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A Thesis Submitted to the School of Graduate Studies

in Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements for

the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

McMaster University © Copyright by Michael J. Bennett, August 2014

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY (2014) (Philosophy)

McMaster University

Hamilton, Ontario TITLE: Deleuze and Ancient Greek Philosophies of Nature AUTHOR: Michael James Bennett, B.A.(Hons.) (King’s College), M.A. (Western) SUPERVISOR: Professor Barry Allen NUMBER OF PAGES: vii, 273 ii Abstract Many of Gilles Deleuze’s most celebrated arguments are developed in conversation with Plato, Aristotle, Chrysippus and Epicurus. This thesis argues that ancient Stoic conceptions of causality and language and Epicurean contributions to geometry and physics are especially important to Deleuze because they significantly undergird the concepts of “event” and “problem” that characterize Deleuze’s alternative image of thought and philosophy of nature. The role of Hellenistic influences on Deleuze has been underappreciated, probably because his references are often allusive and oblique. My dissertation reconstructs and supplements Deleuze’s interpretations of these ancient Greek philosophers. I offer critical analysis and discussion of the uses to which Deleuze is trying to put them, as well as evaluations of Deleuze’s readings in light of contemporary scholarship on Greek philosophy. Specifically, I defend Deleuze’s claim that the theory of events in The Logic of Sense is derived in large part from the ancient Stoics. Despite being supplemented by a healthy dose of twentieth-century structuralism, Deleuze’s reading of the Stoics is not indefensible, especially his interpretation of incorporeal lekta as events linked by relationships of compatibility and incompatibility independent of conceptual entailment or physical causality. I also offer an entirely new evaluation of Deleuze's polemic with Aristotle’s conception of difference.

The correct understanding of Deleuze’s position has been obscured by his apparent conflation of the Aristotelian concepts of homonymy and analogy. What might otherwise seem to be a misreading of Aristotle should be read as part of an incompletely realized argument to the effect that Aristotle’s account of the core-dependent homonymy of being fails. Finally I explicate Deleuze's contention that Epicurean atomism is a “problematic Idea,” which is derived from a careful but almost entirely implicit reading of both Epicurus and Lucretius. Deleuze reads the Epicurean “swerve” as a mechanism for the self-determination of physical systems, which models the capacity of problematic ideas to provoke new lines of reasoning and alternative forms of thought. The influence of Epicureanism and Stoicism on Deleuze’s late work on meta-philosophy in What is Philosophy? accounts for the way it treats the images of nature and of thought as inextricably linked. Deleuze understands the ambition to give a joint account of nature and thought to be typical of Hellenistic philosophy.

iii Acknowledgements Barry Allen inspired this project in a graduate seminar on Deleuze and also offered incisive and invaluable feedback at every stage of the writing process. I am, I hope, more of a philosophical plain dealer under his influence.

Ric Arthur’s expertise in the history of mathematics and the history of philosophy added to the number of dimensions the work was able to traverse. The same goes for Howard Jones’ probing questions and extensive knowledge of the European intellectual tradition.

I would also like to thank professors Diane Enns, Mark Johnstone, Brigitte Sassen and Violetta Igneski for their comradeship and words of encouragement. The cheerful briskness of Kim Squissato, Daphne Kilgour and Rabia Awan also made the philosophy department at McMaster a welcoming, stress-free place.

This project was funded by a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Deleuze and Guattari say about authorship that, since each of us is several, when we write there’s always already a crowd. For me the crowd includes Russell Anderson, Jen Primmer, Amy Hondronichols, Jason D’Aoust, Adam Riggio and Tano Posteraro. They deserve thanks for their indirect intellectual contributions. Kait Pinder has been, as ever, my main intellectual mediator.

Finally, Peter inspired a few conceptual illustrations.

–  –  –

ABC L’abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze, avec Claire Parnet. Paris: DVD Editions

Montparnasse (1996, 2004). Online text, translated by Charles Stivale:


AV ‘The Actual and the Virtual.’ Trans. E. R. Albert. In Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues II. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. 148-52.

–  –  –

CC Essays Critical and Clinical. Trans. Michael A. Greco and Daniel W. Smith.

Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

D Dialogues (with Claire Parnet). Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam.

New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.

DI Desert Islands and Other Texts 1953-1974. Ed. David Lapoujade. Trans. Michael Taormina. New York: Semiotexte, 2004.

–  –  –

K Kant’s Critical Philosophy. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam.

Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.

–  –  –

Works by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari AO Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983.

TP A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi.

Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

–  –  –

S.E. PH Sextus Empiricus, Purrhoneioi hupotuposeis (‘Outlines of Pyrrhonism’). Ed.

Immanuel Bekker. Berlin, 1842. Translated as Outlines of Scepticism by J.

Annas and J. Barnes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

SVF Stoicorum Veterorum Fragmenta. Ed. H. von Arnim. Leipzig: Teubner, 1903-05.

–  –  –

G ILLES DELEUZE’S APPROPRIATION of concepts from ancient Greek philosophy informs what we might call his philosophy of nature. The three chapters of this dissertation examine Deleuze’s readings of the Stoics, Aristotle, and the Epicureans, respectively. Although for the most part I let Deleuze’s discussions dictate my focus, rather than forcing my analyses to conform to a preestablished plan, nevertheless thematic tendencies can be detected in each section: I examine Deleuze’s reading of the Stoics preeminently in terms of logic; his reading of Aristotle in terms of metaphysics and biology; and the Epicureans in terms of physics and geometry. From each of these sections I also extract one characteristically Deleuzian concept as a vector for elucidating Deleuze’s philosophy of nature: from Deleuze’s reading of Stoicism the concept of event; from the reading of Aristotle, difference; and from the reading of Epicurus, problem. The three chapters of my dissertation are relatively independent to the extent that they each explicate a different key Deleuzian concept in the context of different ancient references, but they tell an interconnected story. I conclude that event, difference, and problem are three terminological vectors according to which Deleuze develops the renewed philosophical conception of nature that he promised toward the end of his career. I characterize Deleuze’s philosophical conception of nature as synthetic and paratactic, terms which I leave unexplained for now. While interpreters of Deleuze today are keen to understand Deleuze’s philosophy of difference in terms of events and problems, the role of these Hellenistic influences on Deleuze has been underappreciated, probably because Deleuze’s references are often allusive rather than explicit. My dissertation corrects this omission.

Deleuze approached the Greeks obliquely but many of his most important arguments are developed in conversation with Plato, Aristotle, Chrysippus and Epicurus. Deleuze’s references betray a classical erudition that is usually just implicit, relegated to footnotes or allusions. As far as I know, there has been no sustained study of Deleuze’s engagement with ancient Greek philosophy, either in English or French. Generally speaking, Deleuze’s appreciative readings of the Stoics are remarkably well supported by contemporary scholarship and seem even to anticipate later interpretations. Deleuze’s remarks about Aristotle, on the other hand, are polemical and more difficult to square with recent mainstream interpretations, especially since Deleuze appears to

Ph. D. Thesis – M. Bennett; McMaster University – Philosophy

conflate Aristotle’s doctrines of analogy and homonymy. Finally, Deleuze’s reading of Epicureanism is more idiosyncratic than his reading of either the Stoics or Aristotle, in the sense that it is most closely bound up with the development of particularly Deleuzian metaphysical notions, such as the reality of the virtual.

By way of introducing what follows, I will describe Deleuze’s ambivalent approach to the history of philosophy in general and what is unique about his approach to ancient Greek philosophy in particular.


Gilles Deleuze wrote several monographs in the history of philosophy: books on Hume (1953), Nietzsche (1962), Kant (1963) Bergson (1966), two books on Spinoza (1968 and 1970) and one on Leibniz (1988). He wrote the majority of these books before his major independent philosophical works, Difference and Repetition (1968) and The Logic of Sense (1969), and also before his collaborations with Félix Guattari: Anti-Oedipus (1972), A Thousand Plateaus (1980) and What is Philosophy? (1991). It looks as if Deleuze wrote his works in the history of philosophy before turning to write in his own voice, in propria persona. Readers of Deleuze have been interested in various aspects of his approach to the history of philosophy. Some have emphasized Deleuze’s “apprenticeship” in the history of philosophy (Hardt 1993), and others the way in which he has the philosophers on whom he writes speak in “free indirect discourse” such that it becomes difficult to dissociate commentator and subject, to isolate when it is Deleuze and when it is, for example, Bergson speaking (Alliez 2004, Antonioli 1999, Boundas 1996). Still others have suggested that the eight-year period of silence between Deleuze’s book on Hume and his book on Nietzsche is a period of germination in which his later “mature” ideas took shape (Hardt 1993, Dosse 2010). There has been a lot of scholarly interest in Deleuze’s work in the history of philosophy.

Deleuze never wrote a book on ancient Greek philosophy, nor on any particular ancient Greek philosopher or school. This does not mean, however, that ancient Greek philosophy held no interest for him. Far from it. Detailed readings of Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics and the Epicureans appear in Deleuze’s mature works, especially Difference and Repetition, The Logic of Sense, A Thousand Plateaus, and What is Philosophy?, the works to which I pay closest attention. The fact that Deleuze seldom wrote directly on the ancient Greeks, and never in book-length form, suggests, I believe, an important difference between how he approached the Greeks and how he approached,

Ph. D. Thesis – M. Bennett; McMaster University – Philosophy

for example, Nietzsche, Spinoza and Bergson—the triumvirate with whom Deleuze is most commonly linked. Those philosophers on whom Deleuze wrote his historical studies are the subjects of portraits. The ancient Greeks are what Deleuze calls mediators.

Deleuze compared writing in the history of philosophy to doing intellectual portraiture a

number of times:

The history of philosophy isn’t a particularly reflective discipline. It’s rather like portraiture in painting. Producing mental, conceptual portraits. As in painting, you have to create a likeness, but in a different material: the likeness is something you have to produce, rather than a way of reproducing anything (which comes down to just repeating what a philosopher said). (N 135-36) You have to do this work on the history of philosophy, it’s a work of humility. You have to paint portraits for a long time. (ABC, quoted in Dosse 2010, 108) Such a method certainly involves its own kind of creativity (Antonioli 1999, Boundas 1996).

Deleuze’s refrain is that philosophers—even those doing the history of philosophy—are “creative, not reflective” (N 122). Doing portraiture is never a simple matter of reproduction or representation.

Just as portraiture is not always the meticulous photorealistic depiction of a subject, but amplifies or takes artistic license with certain features, so also working in the history of philosophy is not just ventriloquizing what another has said, but involves a lot of original thinking (a fact of which scholars working on the medieval commentators on Aristotle are well aware:

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