Thresholds of Consciousness: Leibniz-Maimon-Deleuze

I couldn’t agree more with Jon’s claim in his excellent summary of chapter 2 of Maimon’s Essay that “everything follows from the material in chapter 2.” Bringing in the contemporary debates regarding the ‘myth of the given’ and the Kripkenstein paradox was particularly helpful in illuminating the central concerns of Maimon’s chapter. I got a lot out of reading Jon’s post. As I read through chapter 2 I hadn’t thought of the Wittgenstein-Kripke rule-following paradox, but instead kept thinking of Donald Davidson, and for much the same reason Jon turns to the Kripkenstein paradox (assuming I understood Jon correctly). Just as the central problem in the Kripkenstein case is to raise the problem of determining whether or not one is applying a rule correctly, similarly for Davidson it is a question of differentiating between what one takes to be true and what is true. How do we come upon this difference? Davidson’s solution follows a similar path to Wittgenstein and Kripke; namely, one knows they are applying the rules correctly when one does what others expect them to do (“you’ve got it, continue on in the same way,” as Wittgenstein put it), and others similarly do what one would expect them to do in relevantly similar circumstances. What intrigues me about Davidson’s approach, especially as I tend to read it through a lens shaped by Deleuze and Hume, is the emphasis Davidson gives to shared agreement as the basis upon which one can subsequently differentiate between true and false, agreement and disagreement. As Davidson puts it in his essay, “Seeing through Language,” “Before there can be learning there must be unlearned modes of generalization. Before there can be language there must be shared modes of generalization.” In short, before there can be language and before there can be the capacity to differentiate between taking something to be the case and its being the case, there are unlearned and shared ‘modes of generalization.’

Maimon seems to strike much the same chord in chapter two of his Essay. Before there can be an object of intuition, and hence the rules we then apply to them, there must first be ‘unlearned modes of generalization,’ or a passive synthesis (to use Deleuze’s term). Maimon does not use these terms, of course, but refers instead to ‘sensible representations’ as being correctly ‘considered as mere differentials, [that] do not yet result in consciousness.’ (Essay, p. 20, from Midgley, et. al. translation). If I read him correctly, Maimon is following Leibniz in differentiating between intensive qualities and extensive quantities. As Maimon put it in a footnote, a consequence of the ‘great Leibniz’ and his ‘discovery of the differential calculus’ is that a ‘magnitude is not treated as a large quantity, but rather as a quality abstracted from quantity.’ (ibid. 19 fn1). As a quality abstracted from quantity, a sensible representation is therefore not to be confused with the determinate, identifiable objects of consciousness; moreover, it is precisely the differentials that allow for the synthesis (passive synthesis [Deleuze], modes of generalization [Davidson]) that result in consciousness. Maimon is clear on this point:

Consciousness first arises when the imagination takes together several homogeneous sensible representations, orders them according to its forms (succession in time and space), and forms an individual intuition out of them…Sensibility thus provides the differentials to a determined consciousness; out of them, the imagination produces a finite (determined) object of intuition. (ibid. 20, 21).

Deleuze makes almost this exact point in his book on Leibniz when he argues that ‘All consciousness is a matter of threshold,’ (Fold, 1993, p. 88) and Deleuze furthermore credits Maimon for making the move ‘Beyond the Kantian method of conditioning…[a move that] restores an internal subjective method of genesis.’ (ibid. 89). Deleuze describes this subjective method of genesis, what he also refers to as a ‘kind of psychic automatism of perception,’ in a manner that echoes Maimon:

And these minute, obscure, confused perceptions that make up our macroperceptions, our conscious, clear, and distinct apperceptions. Had it failed to bring together an infinite sum of minute perceptions that destabilize the preceding macroperception while preparing the following one, a conscious perception would never happen. (ibid. 86).

So again I couldn’t agree more that much of what Maimon is doing can be found in chapter two. I have yet to think through how Maimon’s theory of consciousness resolves the quid juris and quid facti questions that are so crucial to his rethinking of Kant. I also don’t have much to add to Jon’s excellent analysis of the second chapter, especially his use of the Kripkenstein paradox and his explanation of the mathematical examples Maimon uses. Maimon’s use of the limit concept was particularly intriguing, even if I must confess to being less than adept at calculus. As Maimon ends his essay he draws upon the limit concept in a striking way, and a way that reminds me both of the ‘psychic automatism’ Deleuze discusses, but also of Hume, Davidson, and in particular Latour. The following passage almost reads as a restatement of Latour’s concept of relative existence, although applied to the I.

…the more universal the modifications of our I become, the more we become substance (subject of our representations), and the more universal these become, the more interconnected they become, and hence the simpler we become; and the longer the series of representations thus connected becomes, the more we become identical with ourselves at different times. (ibid. 89).

Thanks for all who are working on this reading group. It’s much appreciated.

5 thoughts on “Thresholds of Consciousness: Leibniz-Maimon-Deleuze

  1. Pingback: Maimon Reading Group (Summer 2010) « Perverse Egalitarianism

  2. Jeff, thanks for your contribution – hopefully you can pitch in with more of Deleuzian connections, although your post already made walk to my book shelves and get out Difference&Repetition and The Fold several times. Certainly, the connection between Maimon and Deleuze is a fascinating one.

    If you have time, I would be interested to hear more about Deleuze’s “passive synthesis” and his use of differential calculus – like you, I can only claim basic knowledge of calculus (although I did do a year of mathematical analysis, as they call it in Russia, back in college), so I’m always cautious when it comes to mathematical analogies, but it seems to me that mathematics is extremely important to Maimon not as an illustration but as a genuine model of thinking.

    Peter Thielke’s essay in Freudenthal’s collection deals with some of the issues of Maimon’s use of mathematics and I will eventually post my thoughts on it (I started drafting a post but am yet to finish), but if you have any bibliographical treasures you’re willing to share, I’m all ears.

  3. Jeff,

    Great stuff! I think the tie to Deleuze in Chapter 2 might be the key to making sense of what’s going on in Chapter 3 (which I don’t get yet).

    The connection to Davidson in Chapter 2 is really interesting to me. In Chapter 9 Maimon actually clearly makes an anti-skeptical argument of the sort I associate primarily with Davidson’s argument that the notion of being radically mistaken is incoherent. It’s really quite remarkable and I think what you write above helps show how it is connected to Chapter 2.

    I’m going to go reread Chapter 2 in light of your post and then check out Thielke’s essay (I just got the book through interlibrary loan).


  4. Pingback: Third Dogma and SR | Aberrant Monism

  5. Pingback: On Clarity | Aberrant Monism

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