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Deleuze's Empiricism and Subjectivity

Lecturer: Jon Roffe

Originally Taught: Summer School 2014

The philosophy of David Hume, despite its avowed influence on a wide range of thinkers, including (famously) Immanuel Kant, is hardly visible in the contemporary landscape of philosophy. This is true in miniature in the reception of the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze. Deleuze counts Hume as an important influence, writing his first book Empiricism and Subjectivity (published when he was 28) on the latter's work. This book is however rarely treated to the attention it deserves, which hampers not only our understanding of his philosophy, but also means that a potential point of intersection between Deleuze's thought and Anglo-American thought has yet to be properly explored.

The goal of this course is to explicate the argument of Empiricism and Subjectivity, which presents an inclusive account of Hume's thought in its many aspects, oriented by the conjecture that for Hume the central concern is not the epistemological one often associated with him (namely, the rejection of any direct knowledge about causal relations), but a question about the constitution of the human mind: how is the subject constituted inside the given?

The course will be framed at the most general level by the pair Hume-Kant. On the one hand – the starting point of these lectures – we will contrast the extremely narrow portrait of Hume that Kant introduces in the Critique of Pure Reason, one that has remained central for almost every consideration of Hume since (whether more traditional or 'continental') with Deleuze's expansive reading. On the other, we will conclude the course by considering the quite marked Kantian character of Deleuze's reconstruction.

Course Schedule

Week 1: Beyond Kant's Hume/The central problematic of Deleuze's reading from the point of view of knowledge
Week 2: Ethics, general rules, institutions
Week 3: The role of the imagination
Week 4: The empiricist subject and empiricist philosophy
Week 5: Reconstruction from the point of view of the central problem of empiricism/A Kantian Hume

Recommended reading

On Hume, a good overall introduction can be found on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (  ). In addition to Empiricism and Subjectivity, Deleuze published another short introduction, simply called 'Hume', which can be found in two different collections of texts, Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life and Desert Islands and Other Texts. Since the focus of this course will be Empiricism and Subjectivity, the readings provided during the class will all be extracts from this work.

Level of Difficulty

Intermediate. Some general knowledge of Hume's philosophy will be an advantage, as will a general sense of the Kantian revolution that followed in its wake, however neither will be assumed. As is always the case with Deleuze, the difficulty of the material derives from the speed and precision with which he manages to address important issues.