Tamed Affects: Deleuze and the Theory of Moral Sentiments

Early in his essay “Of the Standard of Taste,” after noting the obvious fact that there is a variety of taste to be found among expressed opinions regarding countless subjects, David Hume claims that “this variety of taste…[will] be found, on examination, to be still greater in reality than in appearance.” Unpacking Hume’s claim that this variety of taste is “still greater in reality than in appearance” opens the door, I shall argue, for a Deleuzian theory of moral sentiments. In particular, we will see how a Deleuzian theory of affects exemplifies Deleuze’s extension of Hume’s theory of sentiments in that what is critical for both is the nonrepresentational reality of the sentiments/affects which then provide the condition for the possibility of representation, and hence for the aesthetic and moral judgments that presuppose representational modes of thought. From here we will turn to Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, and especially to his concept of the impartial spectator, in order to motivate the problem of taming the nonrepresentational sentiments such that they can become ordered and systematized, and thereby become accessible to representational judgments. What this comparison with Smith and Hume will show, in short, is that the Deleuzian theory of moral sentiments set forth in this essay is one that falls nicely within the Scottish Enlightenment tradition of Hume and Smith.

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