleuze’s hume (the ‘science fiction writer’)

July 26, 2011 § Leave a comment


(…from an engraving of David Hume from his the history of England Vol. I (1754) modified with Gilles Deleuze’s quote.)

Hume’s empiricism is not a rationalism. With empirical thinking we are looking to how we know things away from the a priori & instead we have chosen to look at what can be known via experiences & the senses. For Deleuze’s Hume we’ll know that “…empiricism has always harbored other secrets.” (PI/35)* This is a “science fiction universe.” (PI/35) As with science fiction we are presented with an alternative world that is also presumed to be the world as it can be. Science is indeed a way to know something & to know it, it must be an inquiry. The inquiry is looking into the ways that empiricism legitimizes itself in the “seemingly fictive world that empiricism describes…” (PI/36) So, we’ll agree with Deleuze to see that empiricism starts off as matter of associations. Not only an association of things as we know & experience them, but also as things working together & how actions causally move together. This is a disciplined practice of relations.

Once we’ve established the way we understand the world empirically, we can then see Deleuze’s Hume as knowing the difference between the relational world & the world of terms that surround & try to explain all this. This kind of difference is a point to be explained . With rationalism we might be tricked into assuming that this idea of relationships is already embedded in our terms of understanding, enough to ignore them. This might also be done with rationalism looking for another more definitive set of terms that wishes to explain a relationship with things that are internal. Empiricism is not looking for these internal relationships, it is instead looking for “… the exteriority of relations.” (PI/37) But, this can, as Deleuze says, be absorbed by the fact that these relations do start in the mind as knowledge & ideas. This problem is resolved by externalizing the terms & ideas from the relations, where we’ll have a view of our relations & a view to our knowledgeable relation to the terms that are applied to such empiricism.

The empirical world is “…a world in which thought itself exists in a fundamental relationship with the outside…” (PI/38) This is the difference between the ‘and’ of the way we combine things, that is replacing the ‘is’ that wishes to define everything as coming from an a priori source of knowing. This is a world of combinations, exchanges, interactions, interferences & so on. Deleuze explains that Hume’s thought is doubled-up with the ‘atomism’ of thinking that is applied to every minutiae of time & space, that is then combined an ‘associationism’ that understands this atomism as a relation to the terms of experience. “On the one hand, a physics of the mind, on the other, a logic of relations.” (PI/38) Now, we’re officially away from a place that’s all about judging & away from looking inward, to then take notice of a world that’s about conjunctive thinking.

Relations are the impressions we have of our environment & not completely knowing what is “…presently given…” (PI/39) The impression I have of something doesn’t always match up to the thing given. This too will relate to the way ‘I’ rely on knowing this thing, this chair for example, as we become accustomed & habituated to a view of what that chair is. We cannot, as Deleuze explains Hume, look to a reason for such things, it is futile to pin-point why the mind is habituated into looking for a reason for everything, other than sheer habit. “The relation is itself the effect of so-called principles of association, contiguity, resemblance causality, all of which constitute a human nature.” (PI/39) Again, we’re not looking into an a priori permanence. Human nature can be said to be the way in which are passing through these ideas. Hence, Hume’s work is to alleviate the notions of self, god & the world. If these relations, impressions are human nature, then what of that? The importance is to be found in the effects of the causes, since “…[this is] the way relations function as effects of those causes & the practical conditioning of this functioning.” (PI/39) With Deleuze’s Hume, causality is to see clearly that it is the idea that is presented with something that has not been given, We already will have had  a previous experience & so causality can have us believe that the sun will shine tomorrow, as it probably will, yet such an occurrence has not happened in actual fact, as it is something that is always in the future, that is our causal relationship to be. This kind of belief is where knowledge starts for Hume, as we ‘know’ the sun will shine. Causality has to ‘know’ enough to go outside of experience to a future effect that has not occurred. Because of this, human nature’s habit is to confer knowledge onto belief so that an effect will be something we can work with wholeheartedly & with knowledge.  The fusion of experience we have of something happening is brought together in the imagination as this habit & the observable experience as known from our past causal dealings. This is how, through Deleuze’s Hume, we’ll envision relation as a key part, if not the whole, of causality & human nature.

(Madrid’s Deleuze on Hume handwritten notes)

The human mind traverses ideas in an organized way & it works in a fantastical way that privileges randomness. Human nature is such that it’ll apply strictures & boundaries to flights of fancy—an ordering of randomness. We have  the imagination that has the capacity to merge these fictions as viable products of the mind. Metaphor, although unreal to a particular situation, can allow us to see a relationship that might not have been clear before & this too is going beyond actual experience to admire a repetitive fiction of causal effects through language—the language of metaphor. This can be enough to learn from & to enjoy, as in the arts of poetry, song, education &c. Fiction allows itself to not be tamed & subdued by nature, instead it is comfortable going beyond all this to form newer fantasies. Deleuze’s Hume is not for a concept of error “…we are not threatened by error, rather much worse, we bathe in delirium.” (PI/43) For Deleuze this is “…a great displacement in philosophy…” (PI/42) Even a fictive causality can work to mediate fantasies along with human nature, while still maintaining an illusion “But the illusion is considerably worse when it belongs to human nature…” (PI/43) A real mediation isn’t always performed on the actual illusions, delusions & ‘incorrigible’ disbeliefs. Self-satisfied belief believes its own way of deluded knowing. These things have to do with human nature too, indeed an organizing of half-baked ideas “…where no fiction can be corrected, but where each instead plunges into other fictions.” (PI/43) As we know, Hume was known to be an atheist & these views that show the expanse of human nature, also speak to his views on religion, from which he was trying to work out of. Certainly, there is an observation of Hume’s that suggests that beliefs can be in opposition to the principles of human nature. “Modern skepticism is based on the status of relations & their exteriority.” (PI/44) We have with skepticism, belief as the base for knowledge & we have skepticism’s knowing the difference between knowledge & that which is working against knowledge’s flights of fancy. Skepticism too, in Hume’s context is delegitimizing the self, world & god. Thus, this is the reaching to our fullest of our legitimate beliefs & to our lowest misunderstood beliefs. Therefore, Deleuze shows that “For if everything is belief, including knowledge, everything is a question of desire of belief, even the delirium of non-knowledge.” (PI/44)

At this point, we’ll try to see openly that an inquiry into knowledge leads us through the thickets of imagination & human nature. This is only a start & not the whole story with Hume. Passions guide our associations & the relationships we attach to those associations have their seat with the passions. All of this is combined with with human nature to the find our inclinations. The passions, however, must not be seen as the associations we make, as the two are distinct from each other. The passions have control of the priorities we place on things. But, this passion can require a tempering of the ego, whereas, it is assumed that the ego cannot run wild in civilized society. The ego can’t, as it is believed, go unchecked & must thereby open itself to other views from where a social contract can grow. This is one view, whereas Hume’s has to do with an idea that we’re governed by ‘partiality’ & not always an overbearing egoism. This partiality is what should really be called into check “…how to pass from a ‘limited’ sympathy [partiality] to an ‘extended generosity,’ how to stretch passions & give them an extension they don’t already have.” (PI/46) This is how the partialities need to get beyond themselves to create something other than the artifice of a social contract. The passionate artifice is to be embraced rather than the strict opposing of the ego. Hume’s position is the encouragement of artifice to foster growth, invention & new ways of thinking differently than before—a break from tradition.

(Madrid’s Deleuze on Hume handwritten notes)

Deleuze illustrates again that when human nature & knowledge restricts the ‘illegitimacy’ of fantastical beliefs, we’ll have to know better than to always restrict the passions in this way. The proposition can then be a matter of extending the possibilities of the passions into an artificial enhancement that will open up beyond the boring limitations of human nature. “In short, it is up to the imagination to reflect passion, to make it resonate & go beyond the limits of its natural partiality & presentness.” (PI/48) Art is about extending the passions to inspire new relationships. The reverberations of the effects of artistic creation extend the possible into the future. Human imagination can create great kitsch & easy, shallow reflections of the imagination, as the imagination can also create a fantastical artifice that’ll teach & enliven future generations. With all of this, we’ll still be forced to reckon with customs governance, taste, tradition & yes, beliefs. These institutions & mindsets sanction credibility. “resemblance, contiguity causality…” (PI/49) all work with knowledge & human nature to manage ‘reflected sentiments’.

Again back to the relationships Hume was showing, as Deleuze tells us “the principles of association find their true sense in a casuistry of relations that works out the details of the world’s culture & law” (PI/51) Then we’ll be sure to see that Hume’s philosophy is about relations & perhaps we’ll be so bold to imagine that the same kind of relation applies to Deleuze’s philosophy. … & yes, these are the relations that are before ideas.

Aurelio Madrid

*(PI/00): Deleuze, Gilles. “Hume.” Pure Immanence: Essays on Life. Trans. Anne Boyman, New York: Zone Books, 2001, pp. 35-52.


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