Modes, monads and nomads: Individuals in Spinoza, Leibniz and Deleuze

by Wilkins, Adam, Ph.D., STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK AT STONY BROOK, 2008, 260 pages; 3358218


The dissertation is a comparative study of the theory of individuals (in the most general ontological sense) in Spinoza, Leibniz and Deleuze, aiming to reach a better understanding of all three of these theories. The parallels drawn between them serve to illuminate all three, but this study is especially oriented towards the understanding of Deleuze, whose theory, being about three hundred years younger, has received the least philosophical attention.

My comparison is structured by parallel subdivisions into essence, existence and actual individuals. That is, for each of the three philosophers to be studied, I consider what they propose as the essence of an individual, how they conceive its existence to come about, and what activity characterizes the actual individual once it exists. Based on readings of key primary texts, I show that all three philosophers share a conception of essence as the principle of activity of the individual of which it is the essence. Their accounts of how existence comes about, however, are widely divergent, and as a result the way the essence acts as a principle of activity for the actual individual is distinctive in each philosopher’s account.

As a secondary task, I undertake to criticize a few points in Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza and Leibniz. I contend, through a careful consideration of Deleuze’s claims and a comparison with the relevant texts in Spinoza and Leibniz, that Deleuze’s introduction of the concepts of intensity and extensity into his reading of Spinoza, and his account of the relationship between individual and world in Leibniz, do more to obscure Spinoza and Leibniz’s claims than to clarify them.

As might be expected, the overall picture that emerges is a complicated one. Deleuze is not as close to Spinoza or Leibniz as his own comments on them might at times suggest. Spinoza and Leibniz differ on many specific points. And yet all three philosophers share a broad conception of the role of the essence of an individual.

AdviserEdward S. Casey
Source TypeDissertation
Publication Number3358218

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