Slow Reading (1.33): Deleuze’s DR (pp. 33-34)

Deleuze ends the paragraph at the top of pg. 33 with a series of questions regarding an alternative concept of difference—that is, generic or categorical difference as the key to understanding “Difference in Itself.”

This is something of a ruse, however.

Deleuze has already shown—through prose that is torturous to a non-specialist—that specific difference, which Aristotle defines as the greatest difference, is only relatively great (contingent to members of a shared genus). Perhaps moving up the differential ladder from species to genus or category (i.e., from specific difference to generic or categorical difference) might help a philosopher shed this relativity . . .

The differences among genera or categories, after all, are distinct from the differences between species of a single genus (at least in Aristotle’s work). There is no super-genus or super-category that determines the content of all genera or categories.The only possible super-genus or super-category, for Aristotle, would be Being itself.

But Being “is not collective” in the way that genera are (DR 33). Being does not have content.


Heidegger touches on this matter in his introduction to Being and Time (1923):

It is said that “Being” is the most universal and the emptiest of concepts. As such it resists every attempt at definition. . . . the ‘universality’ of ‘Being’ is not that of genus. “Being” does not delimit that highest region of beings so far as they are conceptually articulated according to genus and species: oute to on genos [“Being is not a genus”]. . . . Aristotle himself understood the unity of this transcendental “universal,” as opposed to the manifold of the highest generic concepts with material content, as the unity of analogy. (Basic Writings 42-43)

I’ll come back to analogy in a moment.

Heidegger hits on the very thing that interests Deleuze in this section of Difference and Repetition: the simultaneity of multiplicity (or equivocity) and unity. In the fracture between the One and the Many, Deleuze draws our attention to a difference that seems to be non-predicated. Categories or genera clearly differ from each other, but they do not have the unified content of a higher category that clarifies what they share—in the way, for instance, that the genus “animal” delimits, defines, structures, or predicates the animal-species that proliferate within or beneath it.

Categories or higher genera share Being, but Being has no content.

But here comes the problem.

Identity—one of the four chains of representational logic (DR 29)—restricts specific difference from capturing “Difference in Itself” (a coherent, non-contingent concept of difference).

Another chain of representational logic characterizes generic or categorical difference.


Deleuze writes:

An identical or common concept . . . still subsists, albeit in a very particular manner. This concept of Being [which might initially be understood as the super-genus of all categories] is not collective, like a genus in relation to its species, but only distributive and hierarchical: it has no content in itself, only a content in proportion to the formally different terms of which it is predicated. These terms (categories) need not have an equal relation to being: it is enough that each has an internal relation to being. The two characteristics [of distribution and hiearchy that characterize Being] . . . show that the equivocity of being is quite particular: it is a matter of analogy. (DR 33)

What does this mean?

It means that the unity of Being is neither “explicit” nor “distinct,” like the unities of genera (DR 309n5). “Being” does not exist above the categories as a separate super-genus (as I’ve already repeated) but, rather, exists as an internal component of the categories: “the relation of each category with being is interior to each category, it is on its own account that each [category] has unity and being, by virtue of its own nature” (309n5). Meaning what? That “Being” is a priori distributed; its unity is in its transferential analogy—its differential correspondence—across categories that have a different sort of unity (identity).

But why does this matter?

Earlier in the chapter, Deleuze explains that the philosophy of difference was never able to conceptualize “Difference in Itself” because difference always seemed something of a monster, a problem that required some sort of “propitious moment” in order to approach it safely (DR 30).

In Aristotle, specific difference (the purported  “greatest difference”) “ensures coherence and continuity in the comprehension of the concept” (DR 30, 31).

Meaning what?

That Aristotle’s propitious moment constitutes a presumption of the identity (or self-sameness) of a higher order concept (a genus) that need not itself be fully determined. Put differently: “only in relation to the supposed identity of a concept is specific difference called the greatest” (DR 31). Deleuze initially sees some promise in generic difference for generating a concept of “Difference in Itself,” but he abandons this promise because generic difference also has a propitious moment, a representational trap that “inscribe[s] difference in the quasi-identity of the most general determinable concepts”—namely, the categories (DR 33).

The propitious moment of specific difference is the identity of the concept.

The propitious moment or “instance capable of proportioning” Being across generic differences is the analogy of judgment. Deleuze: “For judgement has precisely two essential functions, and only two: distribution which it ensures by the partition of concepts; and hierarchization, which it ensures by the measuring of subjects. To the former corresponds the faculty of judgement known as common sense; to the latter the faculty known as good sense (or first sense)” (DR 33).

Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, pg. 33

There is a common sense about Being, in other words, an understanding that distributes it across the most general determinable categories (e.g., substance, quality, quantity, relation, etc.) but that leaves it (i.e., Being) undefined.

I have to think a bit more about what Deleuze means by first sense or good sense, but perhaps he means that Aristotelian Being—despite being conceptually empty—nevertheless justifies a representational view of the world in which the judgment about what things are presumes a model of measurement, a fitting of things into or under categories and genera and species (all of which exist, all of which are).

For Deleuze, the analogy of judgment as the propitious moment of Being (understood as an empty super-genus) replaces the identity of the concept one normally presumes for genera. “The entire Aristotelian philosophy of difference is [thus] contained, he writes, “in this complementary double inscription” of specific and generic difference, “both ground in the same postulate and together drawing the arbitrary boundaries of the propitious moment” (DR 34).

In short: whether one looks to specific difference (as Aristotle does) or generic difference (as Deleuze begins to do) the chains of representation are already there to limit or constrict difference. For the first, difference is presumed to be greatest between two things of a self-identical genus. For the second, difference is still inscribed, from the start, in analogous genera.

One still does not arrive at a concept of difference because one is still stuck in mere conceptual difference. “Perhaps the mistake of the philosophy of difference,” Deleuze writes at the end of his introduction, “lay in confusing the concept of difference with a merely conceptual difference, in remaining content to inscribe difference in the concept in general. In reality, so long as we inscribe difference in the concept in general we have no singular Idea of difference, we remain only with a difference already mediated by representation” (27).

While Deleuze immediately abandons generic difference as the way to conceptualize difference, the appearance of Being in this paragraph nevertheless anticipates how he will go about correcting the philosophy of difference. He will also remain quite invested in the tantalizing philosophical dance of the One and the Many.


  1. I like to think of D&R as larval for Deleuze. He is just beginning to wiggle around in the world of difference, meaning it begins conceptually. He is staking out the metaphysical ground he must cover with intellectual pegs to begin with. Yes, he will get to common sense and good sense in Chapter 3, more attempts to bring thinking and conceptualizing down to the ground. But what is the ground? The ground is lit up by the lightning flash from the sky which contrasts dark and light (difference), and the ground can come up and swallow you whole (dark precursors). Like a flashlight in the dark, Deleuze shows us the shining, but not yet the path which he will take as he goes, bringing the lightning down to the ground and beneath, and within. I will be looking forward to the next four lifetimes when you get to ATP. You wiggle with Deleuze well.

    1. Wiggle? I like that.

      Yours seems a perfectly fine way to think of DR: larval. As you may sense from other posts on this site, I’ve certainly read much of Deleuze before—but, yes, at this rate four lifetimes might not be enough to get me to “The Image of Thought.” 🙂

      Without reading DR, Deleuze and Guattari’s claim in ATP, “Thought is like a vampire. It has no image,” makes little sense to me.

  2. What’s interesting here is that there actually is something like an analogy of judgment in Aristotle, namely, what is called pros hen equivocity:

    The difference between Deleuze’s conception of the analogy and Aristotle’s is that in Aristotle the central sense of being is not a super-genus but rather substance. That’s why Aristotle’s analogy is not properly an analogy of judgment.

    This suggests that a focus on specific and generic difference, to the exclusion of substance and what constitutes it, tends to miss the point of Aristotle. Heidegger understood this, which is why his Aristotle essay in Pathmarks focuses on substance (and on the Physics rather than the Metaphysics).

    The notion of pros hen equivocity was first presented in The Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics, by Joseph Owens.

    1. Thank you for this reference! Deleuze seems to anticipate this notion of “pros hen equivocity” in the endnote that I cite in the post, but if I have time I will track down the Owens text.

      Re: Deleuze missing the point, I’m not really trained to make a counterargument, since I don’t really know my Aristotle and have no way of knowing how well Deleuze knew his Aristotle. (He certainly was not the expert Heidegger was.)

      But I do think whether Aristotle has a different sense of being or not also, in turn, misses Deleuze’s point. He is interested in thinking through the possibility of a concept of difference and also in thinking where the effort to conceptualize a “difference in itself” goes wrong. Turning to “the central sense of being . . . [as] substance” in Aristotle might not be very fruitful for that work, since it becomes far less about difference than about deciding where to isolate or locate substance (in matter? essence? form?). When it comes to substance and difference, Deleuze will turn to Spinoza.

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