The Problem of History in the Temporal Ethics of Henri Bergson, Emmanuel Levinas and Gilles Deleuze

David Ventura

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis explores the ethics of relating oneself to temporality that emerges in philosophies of Henri Bergson, Emmanuel Levinas and Gilles Deleuze. Focusing on Bergson’s, Levinas’ and Deleuze’s respective suggestions as to how an ethical relation to a time of novelty is effectuated, this thesis argues that each of those ethical models retains a problematic relation to history, and that a potential resolution to this problem is only found in Deleuze and Guattari’s joint work. Starting with an exploration of Bergson’s metaphysical writings, this thesis argues that Bergson’s conception of intuition remains insufficiently attuned to that practice’s implication with the domain of history, and that this presents a problem for Bergson’s ethical philosophy. The thesis then turns to Bergson’s The Two Sources of Morality and Religion to argue that this text, despite seemingly historicising the intuition, in fact fails to provide a resolution to the problem of history that announces itself in Bergson’s metaphysical writings. Motivated by these failures in the Bergsonian oeuvre, this thesis then turns its attention to two self-professed Bergsonians, Levinas and Deleuze, to consider the extent to which their respective ethical philosophies can be said to provide a resolution to the Bergsonian problem of history. Exploring Levinas’ temporal ethics in Totality and Infinity and Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, I argue that Levinas remains incapable of providing such a resolution, for his own ethical philosophy remains decidedly caught up in a problematic relation to history, and that despite Levinas’ explicit claims that his ethics transcends the historical. I then turn my attention to Deleuze, to argue that despite remaining (like Levinas) unable to resolve this problem in Difference and Repetition, Deleuze does indeed offer a potentially fruitful way of negotiating it in his joint work with Félix Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Widder, Nathan, Supervisor
  • Somers-Hall, Henry, Supervisor
Award date1 Jul 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - 2020


  • Bergson
  • Levinas
  • Deleuze
  • ethics
  • time
  • history

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