Determined Figures

Empiricism and Subjectivity, 3

In the previous two entries on Deleuze’s Empiricism and Subjectivity (1953),1 we first examined Deleuze’s argument for the externality and passivity of the mind, which is determined in its habits and tendencies by the preexisting world,2 and second, his articulation of the mind in its systematization and generalization by the diagrams and models and institutions it encounters in that world.3 For Deleuze, the subject is the effect of a diversion, a bundle of passions and interests that are extended beyond the scope of the individual by way of general rules.

Now, after a few months of diversion of my own, we return to discuss chapter three of Deleuze’s book, “The Power of the Imagination in Ethics and Knowledge.” Having described the way in which the mind and its passions are given order and extended beyond itself by and into the cultural world, Deleuze proceeds to look more closely at the operation of the rules that make such a generalization possible. For a rule to be a general rule, it must both reflect and extend the passions of the individual minds it proposes to govern.4 “Being reflected,” Deleuze writes, “the passions are found before an enlarged reproduction of themselves, and see themselves liberated from the limits and conditions of their own actuality.”5 In this reflection, the passions find an instrument for greater satisfaction, the possibility of a more fulfilling end than might be achievable in isolation. Presented with the general rule, the passions see “an entire artificial domain opening up … the world of culture,” and so “project themselves in it.”6 The result is that the “reflected interest transcends its own partiality,” and the disordered mind becomes an ordered subject.7

Deleuze identifies three types of such rules, those of taste, of freedom, and of interest and duty.8 In each case, the mind finds itself affected, “ceases to be fancy, is fixed, and becomes human nature.”9 Diagrammatically, the passions “trace effectively constant and determined figures in the imagination,” maintaining the mind’s projection into the cultural world of beliefs and actions, maintaining the mind as human nature, as a subject with its projects.10 In the “univocal movement” of a passional project, ideas in the imagination “get associated in virtue of a goal, an intention, or a purpose which only the passions can confer upon human activity.”11 Insofar as Deleuze has previously claimed that “the only possible theory is a theory of practice,” that the study of the human being should be concerned with the study of “instinct, habit, or nature,” we see then that practical reason, the praktognosia of the human subject, is “the establishment of a whole of culture and morality.”12

Theoretical reason, the reason of metaphysics and science, “is the determination of the detail of nature, that is, of parts submitted to calculation,” but reason in this sense, as we have already learned, is just one form of practice, a form that is often “practically or technically insufficient.”13 “Habit is the root of reason,” Deleuze argues, and indeed, we are habits, “nothing but habits—the habit of saying ‘I.’”14 Without habit, there can be no projects, no reflection and extension of the passions in the cultural world that preexists the subject. Habit “presupposes experience,” “is experience,” is what “allows the understanding to reason about experience, as it transforms belief into a possible act of the understanding.”15 The pathways and circuits between terms, established and maintained by the myriad of other subjects following their courses, should not first and foremost be analyzed by way of the “logic of mathematics,” but require instead the interpretation made possible by a “logic of physics or of existence,” the practical study of the passions in their habitual operations.16 There are no “faculties” nor “occult qualities” to unearth, no world spirit or invisible hand—such ideas themselves are but reflections and extensions of the passions of specific individuals, embedded in the specific context of their society’s means and models, and taken up by later minds for their own habitual satisfaction.

No, what we must instead attend to is the “very unphilosophical species of probability” characteristic of human intention, the subject proceeding in its projects by way of feeling and instinct and tendency and diversion.17 In the following chapter, Deleuze will examine the ways in which the extension of passions brought about by general rules are modulated and corrected, continuing to counterpose a practical sociology to theoretical psychology. His concern, and so ours, continues to be not with the “secret meaning” of subjectivity, but with the empirical realm of effectivity.18


  1. Gilles Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity: An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature, 1953, trans. Constantin V. Boundas (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1991). See my annotations at “Empiricism and Subjectivity,” March 29, 2023,

  2. Eric Stein, “We Can Always Play Backgammon,” May 26, 2023,

  3. Stein, “A Model of Actions,” June 18, 2023,

  4. Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity, 55. 

  5. Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity, 56. 

  6. Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity, 56. 

  7. Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity, 56. 

  8. Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity, 57-58. 

  9. Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity, 59. 

  10. Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity, 60. 

  11. Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity, 63. 

  12. Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity, 32, 30, 64. 

  13. Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity, 64, 33. 

  14. Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity, 66, x. 

  15. Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity, 68. Emphasis added. 

  16. Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity, 67. 

  17. Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity, 72. 

  18. Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity, 70. 

Previous Post Next Post

« A Model of Actions