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Gilles Deleuze
Born 18 January 1925
Paris, French Third Republic
Died 4 November 1995(1995-11-04) (aged 70)
Paris, France
Alma mater University of Paris
(B.A.; M.A., 1947; DrE, 1968)
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
  • Continental philosophy
  • Post-Marxism
  • French Nietzscheanism
  • Materialism
  • Neo-Spinozism
  • Post-structuralism
  • Empiricism
Institutions University of Paris VIII
Main interests
Notable ideas

Gilles Louis René Deleuze (/dəˈlz/ -looz, French: [ʒil dəløz]; 18 January 1925 – 4 November 1995) was a French philosopher who, from the early 1950s until his death in 1995, wrote on philosophy, literature, film, and fine art. His most popular works were the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus (1972) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980), both co-written with psychoanalyst Félix Guattari. His metaphysical treatise Difference and Repetition (1968) is considered by many scholars to be his magnum opus.

An important part of Deleuze's oeuvre is devoted to the reading of other philosophers: the Stoics, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, Nietzsche, and Bergson, with particular influence derived from Spinoza. A. W. Moore, citing Bernard Williams's criteria for a great thinker, ranks Deleuze among the "greatest philosophers". Although he once characterized himself as a "pure metaphysician", his work has influenced a variety of disciplines across the humanities, including philosophy, art, and literary theory, as well as movements such as post-structuralism and postmodernism.


Early life

Gilles Deleuze was born into a middle-class family in Paris and lived there for most of his life. His mother was Odette Camaüer and his father, Louis, was an engineer. His initial schooling was undertaken during World War II, during which time he attended the Lycée Carnot. He also spent a year in khâgne at the Lycée Henri IV. During the Nazi occupation of France, Deleuze's brother, three years his senior, Georges, was arrested for his participation in the French Resistance, and died while in transit to a concentration camp. In 1944, Deleuze went to study at the Sorbonne. His teachers there included several noted specialists in the history of philosophy, such as Georges Canguilhem, Jean Hyppolite, Ferdinand Alquié, and Maurice de Gandillac. Deleuze's lifelong interest in the canonical figures of modern philosophy owed much to these teachers.


Deleuze passed the agrégation in philosophy in 1948, and taught at various lycées (Amiens, Orléans, Louis le Grand) until 1957, when he took up a position at the University of Paris. In 1953, he published his first monograph, Empiricism and Subjectivity, on David Hume. This monograph was based on his 1947 DES (diplôme d'études supérieures [fr]) thesis, roughly equivalent to an M.A. thesis, which was conducted under the direction of Jean Hyppolite and Georges Canguilhem. From 1960 to 1964, he held a position at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique. During this time he published the seminal Nietzsche and Philosophy (1962) and befriended Michel Foucault. From 1964 to 1969, he was a professor at the University of Lyon. In 1968, Deleuze defended his two DrE dissertations amid the ongoing May 68 demonstrations; he later published his two dissertations under the titles Difference and Repetition (supervised by Gandillac) and Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza (supervised by Alquié).

In 1969, he was appointed to the University of Paris VIII at Vincennes/St. Denis, an experimental school organized to implement educational reform. This new university drew a number of well-known academics, including Foucault (who suggested Deleuze's hiring) and the psychoanalyst Félix Guattari. Deleuze taught at Paris VIII until his retirement in 1987.

Personal life

Deleuze's outlook on life was sympathetic to transcendental ideas, "nature as god" ethics, and the monist experience. Some of the important ideas he advocated for and found inspiration in, include, his personally coined expression pluralism = monism, as well as the concepts of Being and Univocity. His thoughts were shaped by Spinoza's leanings and inclinations; for Deleuze, Spinoza was the "prince" or even the “Christ” of philosophers.

He married Denise Paul "Fanny" Grandjouan in 1956 and they had two children.

According to James Miller, Deleuze portrayed little visible interest in actually doing many of the risky things he so vividly conjured up in his lectures and writing. Married, with two children, he outwardly lived the life of a conventional French professor. He kept his fingernails untrimmed because, as he once explained, he lacked "normal protective fingerprints", and therefore could not "touch an object, particularly a piece of cloth, with the pads of my fingers without sharp pain".

When once asked to talk about his life, he replied: "Academics' lives are seldom interesting." Deleuze concludes his reply to this critic thus:

What do you know about me, given that I believe in secrecy? ... If I stick where I am, if I don't travel around, like anyone else I make my inner journeys that I can only measure by my emotions, and express very obliquely and circuitously in what I write. ... Arguments from one's own privileged experience are bad and reactionary arguments.


Deleuze, who had suffered from respiratory ailments from a young age, developed tuberculosis in 1968 and underwent lung removal. He suffered increasingly severe respiratory symptoms for the rest of his life. In the last years of his life, simple tasks such as writing required laborious effort. .....

Before his death, Deleuze had announced his intention to write a book entitled La Grandeur de Marx (The Greatness of Marx), and left behind two chapters of an unfinished project entitled Ensembles and Multiplicities (these chapters have been published as the essays "Immanence: A Life" and "The Actual and the Virtual"). He is buried in the cemetery of the village of Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat.


Deleuze's works fall into two groups: on the one hand, monographs interpreting the work of other philosophers (Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, Michel Foucault) and artists (Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, Francis Bacon); on the other, eclectic philosophical tomes organized by concept (e.g., difference, sense, events, schizophrenia, economy, cinema, desire, philosophy). However, both of these aspects are seen by his critics and analysts as often overlapping, in particular, due to his prose and the unique mapping of his books that allow for multifaceted readings.


Deleuze's main philosophical project in the works he wrote prior to his collaborations with Guattari can be summarized as an inversion of the traditional metaphysical relationship between identity and difference. Traditionally, difference is seen as derivative from identity: e.g., to say that "X is different from Y" assumes some X and Y with at least relatively stable identities (as in Plato's forms). On the contrary, Deleuze claims that all identities are effects of difference. Identities are neither logically nor metaphysically prior to difference, Deleuze argues, "given that there exist differences of nature between things of the same genus." That is, not only are no two things ever the same, the categories we use to identify individuals in the first place derive from differences. Apparent identities such as "X" are composed of endless series of differences, where "X" = "the difference between x and x^\prime", and "x^\prime" = "the difference between...", and so forth. Difference, in other words, goes all the way down. To confront reality honestly, Deleuze argues, we must grasp beings exactly as they are, and concepts of identity (forms, categories, resemblances, unities of apperception, predicates, etc.) fail to attain what he calls "difference in itself." "If philosophy has a positive and direct relation to things, it is only insofar as philosophy claims to grasp the thing itself, according to what it is, in its difference from everything it is not, in other words, in its internal difference."

Like Kant, Deleuze considers traditional notions of space and time as unifying forms imposed by the subject. He, therefore, concludes that pure difference is non-spatiotemporal; it is an idea, what Deleuze calls "the virtual". (The coinage refers to Proust's definition of what is constant in both the past and the present: "real without being actual, ideal without being abstract.") While Deleuze's virtual ideas superficially resemble Plato's forms and Kant's ideas of pure reason, they are not originals or models, nor do they transcend possible experience; instead they are the conditions of actual experience, the internal difference in itself. "The concept they [the conditions] form is identical to its object." A Deleuzean idea or concept of difference is therefore not a wraith-like abstraction of an experienced thing, it is a real system of differential relations that creates actual spaces, times, and sensations.

Thus, Deleuze at times refers to his philosophy as a transcendental empiricism (empirisme transcendantal), alluding to Kant. In Kant's transcendental idealism, experience only makes sense when organized by intuitions (namely, space and time) and concepts (such as causality). ..... Deleuze inverts the Kantian arrangement: experience exceeds our concepts by presenting novelty, and this raw experience of difference actualizes an idea, unfettered by our prior categories, forcing us to invent new ways of thinking (see Epistemology).

Simultaneously, Deleuze claims that being is univocal, i.e., that all of its senses are affirmed in one voice. Deleuze borrows the doctrine of ontological univocity from the medieval philosopher John Duns Scotus. In medieval disputes over the nature of God, many eminent theologians and philosophers (such as Thomas Aquinas) held that when one says that "God is good", God's goodness is only analogous to human goodness. Scotus argued to the contrary that when one says that "God is good", the goodness in question is exactly the same sort of goodness that is meant when one says "Jane is good". That is, God only differs from us in degree, and properties such as goodness, power, reason, and so forth are univocally applied, regardless of whether one is talking about God, a person, or a flea.

Deleuze adapts the doctrine of univocity to claim that being is, univocally, difference. "With univocity, however, it is not the differences which are and must be: it is being which is Difference, in the sense that it is said of difference. Moreover, it is not we who are univocal in a Being which is not; it is we and our individuality which remains equivocal in and for a univocal Being." Here Deleuze at once echoes and inverts Spinoza, who maintained that everything that exists is a modification of the one substance, God or Nature. For Deleuze, there is no one substance, only an always-differentiating process, an origami cosmos, always folding, unfolding, refolding. Deleuze summarizes this ontology in the paradoxical formula "pluralism = monism".

Difference and Repetition (1968) is Deleuze's most sustained and systematic attempt to work out the details of such a metaphysics, but his other works develop similar ideas. In Nietzsche and Philosophy (1962), for example, reality is a play of forces; in Anti-Oedipus (1972), a "body without organs"; in What is Philosophy? (1991), a "plane of immanence" or "chaosmos".


Deleuze's unusual metaphysics entails an equally atypical epistemology, or what he calls a transformation of "the image of thought". According to Deleuze, the traditional image of thought, found in philosophers such as Aristotle, René Descartes, and Edmund Husserl, misconceives thinking as a mostly unproblematic business. Truth may be hard to discover—it may require a life of pure theorizing, or rigorous computation, or systematic doubt—but thinking is able, at least in principle, to correctly grasp facts, forms, ideas, etc. It may be practically impossible to attain a God's-eye, neutral point of view, but that is the ideal to approximate: a disinterested pursuit that results in a determinate, fixed truth; an orderly extension of common sense. Deleuze rejects this view as papering over the metaphysical flux, instead claiming that genuine thinking is a violent confrontation with reality, an involuntary rupture of established categories. Truth changes what we think; it alters what we think is possible. By setting aside the assumption that thinking has a natural ability to recognize the truth, Deleuze says, we attain a "thought without image", a thought always determined by problems rather than solving them. "All this, however, presupposes codes or axioms which do not result by chance, but which do not have an intrinsic rationality either. It's just like theology: everything about it is quite rational if you accept sin, the immaculate conception, and the incarnation. Reason is always a region carved out of the irrational—not sheltered from the irrational at all, but traversed by it and only defined by a particular kind of relationship among irrational factors. Underneath all reason lies delirium, and drift."

The Logic of Sense, published in 1969, is one of Deleuze's most peculiar works in the field of epistemology. Michel Foucault, in his essay "Theatrum Philosophicum" about the book, attributed this to how he begins with his metaphysics but approaches it through language and truth; the book is focused on "the simple condition that instead of denouncing metaphysics as the neglect of being, we force it to speak of extrabeing". In it, he refers to epistemological paradoxes: in the first series, as he analyzes Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, he remarks that "the personal self requires God and the world in general. But when substantives and adjectives begin to dissolve, when the names of pause and rest are carried away by the verbs of pure becoming and slide into the language of events, all identity disappears from the self, the world, and God."

Deleuze's peculiar readings of the history of philosophy stem from this unusual epistemological perspective. To read a philosopher is no longer to aim at finding a single, correct interpretation, but is instead to present a philosopher's attempt to grapple with the problematic nature of reality. "Philosophers introduce new concepts, they explain them, but they don't tell us, not completely anyway, the problems to which those concepts are a response. [...] The history of philosophy, rather than repeating what a philosopher says, has to say what he must have taken for granted, what he didn't say but is nonetheless present in what he did say."

Likewise, rather than seeing philosophy as a timeless pursuit of truth, reason, or universals, Deleuze defines philosophy as the creation of concepts. For Deleuze, concepts are not identity conditions or propositions, but metaphysical constructions that define a range of thinking, such as Plato's ideas, Descartes's cogito, or Kant's doctrine of the faculties. A philosophical concept "posits itself and its object at the same time as it is created." In Deleuze's view, then, philosophy more closely resembles practical or artistic production than it does an adjunct to a definitive scientific description of a pre-existing world (as in the tradition of John Locke or Willard Van Orman Quine).

In his later work (from roughly 1981 onward), Deleuze sharply distinguishes art, philosophy, and science as three distinct disciplines, each analyzing reality in different ways. While philosophy creates concepts, the arts create novel qualitative combinations of sensation and feeling (what Deleuze calls "percepts" and "affects"), and the sciences create quantitative theories based on fixed points of reference such as the speed of light or absolute zero (which Deleuze calls "functives"). According to Deleuze, none of these disciplines enjoy primacy over the others: they are different ways of organizing the metaphysical flux, "separate melodic lines in constant interplay with one another." For example, Deleuze does not treat cinema as an art representing an external reality, but as an ontological practice that creates different ways of organizing movement and time. Philosophy, science, and art are equally, and essentially, creative and practical. Hence, instead of asking traditional questions of identity such as "is it true?" or "what is it?", Deleuze proposes that inquiries should be functional or practical: "what does it do?" or "how does it work?"


In ethics and politics, Deleuze again echoes Spinoza, albeit in a sharply Nietzschean key. In a classical liberal model of society, morality begins from individuals, who bear abstract natural rights or duties set by themselves or a God. Following his rejection of any metaphysics based on identity, Deleuze criticizes the notion of an individual as an arresting or halting of differentiation (as the etymology of the word "individual" suggests). Guided by the naturalistic ethics of Spinoza and Nietzsche, Deleuze instead seeks to understand individuals and their moralities as products of the organization of pre-individual desires and powers.

In the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Anti-Oedipus (1972) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980), Deleuze and Guattari describe history as a congealing and regimentation of "desiring-production" (a concept combining features of Freudian drives and Marxist labor) into the modern individual (typically neurotic and repressed), the nation-state (a society of continuous control), and capitalism (an anarchy domesticated into infantilizing commodification). Deleuze, following Karl Marx, welcomes capitalism's destruction of traditional social hierarchies as liberating but inveighs against its homogenization of all values to the aims of the market.

The first part of Capitalism and Schizophrenia undertakes a universal history and posits the existence of a separate socius (the social body that takes credit for production) for each mode of production: the earth for the tribe, the body of the despot for the empire, and capital for capitalism."

In his 1990 essay "Postscript on the Societies of Control" ("Post-scriptum sur les sociétés de contrôle"), Deleuze builds on Foucault's notion of the society of discipline to argue that society is undergoing a shift in structure and control. Where societies of discipline were characterized by discrete physical enclosures (such as schools, factories, prisons, office buildings, etc.), institutions and technologies introduced since World War II have dissolved the boundaries between these enclosures. As a result, social coercion and discipline have moved into the lives of individuals considered as "masses, samples, data, markets, or 'banks'." The mechanisms of modern societies of control are described as continuous, following and tracking individuals throughout their existence via transaction records, mobile location tracking, and other personally identifiable information.

But how does Deleuze square his pessimistic diagnoses with his ethical naturalism? Deleuze claims that standards of value are internal or immanent: to live well is to fully express one's power, to go to the limits of one's potential, rather than to judge what exists by non-empirical, transcendent standards. Modern society still suppresses difference and alienates people from what they can do. To affirm reality, which is a flux of change and difference, we must overturn established identities and so become all that we can become—though we cannot know what that is in advance. The pinnacle of Deleuzean practice, then, is creativity. "Herein, perhaps, lies the secret: to bring into existence and not to judge. If it is so disgusting to judge, it is not because everything is of equal value, but on the contrary, because what has value can be made or distinguished only by defying judgment. What expert judgment, in art, could ever bear on the work to come?"

Philosophical similarities with Heidegger

From the 1930s onward, German philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote in a series of manuscripts and books on concepts of Difference, Identity, Representation, and Event; notably among these the Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis) (Written 1936-38; published posthumously 1989); none of the relevant texts were translated into French by Deleuze's death in 1995, excluding any strong possibility of appropriation. However, Heidegger's early work can be traced through mathematician Albert Lautman, who drew heavily from Heidegger's Sein und Zeit and Vom Wesen des Grundes (1928), which James Bahoh describes as having "...decisive influence on the twentieth century mathematician and philosopher [...] whose theory of dialectical Ideas Deleuze appropriated and modified for his own use." The similarities between Heidegger's later, post-turn, 1930-1976 thought and Deleuze's early works in the 60s and 70s are generally described by Deleuze-scholar Daniel W. Smith in the following way:

"Difference and Repetition could be read as a response to Being and Time (for Deleuze, Being is difference, and time is repetition)."

Bahoh continues in saying that: "...then Beiträge could be read as Difference and Repetition's unknowing and anachronistic doppelgänger." Deleuze and Heidegger's philosophy is considered to converge on the topics of Difference and the Event. Where, for Heidegger, an evental being is constituted in part by difference as " essential dimension of the concept of event"; for Deleuze, being is difference, and difference "differentiates by way of events." In contrast, to this, however, Jussi Backman argues that, for Heidegger, being is united only insofar as it consists of and is difference, or rather as the movement of difference, not too dissimilar to Deleuze's later claims:

"...the unity and univocity of being (in the sense of being), its 'selfsameness,' paradoxically consists exclusively in difference."

This mutual apprehension of a differential, Evental ontology lead both thinkers into an extended critique of the representation characteristic to Platonic, Aristotelian, and Cartesian thought; as Joe Hughes states: "Difference and Repetition is a detective novel. It tells the story of what some readers of Deleuze might consider a horrendous crime [...]: the birth of representation." Heidegger formed his critiques most decisively in the concept of the fourfold [German: das Geviert], a non-metaphysical grounding for the thing (as opposed to "object") as "ungrounded, mediated, meaningful, and shared" united in an "event of appropriation" [Ereignis]. This evental ontology continues in Identität und Differenz, where the fundamental concept expressed in Difference and Repetition, of dethroning the primacy of identity, can be seen throughout the text. Even in earlier Heideggerian texts such as Sein und Zeit, however, the critique of representation is "...cast in terms of the being of truth, or the processes of uncovering and covering (grounded in Dasein's existence) whereby beings come into and withdraw from phenomenal presence." In parallel, Deleuze's extended critique of representation (in the sense of detailing a "genealogy" of the antiquated beliefs as well) is given " terms of being or becoming as difference and repetition, together with genetic processes of individuation whereby beings come to exist and pass out of existence."

Time and space, for both thinkers, is also constituted in nearly identical ways. Time-space in the Beiträge and the three syntheses in Difference and Repetition both apprehend time as grounded in difference, whilst the distinction between the time-space of the world [Welt] and the time-space as the evental production of such a time-space is mirrored by Deleuze's categorization between the temporality of what is actual and temporality of the virtual in the first and the second/third syntheses respectively.

Another parallel can be found in their utilization of so-called "generative paradoxes," or rather problems whose fundamental problematic element is constantly outside the categorical grasp fond of formal, natural, and human sciences. For Heidegger, this is the Earth in the fourfold, something which has as one of its traits the behaviour of "resisting articulation," what he characterizes as a "strife"; for Deleuze, a similar example can be spotted in the paradox of regress, or of indefinite proliferation in the Logic of Sense.


  • L'Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze, with Claire Parnet, produced by Pierre-André Boutang. Éditions Montparnasse.

Audio (lectures)

  • Deleuze, Gilles: Spinoza: Immortalité et éternité [double CD]. (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 2001)
  • Deleuze, Gilles: Spinoza: The Velocities of Thought: Lecture 1, 2 December 1980. (Purdue University Research Repository, 2017)
  • Deleuze, Gilles: Spinoza: The Velocities of Thought: Lecture 2, 9 December 1980. (Purdue University Research Repository, 2017)
  • Deleuze, Gilles: Spinoza: The Velocities of Thought: Lecture 3, 16 December 1980. (Purdue University Research Repository, 2017)
  • Deleuze, Gilles: Spinoza: The Velocities of Thought: Lecture 4, 6 January 1981. (Purdue University Research Repository, 2017)
  • Deleuze, Gilles: Spinoza: The Velocities of Thought: Lecture 5, 13 January 1981. (Purdue University Research Repository, 2017)
  • Deleuze, Gilles: Spinoza: The Velocities of Thought: Lecture 6, 20 January 1981. (Purdue University Research Repository, 2017)
  • Deleuze, Gilles: Spinoza: The Velocities of Thought: Lecture 7, 27 January 1981. (Purdue University Research Repository, 2017)
  • Deleuze, Gilles: Spinoza: The Velocities of Thought: Lecture 8, 3 February 1981. (Purdue University Research Repository, 2017)
  • Deleuze, Gilles: Spinoza: The Velocities of Thought: Lecture 9, 10 February 1981. (Purdue University Research Repository, 2017)
  • Deleuze, Gilles: Spinoza: The Velocities of Thought: Lecture 10, 17 February 1981. (Purdue University Research Repository, 2017)
  • Deleuze, Gilles: Spinoza: The Velocities of Thought: Lecture 11, 10 March 1981. (Purdue University Research Repository, 2017)
  • Deleuze, Gilles: Spinoza: The Velocities of Thought: Lecture 12, 17 March 1981. (Purdue University Research Repository, 2017)
  • Deleuze, Gilles: Spinoza: The Velocities of Thought: Lecture 13, 24 March 1981. (Purdue University Research Repository, 2017)
  • Deleuze, Gilles: Spinoza: The Velocities of Thought: Lecture 14, 31 March 1981. (Purdue University Research Repository, 2017) . «Spinoza: The Velocities of Thought» («Spinoza: Des vitesses de la pensée») was a 14-lecture seminar given by Deleuze at the University of Paris 8 from December 1980 to March 1981. Deleuze had previously published two books on Spinoza, including Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza (Spinoza et le problème de l'expression, 1968), and Spinoza: Practical Philosophy (Spinoza: Philosophie pratique, 1970, 2nd ed. 1981). The majority of these lectures were given the same year as the publication of the second edition of the latter title.

See also

  • Deleuze and Guattari
  • Deleuze Studies (Deleuze and Guattari Studies)
  • Gilbert Simondon's theory of individuation
  • Kantian empiricism
  • Problem of future contingents
  • Speculative realism
  • Transcendental nominalism
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