Madelrieux Stéphane « Pluralism without Pragmatism: Deleuze and the Ambiguities of the French Inheritance of James » in Sean Bowden, Simone Bignall and Paul Patton (Eds), Deleuzian Encounters with Pragmatism, Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy, 2014
Deleuze is the heir of a French interpretation of James which sought to displace the centre of gravity of pragmatism from the theory of truth to the assertion of pluralism. Indeed, following Bergson and Jean Wahl, Deleuze identified two principles of pragmatism which are, in fact, defining criteria of pluralism. The first is a principle of difference: the pragmatist begins, not with the Whole, but with a given which is always plural, multiple, fragmented and heterogeneous. The second is a principle of relation: the pragmatist will still seek to integrate these diverse parts, but will take care not to unify them or merge them together. Such a construction of the whole from its parts presupposes, if the initial multiplicity is not to be denied, that the relations between the parts be external, that is, not predetermined by the nature of the parts with which one begins or by the nature of the whole that one attains. Thus connected in a purely external way, the parts are coordinated without being subordinated to any one of them, or to the whole which they collectively form.
These two principles of real difference and external relations are in actual fact very general principles in Deleuze’s oeuvre, and he puts them to work well beyond his examination of American pragmatism. He applies them to American literature (Whitman, Melville). He rediscovers them in English empiricism (Hume’s atomism and associationism). He puts them to work in the interpretation of his philosophical heroes (Lucretius, Spinoza, Nietzsche), and goes so far as to declare that ‘pluralism (otherwise known as empiricism) is almost indistinguishable from philosophy itself. Pluralism is the properly philosophical way of thinking, the one invented by philosophy’ (Nietzsche and Philosophy, p. 4). Finally, he makes use of these two principles in the creation of a number of his most emblematic concepts (multiplicity, assemblage, rhizome).
We will, however, defend the thesis that this affirmation of pluralism is based on an initial misinterpretation of James’ thought. Encouraged by Jean Wahl’s comparisons of James and Russell, Deleuze confused American pluralism with English pluralism. Indeed, it is actually Russell, not James, who is Hume’s heir with regard to the two principles of the atomic nature of the given and the construction of complex entities from simple elements (the simple and the complex); it is actually Russell, not James, who upholds an axiom of external relations, this being necessary for the analysis of complex entities into simple elements. Deleuze thus succumbed to an ambiguity with regard to the question of external relations: an ambiguity that must be dissipated in order to show the originality of Jamesian pluralism, in its difference from Russellian pluralism. It is thus time to re-examine the improper assimilation of pluralism and pragmatism, and to ask what a pragmatist such as James would have thought of Deleuze by applying the pragmatic method in order to know whether we can make Deleuze’s ideas clear. We will focus in particular on the example of the concept of the ‘event’ and conclude negatively. This test will show that, for us, Deleuze is neither pragmatist, nor empiricist, despite his claims.