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«Gilles Deleuze and A W Moore: non-human constructivism or anthropocentric narrative in metaphysics1 [Draft of December 2014] Abstract In this paper I ...»

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Draft of paper given at symposium on A W Moore'sThe Evolution of Modern Metaphysics, Oxford, May 2013

Gilles Deleuze and A W Moore: non-human constructivism or anthropocentric narrative in

metaphysics1 [Draft of December 2014]


In this paper I argue against A W Moore’s claim that metaphysics needs to be anthropocentric. The

arguments will be based on Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy. The point is to explain why his metaphysics

has an ambiguous position in Moore’s work on the history of metaphysics. The main focus of the argument is to question the grounds for the necessity of an anthropocentric aspect on the basis of Deleuze’s arguments for discontinuous change in conceptual frames. The paper will also raise points about different ways of thinking about the danger of metaphysics in relation to anthropocentrism and in relation to the opposition between Deleuze and Moore. I will conclude with some suggestions, based on Deleuze’s work on Foucault, as to why the anthropocentric aspect might be a bad choice, once it is shown to lack necessity.

Introduction: the ends of anthropocentrism Despite their well-known dispute over the respective importance of pleasure and desire in explaining drives, Michel Foucault had a long-lasting influence on Gilles Deleuze. (Deleuze 2003a, Deleuze 2003b) I draw attention to this connection in order to make some initial remarks in the discussion of Moore’s appeal to anthropocentric necessity in his account of the evolution of modern metaphysics, a study which culminates in an ambivalent yet also generous and perceptive interpretation of Deleuze’s philosophy. The remarks are pointers to the context and reach of the opposition between Moore and Deleuze.

First, Deleuze and Foucault’s disagreement can be seen as a proxy for a longer debate over the legacy of figures from the history of philosophy. I will claim that the connection between interpretation and contemporary debates is also implied by Moore’s work on Deleuze. It is not only Moore’s reading of Deleuze that is in play, but also Moore’s interpretations of historical and recent figures.

Second, following the idea of the ends of metaphysics, in the sense of aims, the opposition between Deleuze and Moore is anything but a mere quarrel in the history of ideas. In distinctive ways they are both moral philosophers, in the wide sense of seeking philosophical directions for moral and political questions. Like Sartre, another strong influence on Deleuze, or like Bernard Williams, perhaps the most resonant moral voice in Moore’s book, both philosophers situate the moral and political aim, the search to live well together, right at the heart of what many see as the most


and I am grateful to Michael Wheeler and Todd Mei for their very helpful comments on earlier versions of this article. I am also grateful to the audience and to A W Moore for helpful questions and remarks on a shorter version of this paper at the Oxford Symposium on Moore’s The Evolution of Modern Metaphysics in May 2013.

disengaged of philosophical pursuits. For them, metaphysics is not only preparation for lived action.

Metaphysics is already lived action in its ideas and their consequences.

Just as an unreasonable treaty sets the way towards future conflict, the preliminary moves of metaphysical modelling, and the later arguments over the validity, power, truth and consistency of those moves, have direct implications for engagement with the world. Moore’s distance from Deleuze, after many points of convergence, is therefore no detached exercise but rather the careful identification and dissection of moral and political divergence. So which features of each metaphysical system lead to far-reaching disagreements around values and action?

The appeal to metaphysical systems leads to my third remark. It could be claimed that Moore’s book is a work of philosophical history, with an angle and sets of interpretations certainly, but nonetheless history rather than novel system-making. On this point, my study follows from Deleuze’s approach to Foucault and from Deleuze’s other studies of philosophers, scientists and novelists. A line of thought does not have to name itself as metaphysics or even bear recognised marks of metaphysical system-building to be such a system, indeed sometimes it is exactly the opposite. Moore is doing metaphysics, not history.

Deleuze is interested in presupposed and implied systems of thought. Following his preferred methodological move of disjunctive synthesis he divides and yet also merges two types. On the one hand, he names the well-formed and common sense versions of such metaphysical contexts ‘images of thought’. (Deleuze 1968) These are the emergent consensus of post-philosophical common sense, for instance around the self-evidence of a set of rights or the compelling nature of a set of intuitions.

On the other hand, when writing on Foucault, Deleuze advocated dynamic and intense metaphysical processes, creative maps for future thought, philosophical diagrams which change and disturb the way we think: ‘Foucault’s oeuvre reconnects to the great works that have changed what thinking signifies for us.’ (Deleuze 1986, 128) This allows for a first stab at the definition of Deleuze’s constructivism. It is to build a metaphysical system through a series of concepts which maximise the dynamic explanatory and transformative power of metaphysics while resisting an inevitable decay into images of thought. It is a construction between dynamic process and stasis which combines an explanation of the real and an attempt to transform it. Deleuze and Guattari worked closely on this idea when writing What is Philosophy? This can be seen in their concern to show how philosophical concepts must take account of history, as a condition for philosophy, yet also work outside history in order to change it: ‘But becoming is the concept itself. It is born in history, and falls back to it, but is not of it.’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1991, 106) Moore’s judgements about evolution in metaphysics lend greater weight to innovation rather than conservation. Conservative and inflexible aspects of philosophical systems are frequently the focus for his critical remarks in favour of novelty: ‘The significant issue – here yet again as in Wittgenstein – is not what metaphysical rationale there is for correcting the use to which we put the concepts we already have, but what metaphysical rationale there may be for having new concepts.’ (Moore 2012, 367-8) This commitment to innovation sets the scene for the ambiguous stance towards Deleuze, because he takes evolution too far from Moore’s principles around humanistic orientation in metaphysics.

Critical questions for Deleuze’s metaphysics then follow from Moore’s demand for anthropocentric narrative. These matter all the more because Moore’s ambivalence towards Deleuze isn’t resolved in The Evolution of Modern Metaphysics: Making Sense of Things. Instead, the clash with Deleuze becomes an entry point for the anthropocentric conclusion to the book. So which features of Deleuze’s metaphysics push Moore into this major opposition and concluding statement of principle?

My final remark reverses this question and addresses it in a different way to Moore. In his book on Foucault, Deleuze develops a long and difficult study of the limits of, forces around and end of the idea ‘Man’. Foucault’s genealogy and archaeology underpin the argument that the human appears at a specific time in philosophy and other disciplines. He speculates that it is on the verge of disappearing: ‘The archaeology of thought shows easily that man is a recent invention. Perhaps it also shows that this invention is close to an end.’ (Foucault 1966, 398) The human is not a disinterested basis for philosophical investigation. It is the locus for an exercise of forces shaping worlds and ideas. In the ‘Annexe’ to Deleuze’s Foucault, Foucault’s statement about the invention of man becomes the following claim by Deleuze: ‘Man [l’Homme] has not always existed, and will not always exist.’ (Deleuze 1986, 131) How then does Deleuze’s philosophy lead to a critique of Moore’s choice of anthropocentrism, on the basis of the historicity of the idea of ‘Man’ and of the forces involved in shaping and acting upon it?

Moore’s anthropocentrism

The main passage from Moore I will address first is on page 603 of The Evolution of Modern Metaphysics; two pages from the end. It follows critical points made against ‘natural-scientific sensemaking’ and more broadly against empirical and scientific types of sense-making, as set out for instance by Hume and by Collingwood in relation to an empirical science of history. For Moore, metaphysics is not a science of man. This determines a distinction between kinds of ‘humanistic aspect’, between the humanistic in sciences and as metaphysical practice.

The distinction can be understood in two complementary ways. First, it is about where different disciplines situate the humanistic aspect. For the empirical sciences, it is the human as the object of scientific study. The sciences are anthropocentric through their field but remain scientific in method.

For metaphysics, it is about making sense as human, where the human is the subject of an activity as well as its product. Metaphysics is anthropocentric in its approach because the human is selfconsciously forged and questioned in metaphysical sense-making. The significant feature of this distinction is therefore between the reflexive and creative aspect of metaphysics and the transitive and empirical aspect of the sciences.

Second, the distinction is driven by the most important question of Moore’s book, the question of ‘who ‘we’ are?’ (2012, 603) This question directs the activity of metaphysics as sense-making. We can ask the question ‘What is the human?’ where the question is posed by sciences about an external field. We can also ask a question creatively and self-critically. Who are the ‘we’ of metaphysical sense-making and who shall ‘we’ be? The human is created alongside an assessment of the human in past and current metaphysics. The quotes around ‘we’ are therefore pivotal for Moore’s argument. They emphasise the direction of the enquiry: back on those asking the question.

They also put the ‘we’ in question and thereby condition the enquiry as an open-ended and collective sense-making.

Moore’s use of ‘anthropocentric’ and ‘we’, rather than ‘human’, ‘human subject’ or ‘Man’, gives his position reflexive openness in the direction and character of enquiry. It avoids predetermined essences, conclusive theories, or even dominant hypotheses. The ‘we’ remains work to be done through the activity of sense-making. Moore’s ‘humanistic’ describes an orientation rather than the stronger creed and set of norms implied by ‘humanist’, ‘humanism’ and ‘anthropocentrism’.

An established definition of the human involves fixity, even if temporary, which leads to accusations of exclusions or dogmatism, for example in the dominance of male over female in historical definitions of human qualities (Man), or in the insistence on independence from the animal realm (rational animal). Moore avoids metaphysical presuppositions for his anthropocentrism, since his thinly and provisionally defined ‘we’ avoids metaphysically loaded terms such as ‘subject’ and ‘human’. Nonetheless, the positive use of anthropocentric still draws Moore away from Deleuze’s intellectual environment in French post-structuralism.

When a major colloquium was organised in 1980 around Jacques Derrida’s work, the theme was a critique of anthropocentrism through the idea of ‘the ends of man’. The directors of the Cerisy colloquium, Jean-Luc Nancy and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, introduced it thus: ‘Such a question, the question of ends – with the questioning of humanism, or more precisely of anthropocentrism that it implies – has a precise provenance far anterior to our times (which does not mean to our “epoch”).

This is the question of destination, of the Bestimmung of man, as articulated in Idealism or just as well in Hölderlin starting from Kant.’ (Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe 1981, 12) Anthropocentrism is an historical problem for metaphysics. It implies questions about the destination or destiny of man.

The underlying concern is to address the potential for violence in appeals to the ends of man. This worry is political and moral around the history of destiny, purpose and destination as used to justify violent exclusions and persecutions. Can anthropocentrism avoid ideas of the ends and destinies of some humans to the exclusion of others? The worry is also around the relation of man to animals and to nature. Can anthropocentrism avoid privileging humans above other animals and nature once the ends of man become the destiny of the world? When Derrida deconstructs ideas of the human in Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger he notes they were committed to a critique of human essences, properties and predicates. However, they also returned to them in new versions of humanism.

Anthropocentrism exhibits the violent potential of metaphysical thought because it can justify exclusion and violent behaviour towards the non-human. Historically, the non-human has included groups we now consider fully human. Some of our most fierce current debates are still around the boundaries of human life and species. We should therefore question every anthropocentrism. What are its definitions of the human? Where might they lead? Do they invoke new ideas of human destiny and exceptional status? Should we have done with them for that reason?

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