Gilles Deleuze: Hume and the Problem of the Self

Are we not, then, at this point capable of solving the problem of the self, by giving a sense to Hume’s hope?

– Gilles Deleuze, Empricism and Subjectivity

In a previous post we were left with another question by Deleuze: “We do not really understand how we can move from dispositions to the self, or from the subject to the self. How can the subject and the mind, in the last analysis, be one and the same inside the self? The self must be both a collection of ideas and a disposition, mind and subject. It is a synthesis, which is incomprehensible, since it ties together in its notion, without ever reconciling them, origin and qualification.”(31)

As we see in the above we have dispositions, subject, and self: three terms in relation that is both one and two, origin and qualification, source and reflection – a double issue unresolved by the theory of passions and the theory of knowledge of which Hume aware of this difficulty would work through certain general rules to provide a distinct answer to the problem posed. As Deleuze states it we are capable of stating what the idea of subjectivity is: the “subject is not a quality but rather a qualification of a collection of ideas” (64). It is not a particularized or determinate quality of the mind but an “impression of reflection” (26). It’s not a fixed substance but a tendency or disposition that affects the imagination. “To say that imagination is affected by principles amounts to saying that a given collection [of ideas] is qualified as a partial, actual subject” (64). He continues:

The idea of subjectivity is from then on the reflection of the affection in the imagination and the general rule itself. The idea is no longer here the object of a thought or the quality of a thing; it is not representational. It is a governing principle, a schema, a rule of construction. Transcending the partiality of the subject whose idea it is, the idea of subjectivity includes within each collection under consideration the principle and the rule of a possible agreement between subjects. Thus, the problem of the self, insoluble at the level of the understanding finds, uniquely within culture, a moral and political solution.(64)

He reminds us that in the original question we came to the conclusion that there could be no reconciliation at the level of origin and affection because there is a great difference between “principles and fancy” (64). But what is possible is the constitution of the self as a “synthesis of the affection and its reflection, the synthesis of affection which fixes the imagination and of an imagination which reflects the affection” (64). This reflexive movement of synthesis is an intervention or cut in time and its extension in historical reflection upon that cut or splice in time. It is this gap between two intervals, the time of intervention and the time of reflection between affection marked and affection reflected that produces the sense or synthesis of self. The self is this process of a double reflection. Neither form nor substance the self is the gap or cut between two modalities that is resolved not at the level of understanding but within the moral and political domain of culture. Neither intentional nor directed the self becomes a synthetic unity brought into play by the mind’s own innate processes, and yet these very processes cannot be reduced to the physical manifestations of the brain itself which is both origin and qualifier of the mind’s reflexive nature. It is the general rules of culture manifested in morals and politics which harbor the solution to this movement between knowledge and passion as reflected in the self as a collection of ideas.

1. Gilles Deleuze. Empiricism and Subjectivity An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature. trans. by Constantin V. Boundas (Columbia University Press, 1991)

6 thoughts on “Gilles Deleuze: Hume and the Problem of the Self

  1. Pingback: Gilles Deleuze: Hume and Subjectivity | noir realism

  2. “This reflexive movement of synthesis is an intervention or cut in time and its extension in historical reflection upon that cut or splice in time. It is this gap between two intervals, the time of intervention and the time of reflection between affection marked and affection reflected that produces the sense or synthesis of self. The self is this process of a double reflection. Neither form nor substance the self is the gap or cut between two modalities that is resolved not at the level of understanding but within the moral and political domain of culture. Neither intentional nor directed the self becomes a synthetic unity brought into play by the mind’s own innate processes, and yet these very processes cannot be reduced to the physical manifestations of the brain itself which is both origin and qualifier of the mind’s reflexive nature.”

    What ‘gap’? I just don’t see what motivates the distinction into two modalities here. If ‘reflection’ is affection (and what else would it be?), then what makes it different than any other kind of affection? Why should affection working the trace of previous affections give rise to anything so exotic as ‘cuts’ and ‘gaps’ and ‘irreducible entities’? Why not simply yet another affection, this one dispositionally prone to yelp, ‘Me-me-me!’

    As soon as that particular affection subsides, the self subsides with it, as it does in sleep.

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    • You say: “Why not simply yet another affection, this one dispositionally prone to yelp, ‘Me-me-me!’”

      Ok, if we take the standard definition of the term “affection” as: attraction, infatuation, or fondness – a “disposition or rare state of mind or body”. And, a disposition as a habit, a preparation, a state of readiness, or a tendency to act in a specified way.

      Applying this in the Humean context that the self is nothing more than a “collection of ideas” would mean that subjectivity is nothing more than the disposition or tendency toward differing states of mind or body. Then in your view the sense of self is nothing more than these states, and once these states subside our distinct feeling of the “self” subsides with them? Right? In this sense we are both in agreement. The only part I was trying to establish is a need to know what if any is the relation between the reflection of the affection in the imagination and the general rule itself. These cannot be unified, so therefore there is an intervention that marks out a boundary between these two, yes? What would you term this boundary? Or would such notions for you be non-plussed (i.e., non-essential in our understanding of the ways in which affections relate and or related or disposed)?

      Further as Hume himself states it:

      Actions are, by their very nature, temporary and perishing; and where they proceed not from some cause in the character and disposition of the person who performed them, they can neither redound to his honour, if good; nor infamy, if evil. The actions themselves may be blameable; they may be contrary to all the rules of morality and religion: But the person is not answerable for them; and as they proceeded from nothing in him, that is durable and constant, . . . it is impossible he can, upon their account, become the object of punishment or vengeance. – from An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

      This implies as you suggest that dispositions are pre-conscious and temporary manifestations, intrinsic properties of the affections, rather than extrinsic causal powers attached to the actions themselves. So once these manifestations subside the supposed attachment to self vanishes with them, which is why for Hume the self could not be blamed for its actions sense he was blind to the dispositions in the first place (he wouldn’t have said it like that of course).

      Rather than allowing for the possibility of causation by active powers within a framework of mechanistic causes— as his predecessors Locke and Newton had done—Hume aimed to call into doubt the representational contents of a wide range of ideas of powers. He thus sought to undermine the physicists’ knowledge claims about the nature of physical forces as well as the libertarians’ knowledge claims about the causal power of a free will. This epistemological project was crucial to his reform of Descartes’s and Locke’s respective theories of ideas, a reform which was directed at their accounts of the representational contents of ideas, especially their accounts of how an idea can represent a causal power. He conceived of his rejection of causal powers as a rejection of the conceptual content of those Cartesian or Lockean ideas that purported to represent powers as intrinsic properties of certain kinds of objects, such as the ideas of the causal powers of the human will and God’s will.

      Here the role of disposition is a non-representational functional role definable in either of two ways: ( a) It is what determines the observer’s mind to form the idea of an effect after having the idea of its cause; or (b) It is what determines the observer’s mind to form a more lively idea of an effect after having the impression of its cause. This function demarcates certain regular starting points and end points in what would otherwise be indeterminate sequences of impressions and ideas in an observer’s mind. It’s this demarcation of the effect I’m calling the boundary marker, cut, splice, etc. between these sequences of impressions and ideas in the reflective apparatus of the mind.

      this is turning into another post… I’ll work that up and make a post…

      ——————-
      Not that I agree the one’s below but to show the other side of the debate:

      Another angle is the neo-Humean regularity theories and relations-between-universals theory of David Malet Armstrong, Fred Dretske, and Michael Tooley.

      Armstrong rejects dispositionalism, the idea that dispositional properties (or powers as they are sometimes referred to) are ontologically significant and have an important role in explaining laws of nature. Armstrong believes that the challenge that dispositionalism presents for his account of laws of nature is not in the case of manifested dispositions (say, a glass dropping on the ground and breaking) but unmanifested dispositions (the fact that counter factually if one were to drop the glass on the ground, it would break). Armstrong simply states that the disposition is simply in the nature of the instantiated properties of the thing which is supposed to have the disposition.

      Dretske held externalist views about the mind, and thus he tried in various writings to show that by means of mere introspection one actually learns about his or her own mind less than might be expected. Within the context of the philosophy of mind, externalism is the theory that the contents of at least some of one’s mental states are dependent in part on their relationship to the external world or one’s environment.

      The traditional discussion on externalism was centered around the semantic aspect of mental content. This is by no means the only meaning of externalism now. Externalism is now a broad collection of philosophical views considering all aspects of mental content and activity. There are various form of externalism that consider either the content or the vehicles of the mind or both. Furthermore, externalism could be limited to cognition, or it could address broader issues of consciousness.

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      • You threw the book at me! 😉

        The self is probably just a tag that our brain applies to itself on certain occasions (such as in this very sentence!). It’s functionally bound into superordinate social mechanisms in way that have yet to be determined. I think you can read Hume as buying into a proto-version of this. It’s (what I took to be) Deleuze’s argument I’m arguing against.

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      • Haha… that’s the problem of kindle… I can search the whole of Hume now… don’t you love technology, or at least some of its fringe benefits…

        Yea, I was actually trying to see what Hume was saying across his combined works… was interesting search.

        Yea, I’m not sure that was exactly Deleuze’s argument as it was my pulling Hume and Deleuze together in a muddle of notions… 😉 Probably doing a disservice to both…

        What’s more interesting to me is how we can use the heuristic tools of Analytic or Continental philosophy and somehow naturalize them as you’ve mentioned before… more and more I’m understanding what this post-intentional perspective is entailing. Yet, it’s a two-edged sword: because like all things it can be used for good or ill. And, looking at some of our private and governmental institutions a lot of what is going on is fairly scary for supposed democratic societies ( if we can still call them that). With these new Convergence technologies founded on NBIC technologies there is a strange world ahead… these ethicists don’t see a clear path forward since as usual governments are like bureaucratic leviathans living in the 19th Century rather than in the accelerating worlds of science that capitalism is riding like a chrome surfer on mercury…

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  3. Pingback: R. Scott Bakker: Why not simply yet another affection, this one dispositionally prone to yelp, ‘Me-me-me!’ | noir realism

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