📰 Gilles Deleuze: Ethics and Morality

Author: Christos Marneros

Full Title: Gilles Deleuze: Ethics and Morality

URL: https://criticallegalthinking.com/2019/01/04/gilles-deleuze-ethics-and-morality/

Highlights from March 7th, 2021.

Yes, establishing ways of existing or styles of life isn’t just an aesthetic matter, it’s what Foucault called ethics, as opposed to morality. The difference is that morality presents us with a set of constraining rules of a special sort, ones that judge actions and intentions by considering them in relation to transcendent values (this is good, that’s bad…); ethics is a set of optional rules that assess what we do, what we say, in relation to the ways of existing involved. We say this, do that: or say through mean-spiritedness, a life based on hatred, or bitterness toward life. Sometimes it takes just one gesture of word. It’s the style of life involved in everything that makes us this or that […]
The ethical is manifested as something that does not rely upon ‘fixed’ or ‘eternal’ norms – ‘You should do as I say because it’s the right thing to do!’ ‘That’s wrong, don’t do it!’ Instead, it is a matter of evaluating or assessing each situation and each encounter in their specificity – ‘How does a particular situation or a particular encounter with an external body or an idea affect me?’
Deleuze calls transcendence “the poisoned gift of Platonism.” As a consequence, a hierarchy of beings is formed, where some beings hold ‘more reality’ than others depending on the beings’ proximity to an Idea. For example, something will be judged as good or bad according to its proximity to the Idea of ‘the Good.’
According to Deleuze, this transcendent mode of life dominates Western philosophical thought and Western society more broadly, since the days of Plato. This happens because we are still thinking in terms of a hierarchy and a primacy of a Being (e.g. God) or beings (e.g. ‘the rational human’) among other beings, a primacy of values or ideas among the rest (e.g. fixed notions of ‘justice,’ ‘the Law,’ or ‘human rights’).
Admittedly, then, there is an ‘an-archic’ (without an archē, a grounding or a primary principle) element when we refer to Deleuzian ethics, in the sense that they do not rely on any form of hierarchy and authority of ‘higher’ Being or value in order to be defined or to be judged.
An ethical way of living, in the Deleuzian sense of the term, will not turn to higher values in order to ‘shape’ its ways of existing according to the command of such values. It is rather, as Deleuze states, a matter of forming ‘a style of life’ according to ‘optional rules.’
Even in our so-called ‘secular,’ (post)modern age, we are yet to be freed from the ’shadows’ of a transcendent morality. Instead, what we witness is a rise of the calls for ‘higher’ principles, such as ‘the nation,’ ‘race,’ ‘the state’ and so forth.
On the other hand, what Deleuze defines as ethics, possibly, leads towards a new way of creative thinking and living in an ethical, expressive way that could do away from dogmas and hierarchies.
Such a way of life, though, presupposes that we have to take a ‘risk’ because creativity presupposes experimentation and experimentation does not guarantee absolute ends. Our, potentially, new inventive ways of living may lead to some peculiar results, and thus we have to be prepared to accept that we have to seriously re-evaluate any values that are considered to be ‘sacred.’