Friday, September 14, 2007

The Primacy of the Passions

A discussion with Nick about his thesis got me thinking about a connection between Deleuzean ontology and praxiology. In chapter six of Empiricism and Subjectivity Deleuze develops an argument that would lend itself to a praxiological understanding of the relation between possibility and reality.

A couple of preliminary remarks are in order. Deleuze wants to establish what empiricism really means. He says, "the question 'how does the subject constitute itself within the given?' means 'how does the imagination become a faculty?' According to Hume, the imagination becomes a faculty insofar as a law of the reproduction of representations or a synthesis of reproduction is constituted as the result of first principles" (p. 110). The principles are of course the principles of association and the principles of the passions. The human mind, according to Hume, with respect to the principles of the passions, can be likened it to a string instrument that reverbates after the string has been struck, rather than a wind instrument that exhausts itself with the exhaustion of the breath. "The imagination is extreme quick and agile, but the passions are slow and restive." Now I'm going to rush by Deleuze's analysis, and skip right to the argument for the primacy of the passions.

[T]he relations find their direction and their sense in the passion; association presupposes projects, goals, intentions, occasions, an entire practical life and affectivity. Given particular circumstances and the needs of the moment, the passions are capable of replacing the principles of association in their primary role, and of assuming their selective role. They are capable because the principles do not select impressions of sensation without having already been submitted by themselves to the necessities of practical life, and to the most general and most constant needs. In brief, the principles of the passions are absolutely primary. Between association and the passions we find the same relation that we also find between the possible and the real, once we admit that the real precedes the possible. Association gives the subject a possible structure, but only the passions can give it being and existence. In its relation to the passions, the association finds its sense and its destiny. . . .Hume often talks about a critique of relations; he presents in fact a theory of of the understanding as a critique of relations. Actually, it is not the relation which is subject to the critique, but rather representation. Hume shows that representation cannot be a criterion for the relations. Relations are not the object of a representation, but the means of an activity. The same critique, which takes the relation away from representation, gives it back to practice.

(p. 120, Deleuze's emphasis, my bold)

The analysis of the passions in terms of first principles is problematic for me. Quite possibly passions are raw and unprincipled. And if the principles presuppose an "entire practical life," I want to ask "Whose life?" I want to regard the practical life–I am uncertain about its entirety– as prior to any principles. It looks like we have competing claims for primacy: life, practice, passions, principles, the real, and, my concern, the person (which is not to be conflated with the subject, though we can try to imagine a subject more or less in keeping with the person). This is my niggling question about Deleuze's empiricism. I always want to ask "Whose faculty?" "Whose passions?" "Whose principles?" and "Whose Mind?" and in each case it seems the question is more or less appropriate. A personalistic philosophy may be compatable with a praxiology in many ways. I am still undecided about Deleuzean ontology and how this can be reconciled with my sense of being a person, or my sense of living a practical life.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:38 AM.


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