Three analytic philosophy of mind debates and a Deleuzian intervention
: Folk Psychology, Personal Identity and Free Will

  • James Davies

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The purpose of my thesis is to examine whether Gilles Deleuze can offer valuable input to the three philosophy of mind debates: folk psychology, personal identity and free will. Prior to this I attempt to show that analytic philosophy in general might benefit from accepting ‘process’ philosophy as an already existing but neglected part of its rich heritage. This would enable Deleuze’s thought to resonate more easily within a renewed, expanded and revitalised conception of analytic philosophy.

Since its inception analytic philosophy has striven to distinguish itself from what was derisively named ‘continental philosophy’. In fact it has been stated that analytic philosophy can best be defined in terms of what it is not rather than what it is. Unfortunately, this tendency still persists. This creates considerable difficulties for anyone, including me, to try to advance a ‘postanalytic’ or ‘metacontinental’ viewpoint. I have tackled this by concentrating on joint problems and introducing Deleuze’s pragmatic approach to the seeming intractable problems troubling each of the three philosophy of mind debates. This has allowed me to bypass the substantial theoretical barriers raised when cross-philosophical debates have been attempted previously.

My conclusion is that by using this approach it has been possible to bring together the work of analytic philosophers and that of Deleuze in a productive endeavour, although much remains to be done. However, I have not been the first to attempt such a project.

A.W. Moore’s argument, in The Evolution of Modern Metaphysics: Making Sense of Things, for the inclusion of Deleuze’s work in analytic philosophy was a revolutionary move made in 2012. As an established analytic philosopher of considerable standing, Moore’s promoting of Deleuze challenged the traditional dismissals of ‘continental’ philosophers’ contributions. Had Moore been successful it would have allowed me to advance my thesis without facing deep-seated opposition. Unfortunately, Moore was not successful in his endeavour. I have found it necessary to examine, in some detail, the reasons for this, prior to moving on to my own thesis described above. I have concluded that his approach was counter-productive. Rather than encouraging analytic philosophers to read Deleuze, I argue that Moore’s approach in fact has the problematic propensity to tend towards the opposite effect.

Initially, my considerable reservations regarding the extraordinary status Moore affords Deleuze are delineated. These reservations are amplified by Moore’s failure to adequately justify his claims regarding Deleuze. He does not pinpoint the sheer difference of Deleuze’s philosophy when ‘writing in his own name’, quite distinct from the exegeses of his philosophical histories written previously – even though much of Deleuze’s own work originates in these analyses. Moore’s anthropocentrism is seen as highly problematic for any positive appraisal of Deleuze’s metaphysics. This resulted in a negative reception by analytic philosophy reviewers of his advocacy of Deleuze. My own more limited assessment of Deleuze’s significance for analytic philosophy follows.

The dual aims of Moore’s book and its generally favourable reception is noted. Analytic philosophers in general are happy with Moore’s anthropocentric commitment. I argue that Moore has been too ambitious in his book and unfortunately he has fallen between two stools. I introduce the philosophy of mind debates and give the reasons for my choice. Next, Alfred North Whitehead together with ‘process philosophy’ is foregrounded. The pragmatic, problem based approach adopted together with Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism is set out.

Chapter Three is devoted to Moore’s lacunae, including his failure to take into account Deleuze’s continental critics. Chapter Four offers an alternative reading of analytic philosophy’s origins together with a re-formulation and expansion of its underpinning beliefs. This highlights the contribution of the neglected Alfred North Whitehead as a potential bridgehead for the full Deleuzian involvement that Moore has argued for.

My own thesis follows, in Chapters Five to Seven, it enables Deleuze’s ‘transcendental empiricism’ to be brought to bear on these long standing problems. Chapter Five, Folk Psychology, is seen to be fundamental for all three analytic debates. The intractable problem in this debate is Eliminative materialism (EM) versus Folk Psychology (FP). Daniel Dennett and Andy Clark make considerable progress in working through this problem, they create a point of contact with Deleuze and establish the ground for the way ahead. This culminates in Chapter Six with the debate on Personal Identity which ultimately reveals the ‘true problem’ of anthropocentrism underpinning this and the two other philosophy of mind debates. Finally, in Chapter Seven and the ‘Free will and determinism’ debate, Deleuze’s distinction between morality and ethics and his emphasis on the latter is shown to be crucial for this debate and indeed his entire enterprise.

The conclusion, in Chapter Eight is in four parts. After a recap and a justification of my approach which I stress has been consistently supportive of Deleuze throughout, Part IV raises concerns which prevent my giving Deleuze the adulation afforded him by Moore, despite my acknowledgement of his considerable achievements.
Date of Award2020
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDominic Smith (Supervisor) & Ashley Woodward (Supervisor)

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