Deleuze’s Stoicism

“How much we have yet to learn from Stoicism …”  ~ Deleuze

In this 2006 paper John Sellars argues that Deleuze’s relationship with Stoicism goes far beyond his explicit comments on the Stoics in The Logic of Sense and that his philosophy as a whole is marked by a deeper Stoicism. It outlines six points of contact between Deleuze and Stoicism, locating the Stoics within Deleuze’s philosophical genealogy, and noting affinities in the areas of what might be labelled ontology, meta-philosophy, psychology, politics, and ethics.

John Sellars is Research Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at King’s College London, where he specializes in Stoicism, Aristotle and metaphilosophy (whatever that is?).

5 responses to “Deleuze’s Stoicism

  1. Ha Ha! You may have just opened the flood gates on Stoicism related material on this site. There is also a pdf of the paper available somewhere, and I’m sure Sellars also has a paper on Deleuze’s use of Stoic concepts of temporality somewhere. To those unfamiliar with Stoicism, John Sellars book is my favourite overview guide, along with the work of AA Long and, coming with a more contemporary inflexion, the work of Donald Robertson (a CBT therapist).

    Other useful resources:

    One of the ever surprising/disappointing thing I’ve found in exchanges on the Stoicism Facebook Group is the lack of willingness to have Stoicism be updated in the light of the last few thousand years of scientific theory. And, curiously, a lack of engagement with politics. This is particularly baffling because although the Stoics are routinely made out to be quietistic and withdrawn from political life that is absolutely not the case. The Stoics counselled rational involvement in public life and through the invention of cosmopolitanism laid much of the groundwork for the liberal tradition out of which all contemporary forms of radical politics have grown. One approach to Stoicism within radical politics I have seen comes from the paper “Geocommunism” which attempts to generate a ‘collectivist Stoicism’, a task that appears very much in keeping with the orientations that are dance together under the names of Synthetic Zero and post-nihilist praxis:

    “Stoicism is not grim but cheerful about the innate duty towards life. It teaches us how to die: without regretting missed opportunities to creatively contribute to the collective future. Socrates was jolly till the end (more so than Jesus). Stoicism does not prohibit enjoyment, only the neurotic and paranoid kinds, underanalysed by Epicureans. The Anthropocene commands a new valuation of the various ascetic traditions, ushering in general indignation about possession and accumulation, something Christianity failed to achieve. True lasting pleasure is derived from developing ‘the simple life’, one centred on benevolence, reason, health and feeling at home with strangers and constant biophysical peril (cosmopolitanism). Unlike deep ecology and Marxist humanism, Stoicism joins a movement of universalisation out from the zone of human comfort. It consists of the self-disciplining reinforcement of an obscure yet certain destiny of justice, given to it by the rest of the earth. Stoicism’s concern is not the flourishing of individuality nor the warmth of community or holistic ecosystem, but the constant rising up to the challenge that the next day may be one’s last”.

    While I agree with the article’s attacks on technooptimism I also think that it does a disservice to serious considerations of technology’s role in our lives and in the production of eudaimonistic society (“Capitalism’s delirious love for computers will have to come to an end” is a particularly stupid sentence), but a lot of the text is perfectly in step with our central concerns (“Communism has to fully accept humans are vulnerable and unpredictable biophysical systems”). At the same time I certainly don’t want to get rid of technology, and I don’t think many other people do either. What we require is a different way of organising technology, and different modes of getting at the power that we need, especially as the imminent unevenly distributed collapses are going to create zones in which large scale production isn’t possible. But before the collapse comes we do still have time…it isn’t coming tomorrow, although we can try to act as if it were.

    Here, but getting away from the subject at hand, I think we might even need to rethink a couple of things. If we really do think that the collapse is on the way, then we should reconsider geoengineering. It is an accelerationist policy, sure…but so what? One needn’t accept the accelerationist project as a whole to accept that key features of it (automation; technological re-purposing; bold plans) might be necessary. Geoengineering might be hubris- but it might also be necessary.

    Getting back on topic-ish, two of the questions that haunts me at the moment is how we’ll manage to power automation (which therefore liberates us from the compulsion to work); and the how do we achieve luxury in the Anthropocene? That is- what does luxury mean? The Stoics were certainly not advocates of not having nice things, they even criticised the Cynic School as excessive and ascetic for that kind of practice.

    The slogan “Luxury For All”…what does it mean today? That is- are we like the ecosocialists who peddle only doom and austerity? If so, how are we any different to the incumbent governments of today?

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