Gilles Deleuze (1925–1995)

Gilles Deleuze was a French philosopher. Born in Paris in 1925, he died there in 1995. His overt connection to Whitehead goes back to his teacher and colleague at the Sorbonne, Jean Wahl, whose Vers le concret: étude d’histoire de la philosophie contemporaine, William James, Whitehead, Gabriel Marcel was one of the first books to introduce Whitehead into France, in 1932. Deleuze was influenced by Wahl’s work and we can speculate that his later references to Whitehead can be traced back to this origin. Deleuze would go on to cite Whitehead in a number of works, most notably Difference and Repetition and The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. This latter book comes out of a series of lectures on Leibniz where Whitehead features strongly and where Deleuze cites Science and the Modern World, Process and Reality and Adventure of Ideas. The lectures (cours) are available in the outstanding web-based research resource maintained by Richard Pinhas ( The collection allows free access to the cours with copyright to Emilie and Julien Deleuze; it includes all of Deleuze’s Leibniz lectures where Whitehead is mentioned. The lectures are important because of their lasting effect on participants (Deleuze was a gifted lecturer and many draw attention to his low and vibrant voice). They are also important in the way they prepare for Deleuze’s published works, and also because his teaching and teaching style must be seen as intrinsic aspects of his thought, where learning takes on a crucial role. Other shorter references to Whitehead can be found in Deleuze’s output, for example, in the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia written with Félix Guattari. Deleuze’s references to Whitehead are invariably positive and express a closeness to Whitehead’s thought, particularly with regard to events in The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque and with regard to Whitehead’s invention of “empirico-ideal” notions in Process and Reality, in Difference and Repetition. This connection between the thinkers has been taken up by some of Deleuze’s most influential students and followers, most significantly by Isabelle Stengers, Eric Alliez and Jean-Claude Dumoncel.

Deleuze’s cours on Whitehead explicitly link him to Leibniz. This is because Difference and repetition, depends greatly on a metaphysical structure derived in part from Leibniz’s work on infinitesimals, events and individuals. However, a series of problems remained from this great work and, in order to respond to them anew, Deleuze returned to them in The Fold: Leibniz and the baroque. There, we find Deleuze’s most complex and deep engagement with Whitehead and one of the most significant testimonies to his contemporary influence. The book’s chapter on Whitehead allows us to understand Deleuze’s debt to Whitehead. It also opens us to the role played by Whitehead’s work in the emergence of the new Deleuzian metaphysics with its influence on his contemporaries, notably Lyotard and Foucault. (We may also link Whitehead, through Deleuze, to other contemporary Leibnizian thinkers, such as Michel Serres.) The engagement with Whitehead emerges from problems in the philosophy of individuals, events and cosmos. How does the event relate the individual to the cosmos? How does it make the individual a perspective on the cosmos? Whitehead provides an understanding of the event that allows Deleuze to view individuals as connected to the cosmos as a whole, thereby extending the notion of event from a restricted time-bound and space-bound event to ‘infinite harmonies in the pure cosmos’ (cours 10/03/87, “Leibniz: L’événement Whitehead’) In his cours, Deleuze allowed long interventions and questions, as well as substantial side discussions. There is an important discussion between him and Isabelle Stengers that shows that he was not entirely at ease with Whitehead’s work, in particular, in its relation to the sciences.

Deleuze began his career with a series of highly influential commentaries on other thinkers. His early books on Hume (Empiricism and Subjectivity, 1953), Kant (Kant’s Critical Philosophy, 1963), Bergson (Bergsonism, 1966) and Nietzsche (Nietzsche and Philosophy, 1962), gave powerful new interpretations of their philosophies but also pointed towards a new metaphysical position that was to emerge in Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition (1969), a philosophical classic, Deleuze developed a complex dialectics based on a demand for critique (How are these identities illusory?) on transcendental conditions (What are the conditions for this change?) on a principle of completeness (Always seek the most complete account of reality) and a principle of experimentation (Conditions can only be revealed through creative experimentation). The roots of this new philosophy, as a thorough critique of transcendence, lay in his work on Spinoza (Spinoza and the Problem of Expression, 1968). The commitment to a baroque system of principles was explained later in Deleuze’s work on Leibniz (The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, 1988). Deleuze’s philosophy posits a transcendental unconscious working away beneath the free subject. He questioned the independence of the sciences, demonstrating that questions of value and evolution could not be separated from questions of truth. He showed that thought was a process of actual and ideal connections that forbade easy distinctions between faculties, such as reason and imagination. Experimentation became a goal in itself for him—no longer in hock to a promise of a better future. He replaced free subjective acts of emancipation, within a general historical enlightenment, with the affirmation of eternal change or becoming in individuals, defined as perspectives on the whole universe.

If there is a Deleuzian ethics, based on his book The Logic of Sense, it is that each individual must experiment with the events that happen to it, in order to bring more of the world into a distinctness of connected relations—but always with the threat of errors and surprises. We must then learn to create—where learning is not about knowledge, but about learning to become a more powerful learner. For example, each individual must be aware of the need for obscurity as a background for distinct relations. This is a new pedagogy of eternally recurring variations rather than linear growth. There are no promises of a better world, only multiple techniques for bringing affirmation into the lives of individuals—with no rules for drawing inferences between them. Individuals can only express learning to one another and not communicate it as knowledge. In the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1972, 1980), his collaboration with the psychoanalyst Félix Guattari, Deleuze began to point towards a new politics. Political actors and history were to be supplanted by connected networks—multiple rhizomes in perpetual relation to oppositional trees. These were characterized by processes rather than things. Any political event would be thought of in terms of the creation and transgression of territories—”reterritorialization” and “deterritorialization”). Politics would no longer be a question of absolute values or norms, or of common sense pragmatism, but of how to create within ongoing processes an increased intensity of life.

This work on events, metaphysics and creativity comes out strongly in the work on Whitehead. Perhaps the most infamous statement by Deleuze on Whitehead lies in the claim, in the cours cited above, that Wittgensteinians “assassinated Whitehead.” What Deleuze means is that in turning against speculative metaphysics and complex system-building, some analytic philosophers led to conditions where the power and originality of Whitehead’s thought could not be recognized. It is possible that Deleuze’s lectures and The Fold are an attempt to shift the balance back; this could be seen as characteristic of Deleuze’s thought as a whole. So Deleuze defends a turn back to Whitehead, James, Bergson and Alexander. Against thought defined in terms of substances and predicates, Deleuze sees Whitehead at the forefront of a movement for which “all is event” and predicates only secondary illusory manifestations (though necessary for the expression of pure events, that is, events as pure differences). This reference to difference is important as an explicit further connection to Whitehead, since Deleuze notes a connection between his own definition of difference in itself as a multiplicity and Whitehead’s concept of the “many”: “the cosmos was the many, that is chaos. It was the chaos-cosmos [Deleuze calls this the “chaosmos” in his work with Guattari].” This connection is taken further by Deleuze in a series of remarks on a new metaphysics, or a metaphysics adequate to (Whitehead’s) contemporary physics where metaphysics would have to be of creativity, that is, of novelty. This openness to creativity is all important to Deleuze; it explains why, in his discussion of the event in relation to Leibniz and Whitehead, there can be no fixing of the event in terms of unchangeable characteristics, instead, the event must resist any final determination.

Works Cited and Further Readings

For Deleuze’ Cours, see

Deleuze, Gilles. 1953. Empirisme et subjectivité: Essai sur la Nature humaine selon Hume (Paris, Press Universitaires de France). Translated in 1991 by C. Boundas as Empiricism and Subjectivity: An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature (New York, Columbia University Press).

_____. 1962. Nietzsche et la philosophie (Paris, Presses universitaires de France). Translated in 1983 by H. Tomlinson as Nietzsche and Philosophy (New York, Columbia University Press).

_____. 1963. La Philosophie critique de Kant: Doctrine des facultés (Paris, Presses universitaires de France). Translated in 1984 by H. Tomlinson and B. Habberjam as Kant’s Critical Philosophy: The Doctrine of the Faculties (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press).

_____. 1966. Le Bergsonisme (Paris, Presses universitaires de France). Translated in 1990 by H. Tomlinson and B. Habberjam as Bergsonism (New York, Zone Books).

_____. 1968. Différence et répétition (Paris, Presses Universitaires de France). Translated in 1994 by P. Patton as Difference and Repetition (New York, Columbia University Press).

_____. 1969. Spinoza et le problème de l’expression (Paris, Éditions de Minuit). Translated in 1990 by M. Joughin as Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza (New York, Zone Books)

_____. 1969. Logique du sens (Paris, Éditions de Minuit). Translated in 1990 by M. Lester and C. Stivale as The Logic of Sense (New York, Columbia University Press).

_____. 1988. Le Pli: Leibniz et le Baroque (Paris, Éditions de Minuit). Translated in 1993 by T. Conley as The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press).

Deleuze, G. and Félix Guattari. 1972. Capitalisme et schizophrénie tome 1: l’Anti-Œdipe (Paris, Éditions de Minuit). Translated in 1977 by R. Hurley, M. Seem, and H. Lane as Anti-Œdipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (New York, Viking Press).

Deleuze, G. and Félix Guattari. 1975. Kafka: Pour une litterature mineure (Paris, Éditions de Minuit). Translated in 1986 by D. Polan as Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press).

Author Information

James Williams
Philosophy, School of Humanities
University of Dundee, Scotland, DD1 4HN, UK

How to Cite this Article

Williams, James, “Gilles Deleuze (1925–1995)”, last modified 2008, The Whitehead Encyclopedia, Brian G. Henning and Joseph Petek (eds.), originally edited by Michel Weber and Will Desmond, URL = <>.