On ‘The Image of Thought’

A chapter on the emergence of subjectivity (after the heavy history of philosophy of ‘Difference in Itself’)

Remember the motor of Deleuze’s writing is investigating what is the nature of thinking.

Objective misrecognition of difference (history of philosophy) vs the subjective (implicit presuppositions) that shape how we think the world. There are two senses of this dogmatic image: natural and philosophical.

Natural = the set of presuppositions: ‘Everybody knows that…’ the image of thought is in play. Habitual ways of thinking that tend to cliche the world = theater of thinking/the image of thought.

Philosophical = an attack on doxa, cliche, myth, superstition but philosophers have also bought into these cliches at a second, higher level. Philosopher erect from mistakes, everyday slippages to recreate as presuppositions/principle, a rule for thinking as such. Philosophers do this as well, but their second order is extrapolation cloaked within the trappings of a specific language that masks their presuppositions.

We would do better to ask what is a subjective or implicit presupposition: it has the form of ‘Everybody knows…’. Everybody knows, in a pre-philosophical and pre-conceptual manner… everybody knows what it means to think and to be. . . . As a result, when the philosopher says ‘I think therefore I am’, he can assume that the universality of his premises – namely, what it means to be and to think… – will be implicitly understood, and that no one can deny that to doubt is to think, and to think is to be… Everybody knows, no one can deny, is the form of representation and the discourse of the representative. p.130

Genetic character:

  • explain the genesis of the philosophical errors via extrapolation from natural presuppositions. Real meaning of philosophical critique is a critique of tracing.
  • explain the genesis of the natural dogmatic image of thought of the basis of the nature of thinking itself.

Kant: how do we explain how it is that Leibniz came to think as he did? What were his presuppositions? How would we trace this?

Thought does not have a form, a set of quintessential elements that we can lay out.

It would find its difference or its true beginning, not in an agreement with the pre-philosophical Image but in a rigorous struggle against this Image, which it would denounce as non-philosophical. As a result, it would discover its authentic repetition in a thought without Image, even at the cost of the greatest destructions and the greatest demoralisations, and a philosophical obstinacy with no ally but paradox, one which would have to renounce both the form of representation and the element of common sense. As though thought could begin to think, and continually begin again, only when liberated from the Image and its postulates. p.132

The philosopher has to play the role of the idiot, of being uncertain.

On the contrary, it is a question of someone – if only one – with the necessary modesty not managing to know what everybody knows, and modestly denying what everybody is supposed to recognise. Someone who neither allows himself to be represented nor wishes to represent anything. Not an individual endowed with good will and a natural capacity for thought, but an individual full of ill will who does not manage to think, either naturally or conceptually. Only such an individual is without  presuppositions. Only such an individual effectively begins and effectively repeats. For this individual the subjective presuppositions are no less prejudices than the objective presuppositions. p.130

Eight postulates of the image of thought*. Postulates are not propositions, they are “propositional themes that remind implicit and are understood in a pre-philosophical manner” p.131

  1. The Postulate of the Principle, or the Cogitatio natural universalis: (The good will of the thinker and the good nature of thought.) Postulate 1: The element of the thought, the good will of the thinker and the good nature of thought. Thought naturally seeks the truth. Belief that everyone can think, and it is natural to think. This is a natural postulate. (False)
  2. The Postulate of the Ideal, or Common Sense: (Common sense as the concordia facultatum and good sense as the distribution that guarantees this accord.) Postulate 2 of common sense: the harmonious activity of faculties in thought. Indebted to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. a) capacity (powers) in thought b) plural and different in kind remembering, speaking, knowing, understanding etc c) together constitutive of experience and knowledge (recognition) d) necessarily in relation to an encounter with reality that knowledge comes to be. (False)
  3. The Postulate of the Model, or of Recognition: (Recognition presupposes the harmonious exercise of our faculties on an object that is supposedly identical for each of these faculties, and the consequent possibility of error in the distribution when one faculty confuses one of its objects with a different object of another faculty.)
  4. The Postulate of the Element, or Representation: (Difference is subordinated to the complementary dimensions of the Same and the Similar, the Analogous and the Opposed.) Counter-Postulate of Involuntary Thought/Fourth postulate: the element of representation – Differential theory of the faculties – The discordant functioning of the faculties: the violence and limits of each – Ambiguity of Platonism – Thinking: its genesis in thought
    • Thought happens in us because something happens to us. Something in the world forces us to think.”

All truths of that kind are hypothetical, since they presuppose all that is in question and are incapable of giving birth in thought to the act of thinking. In fact, concepts only ever designate possibilities. They lack the claws of absolute necessity – in other words, of an original violence inflicted upon thought; the claws of a strangeness or an enmity which alone would awaken thought from its natural stupor or eternal possibility: there is only involuntary thought, aroused but constrained within thought, and all the more absolutely necessary for being born, illegitimately, of fortuitousness in the world. Thought is primarily trespass and violence, the enemy, and nothing presupposes philosophy: everything begins with misosophy. Do not count upon thought to ensure the relative necessity of what it thinks. Rather, count upon the contingency of an encounter with that which forces thought to raise up and educate the absolute necessity of an act of thought or a passion to think.” p.139

“Something in the world forces us to think. This something is an object not of recognition but of a fundamental encounter. What is encountered may be Socrates, a temple or a demon. It may be grasped in a range of affective tones: wonder, love, hatred, suffering. In whichever tone, its primary characteristic is that it can only be sensed. In this sense it is opposed to recognition. In recognition, the sensible is not at all that which can only be sensed, but that which bears directly upon the senses in an object which can be recalled, imagined or conceived.” p.139

  • The first faculty…
  • faculties in their transcendent-transcendental operation. Thought is a shock. It is monomaniacal rather than harmonious. It cannot be characterised as recognition, because we can’t recognise the world. Kant was the first to provide an example of the ‘discordant harmony’ between the faculties p.146. It manages to push around the other faculties, another shock to other ways of thinking. e) the genesis of the faculties, how is it that a certain capacity fro thought arise in the first place.
  1. The Postulate of the Negative, or of Error: (Error expresses everything that can go wrong in thought, but only as a product of external ) Only extrinsic factors can result in ‘wrong’ thoughts -> Descartes Kant=reason itself wanders off the path, nothing stops it doing this illusion is always available for thought.
    • Two locations in D&R (not the same stupidity)
      • The true form of the negative in thought: thought’s absence
      • as thought’s original state: thought has no nature, but begins through a sensible encounter of shock.
    • Madness
  2. The Postulate of the Logical Function, or the Proposition: (Designation or Denotation [theory of reference] is taken to be the locus of truth, sense being no more than a neutralized double or the infinite doubling of the proposition.) Sixth postulate: the privilege of designation – Sense and proposition – The paradoxes of sense – Sense and problem –
    • in propositional terms (according to the image), though is propositional in nature: S is P
    • Questions are taken as inversions of propositions: Is S P?
    • the proposed essential solvability of questions…
    • true and false are defined in terms of…
    • This image of thought structures our relation to society.
  1. The Postulate of the Modality, or Solutions: (Problems are materially traced from propositions, or are formally defined by the possibility of their being solved.)
  2. The Postulate of the End or the Result, or the Postulate of Knowledge: (The subordination of learning to knowledge, and of culture [or paideia] to method.)
    • There is a natural method for proceeding to truth. BUT
    • There is no such thing as method, thought is socially formed. Thinking is organized socio-politically.
    • What is the status of learning? Is learning the passage from non-knowledge to knowledge? No. It is not a voluntary act. We are apprentices, every shock that we encounter. The apprenticeship is never finished. We can’t think about learning to think as passing from one lesser state to a more advanced sense. Genuine learning is an encounter with problems that grip us.


* I am indebted to this post by John Protevi that helped me organize these postulates as the lecture by Jon Roffe moved very quickly. His notes are well worth a read.