The other before us? : a Deleuzean critique of phenomenological intersubjectivity

Hugo, Johan (2005-12)

Thesis (MPhil (Philosophy))--University of Stellenbosch, 2005.

Thesis

This study seeks to give a philosophical account of, and justification for the intuition that subjectivity is not a stable “Archimedean point” on the basis of which an intersubjective relation can be founded, but is instead profoundly affected by each different “Other” with which it enters into a relation. As a preliminary to the positive philosophical account of how this might work in Part II of the thesis, there is an attempt to critique certain of the classical accounts of intersubjectivity found in phenomenology, in order to show that these positions cannot give a satisfactory account of the type of intersubjective relation which gives rise to the abovementioned intuition. The thesis therefore starts off by examining the account of intersubjectivity in Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations (especially the Fifth Meditation). Husserl is there engaged in an attempt to overcome the charge of solipsism that might be levelled at phenomenology, since phenomenology is concerned with experience as, by definition, the experience of the subject. We try to show that Husserl cannot give a satisfactory account of the Other because he tries to derive it from the Subject, and hence reduces the Other to the Same. We then turn to two other phenomenological thinkers – Merleau-Ponty and Levinas, both of whom are themselves critical of Husserl – to examine whether they provide a better account, but conclude that (although each represents a certain advance over Husserl), neither are able to provide a decisively better account, since each is still too caught up in phenomenology and its focus on consciousness. In Part II of the thesis, we then turn to a non- (or even anti-) phenomenological thinker, namely Gilles Deleuze, to try and find an alternative theory that would be able to provide the account we seek. Our contention is that Deleuze, by seeking to give an account of the constitution of the subject itself, simultaneously provides an account of the constitution of the Other as arising at the same time as the Subject. Crucial to this account is the inversion of priority between the poles of a relation and the relation itself. Deleuze argues that a relation is “external to its terms”, and precedes these terms. Hence, by returning to a level which precedes consciousness and the order of knowledge – that is, by returning to the level of the virtual multiplicities and singular events that underlie and precede the actualization of these events and multiplicities in distinct subjects and objects – we argue that Deleuze shows that, contra phenomenology, there is in fact no primordial separation between subject and Other. The contention is therefore that the problem of intersubjectivity as posed by phenomenology is a false one that can be eluded by means of Deleuze’s philosophy. This philosophy is not based on the subject, but instead shows the subject to be the product of an underlying network of relations. Finally, we turn to Deleuze’s appropriation of Nietzsche to trace out the transformation of “ethics” that result from adopting a position like that of Deleuze.

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