[Update: this post was inspired by Jeff Bell’s discussion of Deleuze and the PSR over at New APPS blog. Jeff was nice enough to respond to my comments in that thread.]
Does Deleuze accept or reject the PSR? The consensus seems to be the former. This reading is certainly supported by many suggestive passages in Difference and Repetition. Nevertheless, I do have this feeling sometimes with Deleuze, that he’s reaching towards having his cake and eating it too, but not quite getting there in terms of what his position entails or permits.
Thus in the present case, we have Deleuze’s affirmation that there is a sufficient reason of all phenomena, constituted by a state or states of “infinitely doubled difference” (DR: 222). The question to ask here is how this sufficient reason compares with Spinoza’s, or indeed with Leibniz’s. I think it is pretty clear that Deleuze is not a Spinozist in any straightforward sense, though he is obviously inspired and strongly influenced by him. On the other hand, to say that there is a sufficient reason for all phenomena is arguably to deny the reality of brute contingency.
Passing between these two horns – of Spinozism and brute contingency – was already Leibniz’s problem, and later became the holy grail of post-Kantian philosophy. We should therefore not be surprised if various difficulties arise along the way.
In particular, it is not clear that a Spinozist conception of the PSR can be (as it were) surgically removed from his system and placed into another, one where substance is “said of the modes and only of the modes” (DR: 40). Stated hyperbolically, this becomes the following objection: if substance is said only of the modes, doesn’t this just mean that the PSR is false? Formulated as a dilemma: it seems that positing difference as sufficient reason is either a paradoxical way of saying that the PSR is false (i.e. that behind every putative sufficiency there is another cave (DR: 67), and another behind that, etc. so that what we end up with is really a principle of insufficient reason); or else it is a way of trying to accept the PSR as true whilst avoiding the collapse of modalities (i.e. necessitarianism) typically associated with Spinozism. I say this is a dilemma because it is not clear how the latter option is supposed to work.
Again, look at this passage (DR: 154): “If sufficient reason or the ground has a ‘twist’, this is because it relates what it grounds to that which is truly groundless.” What does the “truly groundless” amount to? Is it just another sufficient reason? Or is it that which constitutes the “twist” in any sufficient reason or ground, such that what is grounded is also at the same time ungrounded (notice the paradoxical expression), i.e. grounded but not without transformation or metamorphosis? If we disambiguate to remove the paradoxical expression, we seem to return to the dilemma above, which we can formulate as a question: does the sufficient reason determine the transformation or change, or is it rather the insufficiency of any reason, in light of the truly groundless, that allows for transformation and change?
- Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, (Columbia University Press: 1994).