Expressive Univocity
by Beth Metcalf

Deleuze describes Spinoza’s expressive conception of knowledge (Expressionism in Philosophy p.15), “…not as some operation on an object that remained outside it, but as a reflection, an expression, of an object in the mind.” Therefore, the ‘object’ of Expressionism is not to be confused with the object of Representation. Nor is the ‘mind’ to be confused with a conceptual form of psychological consciousness. That is, the object is not represented in a concept. Expressionism first asks what expresses itself in a true idea. Expressionism is not a representation of a perceived object to a conscious subject. It does not correlate representative content with conceptual form. Rather, Expressionism composes internal relations of understanding which precede any relation of representation. What is this expressive internal relation that makes an adequate idea a true form?

In EiP 20-22, Deleuze tells us that Hegel criticized Spinoza’s geometrical method for being unable to frame an internal development of the Absolute. Hegel accused Spinoza of using only geometrical “fictions” that remain limited by the externality of viewpoints. But Deleuze is saying that Hegel never understood what Spinoza was doing. Spinoza is saying that a geometrical method only involves fictions if causes are inferred from their sensory effects. However, Spinoza’s method does not infer causes from effects. Rather, Spinoza’s Expressionism takes Absolute Infinity as a Cause. This Cause is not inferred from any sensory effects. However, it is not internal to an Absolute Concept either. That would still merely be an internal unfolding which would never escape the identity of the concept in general. Spinoza’s Univocity has internal relation. However, Spinoza’s internal relation is not to be confused with any relation internal to the concept. Spinoza’s Expressionism is without any presupposed concept.

Therefore, Deleuze-Spinoza’s Expressionism comes out of its Univocity. Attributes are points of view on Substance. In taking attributes to their absolute limit, they are no longer external points of view deducing only single properties of an object. Now, essences of substance are the infinity of points of view on Substance. Modes are deduced but, in this absolute limit, they are properties that take on an infinite collective being. Attributes express really distinct unlimited forms of Substance. Attributes qualify really distinct and formally distinct essences of ontologically single Substance. Attributes are forms common to the essence of Substance and the essences of modes. When attributes are taken to their absolute limit, each essence is an unlimited form of Substance. Yet the really distinct formal essences are ontologically one. However, these forms must not be confused with those of Representational thought united in one universal generality with no real distinction. With Expressive Univocity, there are no numerically distinct essences or substances whereby one could be limited by another. In the absolute limit, each really and formally distinct essence takes on an infinite collective being. Therefore, Spinoza’s response to Hegel’s criticism would be that the Absolute cannot be reached through the Concept. The Absolute can be reached only through Univocity.

Only the internal expressiveness of the Idea is real. Ideas express the really distinct, infinite qualities of ontologically single Substance. The Idea represents things only as these things express their cause. The represented object is never the cause of the Idea. The sequence of Ideas is not traced from the sequence of things. It is no longer the mind deducing external objects by inferring causes. Rather, internal expressive form in correlation with material cause is the Idea in its own sub-representative composition. Expressive understanding deduces properties from what logic “perceives” as necessary. Ideas do not represent an object given to perception. The understanding perceives the logical necessity of really distinct essences in ontologically single Substance. Therefore, “comprehension” is not a conceptual understanding. “Perception” is not an empirically “given” sensory perception of representational content. It is what understanding “perceives” to be necessary in the essence of Substance. Objects express themselves in a mind that “perceives” and “comprehends” what is expressed. The essence of Substance, when expressed in the attribute, is a formal essence. When expressed in the Idea, it is objective essence. There is internal unity of Idea in its form and its expressive material cause. Understanding of the Idea is thereby the mind’s way of “perceiving”. Ideas are “the eyes through which the mind sees.” (EiP22) This ‘understanding’, then, is not a conceptual understanding, but the comprehension of an Idea. Nor is this “perceiving” to be confused with any sensory perception. EiP 101, “But as expressing the essence of substance, attributes are necessarily referred to an understanding that understands them objectively, that is, perceives what they express.”

Expression is both ontological and epistemological. Formal and material causes are differentially united. Expressionism is the correlative genesis of being and knowing. Ideas follow materially from the Idea of Substance (ontologically single, unformed matter), while at the same time following formally from the power of thinking really distinct forms. There is unity of these two derivations. An adequate Idea expresses its cause and is explained by our power of knowing. An adequate Idea unites expressive content and explicative form. Therefore, the Idea’s cause is not an object it represents. Rather, it represents an object because it expresses its own internal cause. Logical form (comprehension) and expressive content (extension) are joined in the concatenation of Ideas. Ideas do not represent that which is known through sensory effects. The adequate idea represents a thing as expressing its cause. Ideas have expressive, not representative, content.

However, one may ask how these adequate Ideas can necessarily exist. Just because a logical form is joined with the Idea of a material cause does not mean that they necessarily exist. But Expressionism says that they necessarily exist as expressed. They are not mere possibilities of the concept. They necessarily exist as expression comprehends and perceives them. They exist as necessary essences. Only when characteristic relations, corresponding to the modal essences, are filled by extensive parts, do modes come into existence (become actualized). But the modal essences exist, and they exist necessarily, even if they are not actualized. Modal essences exist as virtual-real Ideas.

With the Representational image of thought, there is presupposition of a correspondence between the conceptual and the real. But this correspondence is merely extrinsic designation. It tells us nothing about the internal form of an adequate idea. It tells us nothing about the idea’s formal content or material cause. Content is only representational content (extrinsic designation). Form is mere psychological form of consciousness (conceptual possibility). However, Expression is a purely logical understanding of an Idea of unformed matter in the process of being composed formally and correlated with objective, material Cause. This is not an understanding through logical properties of the concept, but through physical affections internal to the Idea. It is purely the question of ‘What can a body do?’ That is, Expressionism is not a moral view of the world in which ‘mind’ or ‘soul’ has eminence over the body. Expressionism first finds a form of relations internal to the Idea before representing an object. This gives us the sufficient reason for what is represented. It makes an idea “adequate”.

Therefore, Substance expresses itself in an internal comprehension before becoming actualized in the finite existing modes. Attributes constitute the essence of Substance while they contain the essences of modes. Therefore, while the attributes are the common and univocal form of Substance and modes, they also complicate the essence of Substance and explicate the essence of the modes so that essence is not the same in Substance and modes. Expressionism in Philosophy p.48, “…as long as one refuses community of form [i.e., refuses the same attributes in Substance and modes], one is condemned to confuse the essences of creatures [modes] and God [Substance] through analogy. As soon as one posits community of form, one has the means of distinguishing them.” Cause (Substance) and effect (modes) are known through their univocal attributes (common forms) which constitute the essence of their cause and contain the essence of their effects. Ontologically single Substance is Cause that remains in itself, and modes are effects that remain in their cause. Attributes are common forms that constitute the essence of Substance and contain the essences of modes. But the essence of Substance is not the same as the essences of the modes.

This means that as long as we remain in analogical thinking which refuses any form common to Substance and modes, we will never be able to find difference between the essence of Substance and the essences of modes. But Spinoza’s Univocity posits the attribute as form common to Substance and modes, thereby giving difference between the essence of Substance and the essences of modes. Therefore, Spinoza’s Univocity gives difference that analogy never could. Now, attributes are forms that constitute the differentiation of Substance and contain the differenciation of modes.

Deleuze’s Expressionism is the logic of sense. Essence has no existence outside the attributes (i.e., essence-sense is the expressible of every proposition). But essence is expressed as the essence of Substance, not of the attribute (i.e., essence-event is the attributable to all bodies or states of affairs). Each attribute expresses an essence and attributes it to ontologically single Substance. Attributes are not properties that are attributed to numerically distinct substances represented by a concept. Rather, the attribute is attributive. It attributes its internal essence (sense) to a Substance designated as ontologically identical for all attributes and the modes they contain. Therefore, when it is said that Expressionism composes an internal relation of understanding, we find that this internal Idea is the expressed essence or sense. It is not the universal generality of the concept. As represented in the concept, attributes can only deduce single properties of an object in general. But when taken to their absolute limit, attributes find their internal relation to an Idea. Substance contains the infinity of points of view (all real-formal distinctions) on itself (ontologically one).

Therefore, Expressive Ideas are modes of thought. They are adequate and necessary forms within the internal singularity they compose. They are necessary within the form of their own singular composition. However, they must never be mistaken for universal forms relative to a truth in general. There is variety of the singular, not the variability of the general. That is, there is the truth of the relative, not the relativity of truth. Univocity reconciles the ontological unity of Substance with the qualitative plurality of attributes. However, this unity and plurality must not be confused with that of Representational thought which merely unifies the many into a totalizable unity of the One. Reality is not a unified Truth that could be represented from different points of view. Rather, points of view are all really distinct Individual-worlds, ontologically single.

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