- Deleuze's Hume: Philosophy, Culture and the Scottish Enlightenment
Gilles Deleuze always described his philosophy as empiricist, traced some of his philosophical inheritance back to Hume, and wrote about Hume's philosophy early in his career. The original French version of Empiricism and Subjectivity appeared in 1953. In that book we encounter familiar Humean themes and concepts, but the way Deleuze deploys them is rather less familiar. Deleuze's empiricism is not an epistemological enquiry, but a transcendental one. He is concerned with the conditions that make possible experience as it actually is, in contrast with a Kantian enquiry into the possibility of any experience, and, again unlike Kant, he does not assume any a priori unity of the subject of experience as already given. Indeed the starting position for his enquiry assumes no forms of identity as already given. What is given is to be thought of as a multiplicity, but not as a set of determinate entitities. For Deleuze determinate entities always emerge by some process from a pure multiplicity. Actual entities with their specific identities and their specific relations and differences are constructed from a multiplicity of pure difference. What makes it possible that a determinate subject of experience is constructed within the given multiplicity is the question of transcendental empiricism. Deleuze read Hume as anticipating this question, and that is why he regarded him as a predecessor, and described himself as a Humean.
Jeffery A. Bell has set himself an ambitious task. One aim is to help us to read Hume as Deleuze did, to become acquainted with the Deleuzian Hume. This he does sometimes by elucidating what Deleuze says about Hume's questions, and sometimes he does it by suggesting how Deleuze's reading can be extended to some of the well-known interpretative puzzles in Hume which Deleuze did not directly address, or addressed very briefly. In doing this Bell also explains pretty clearly some of the major aspects of Deleuze's philosophy, and this means that his book will serve as an introduction to Deleuze for readers who know Hume well, but are either unfamiliar with or are deterred by the arsenal of concepts and terminology Deleuze invented. A second and larger aim of the book is to illustrate and defend a particular reading of Deleuze's philosophy in general, a reading which Bell sees as broadly Humean (in the Deleuzian Hume sense), and so to contribute to a picture of the Humean Deleuze. A substantial part of the book is thus concerned with recent interpretations and criticisms of Deleuze. Bell makes a strong case for his readings, often showing along the way how they emerge from his account of the Deleuzian Hume, which contributes to the overall unity of the book. Indeed, [End Page 246] I think his book is especially worth reading for his discussions of Deleuze in a wide context. However, reviewing the book in this journal I think it appropriate to concentrate on Bell's Deleuzian Hume, rather than his Humean Deleuze which is actually the main focus of the book.
Bell writes as a Deleuzian, and as such he does not take Hume and Deleuze as given philosophical identities between which to trace relations. Rather he sets out to think of Hume AND Deleuze, that is, of a sort of border territory, a space of problems, from which arise the distinct identities of both philosophers. For Deleuze, what the history of philosophy is about is invention, the creation of concepts. Philosophers invent concepts, which are actual ideas emerging from problems which are to be thought of as indeterminate but determinable in different ways. The problem contains concepts virtually, but actual concepts are inventions that cannot be reduced to the conditions of their invention. Deleuze reads Hume as thinking and inventing in a way which shows that he shares with him, Deleuze, a problem: how can something be created which is new, which arises from a given but indeterminate collection and yet which cannot be reduced to...