Limit, Collectivity, and the Capacity to Act: Reading Hannah Arendt with Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari

McCullagh, Suzanne
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University of Guelph

This work aims to develop a theoretical basis upon which we could begin to give accounts of action in terms of heterogeneous collectives comprised of human and non-human entities. These accounts challenge the tendency to conceive of action solely in terms of humanity and individuality, either human individuals or groups of human individuals (generally conceived as unified by some common trait such as identity or purpose, for instance, a lobby group, a minority group, or a nation state). Although most theories of action acknowledge the fact that actions do not occur in isolation, there is little theory devoted to the development of the non-individualistic aspects of action, taking into account the elements of situations in virtue of which we are able to act and with which we act. The tendency to focus thought about action on its voluntary and intentional aspects is due to the fact that these are considered to be the necessary requirements for an action’s ethical and political relevance. The significance of our capacities to be affected, and the non-voluntary features which contribute to action, remain unaccounted for when we theorize action solely in terms of a sovereign or autonomous individuality which is brought to the fore in discussions of free will and intentionality. This thesis, therefore, attempts to show that ethically and politically significant features of lived situations are overlooked when action is theorized in a humanist and individualist manner. In elucidating some of the ways that capacities for action are constituted by capacities for being affected, a place can be made for more than human and other than human elements in philosophies of action. The ontological problem of this work is: How are capacities for action constituted: activated, developed, enhanced, diminished, built, and or created? The ethical and political problem explored in this work concerns how our ways of thinking about action and capacity enable or disable capacities for action.

political thought, theory of action, capacity, power, collective action, individuation, responsibility