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Western Philosophy
20th-century philosophy
Name: Gilles Deleuze
Birth: January 18, 1925 (Paris, France)
Death: November 4, 1995 (Paris, France)
School/tradition: Continental Philosophy, Empiricism
Main interests
Aesthetics, History of Western Philosophy, Metaphilosophy, Metaphysics
Notable ideas
affect, assemblage, body without organs, deterritorialization, line of flight, plane of immanence, rhizome, schizoanalysis
Influences Influenced
Bergson, Nietzsche, Spinoza, Hume, Kant |
Eric Alliez, Manuel de Landa, Michael Hardt, Jean-Jacques Lecercle, Antonio Negri

Gilles Deleuze (pron. [ˈʒil dəˈløz]), (January 18, 1925 – November 4, 1995) was a French philosopher of the late 20th century. From the early 1960s until his death, Deleuze wrote many influential works on philosophy, literature, film, and fine art. His most popular books were the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus (1972) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980), both co-written with Félix Guattari. His books Difference and Repetition (1968) and The Logic of Sense (1969) led Michel Foucault to declare that "one day, perhaps, this century will be called Deleuzian."[1] (Deleuze, for his part, said Foucault's comment was "a joke meant to make people who like us laugh, and make everyone else livid."[2])


Deleuze was born in Paris and lived there for most his life. His initial schooling was undertaken during World War II, during which time he attended the Lycée Carnot. He also spent a year in khâgne at the prestigious Henry IV school. In 1944 Deleuze went to study at the Sorbonne. His teachers there included several noted specialists in the history of philosophy, such as Georges Canguilhem, Jean Hyppolite, Ferdinand Alquié, and Maurice de Gandillac, and Deleuze's lifelong interest in the canonical figures of modern philosophy owed much to these teachers. Nonetheless, Deleuze also found the work of non-academic thinkers such as Jean-Paul Sartre strongly attractive. He aggregated in philosophy in 1948.

Deleuze taught at various lycées until 1957, when he took up a position at the Sorbonne. In 1953, he published his first monograph, Empiricism and Subjectivity, on Hume. He married Denise Paul "Fanny" Grandjouan in 1956. From 1960 to 1964 he held a position at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique. During this time he published Nietzsche and Philosophy (1962) and befriended Michel Foucault. From 1964 to 1969 he was a professor at the University of Lyon. In 1968 he published his two dissertations, Difference and Repetition and Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza.

In 1969 he was appointed to the University of Paris VIII at Vincennes/St. Denis, an experimental school organized to implement educational reform. This new university drew a number of talented scholars, including Foucault (who suggested Deleuze's hiring), and the psychoanalyst Félix Guattari. Deleuze taught at Vincennes until his retirement in 1987.

Deleuze suffered from a debilitating pulmonary ailment throughout the last 25 years of his life. In his last decade this condition grew more severe and was compounded by respiratory problems. By the last years of his life, simple tasks such as handwriting required laborious effort. In 1995, he committed suicide, throwing himself from the window of his apartment.

The novelist Michel Tournier, who knew Deleuze when both were students at the Sorbonne, described him thus:

"The ideas we threw about like cottonwool or rubber balls he returned to us transformed into hard and heavy iron or steel cannonballs. We quickly learnt to be in awe of his gift for catching us red-handed in the act of cliche-mongering, talking rubbish, or loose thinking. He had the knack of translating, transposing. As it passed through him, the whole of worn-out academic philosophy re-emerged unrecognisable, totally refreshed, as if it has not been properly digested before. It was all fiercely new, completely disconcerting, and it acted as a goad to our feeble minds and our slothfulness."[3]


Deleuze's work falls into two groups: on one hand, monographs interpreting modern philosophers (Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, Nietzsche, Bergson) and artists (Proust, Kafka, Francis Bacon); on the other, eclectic philosophical tomes organized by concept (e.g., difference, sense, events, schizophrenia, cinema, philosophy). Regardless of topic, however, Deleuze consistently develops variations on similar ideas.


Deleuze's main philosophical project in his early works (i.e., those prior to his collaborations with Guattari) can be baldly summarized as a systematic inversion of the traditional relationship between identity and difference. Traditionally, difference is seen as derivative from identity: e.g., to say that "X is different from Y" assumes some X and Y with at least relatively stable identities. To the contrary, Deleuze claims that all identities are effects of difference, and that difference ontologically comes first. Apparent identities such as X are composed of endless series of differences, where X = the difference between x and x', where x = ... . Difference goes all the way down. To say that two things are "the same" obscures the difference presupposed by there being two things in the first place. To confront reality honestly, Deleuze claims, we must grasp beings exactly as they are, and concepts of identity (forms, categories, resemblances, unities of apperception, etc.) fail to attain difference in itself.

Like Kant and Bergson, Deleuze considers traditional notions of space and time as categories imposed by the observer. Therefore he concludes that pure difference is non-spatio-temporal; it is an ideal, what he calls "the virtual". (The coinage refers not to the "virtual reality" of the computer age, but to Proust's definition of the past: "real without being actual, ideal without being abstract.") While Deleuze's virtual ideas superficially resemble Plato's forms and Kant's categories, they are not originals or models, nor are they abstract conditions of possible experience; instead they are the conditions of real experience, the internal difference in itself. "The concept they [the conditions] form is identical to its object."[4] A Deleuzean idea is not a wraith-like abstraction of an experienced thing, it is a real system of differential relations that creates actual spaces, times, and sensations [5].

Thus Deleuze, alluding to Kant and Schelling, at times refers to his philosophy as a transcendental empiricism. In Kant's transcendental idealism, experience only makes sense when organized by intellectual categories (such as space, time, and causality). Taking such intellectual concepts out of the context of experience, according to Kant, spawns seductive but senseless metaphysical beliefs. (For example, extending the concept of causality beyond actual experience results in unverifiable speculation about a first cause.) Deleuze inverts the Kantian arrangement: experience exceeds our concepts by presenting novelty, and this raw experience of difference actualizes an idea, unfettered by our prior categories, forcing us to invent new ways of thinking (see below, Epistemology).

Simultaneously, Deleuze claims that being is univocal, i.e., that it has only one sense. Deleuze borrows the doctrine of ontological univocity from the medieval philosopher John Duns Scotus. In medieval disputes over the nature of God, many eminent theologians and philosophers (such as Thomas Aquinas) held that when one says that "God is good", God's goodness is only analogous to human goodness. Scotus argued to the contrary that when one says that "God is good", the goodness in question is the exact same sort of goodness that is meant when one says "Jane is good". That is, God only differs from us in degree, and properties such as goodness, power, reason, and so forth are univocally applied, regardless of whether one is talking about God, a man, or a flea.

Deleuze adapts the doctrine of univocity to claim that being is, univocally, difference. "With univocity, however, it is not the differences which are and must be: it is being which is Difference, in the sense that it is said of difference. Moreover, it is not we who are univocal in a Being which is not; it is we and our individuality which remains equivocal in and for a univocal Being."[6] Here Deleuze echoes Spinoza, who maintained that everything that exists is a modification of the one substance, God or Nature. For Deleuze, the one substance is an always differentiating process, an origami cosmos, always folding, unfolding, refolding. Deleuze summarizes this ontology in the paradoxical formula "pluralism = monism".[7]

Difference and Repetition is Deleuze's most sustained and systematic attempt to work out the details of such a metaphysics, but like ideas are expressed in his other works. In Nietzsche and Philosophy (1962), for example, reality is a play of forces; in Anti-Oedipus (1972), a "body without organs"; in What Is Philosophy? (1991), a "plane of immanence" or "chaosmos".


Deleuze's unusual metaphysics entails an equally atypical epistemology, or what he calls a transformation of "the image of thought". According to Deleuze, the traditional image of thought, found in philosophers such as Aristotle, Descartes, and Husserl, misconceives of thinking as a mostly unproblematic business. Truth may be hard to discover -- it may require a life of pure theorizing, or rigorous computation, or systematic doubt -- but thinking is able, at least in principle, to correctly grasp facts, forms, ideas, etc. It may be practically impossible to attain a God's-eye, neutral point of view, but that is the ideal to approximate: a disinterested pursuit that results in a determinate, fixed truth; an orderly extension of common sense. Deleuze rejects this view as papering over the metaphysical flux, instead claiming that genuine thinking is a violent confrontation with reality, an involuntary rupture of established categories. Truth changes what we think; it alters what we think is possible. By setting aside the assumption that thinking has a natural ability to recognize the truth, Deleuze says, we attain a "thought without image", a thought always determined by problems rather than solving them. "All this, however, presupposes codes or axioms which do not result by chance, but which do not have an intrinsic rationality either. It's just like theology: everything about it is quite rational if you accept sin, the immaculate conception, and the incarnation. Reason is always a region carved out of the irrational -- not sheltered from the irrational at all, but traversed by it and only defined by a particular kind of relationship among irrational factors. Underneath all reason lies delirium, and drift."[8]

Deleuze's peculiar readings of the history of philosophy stem from this unusual epistemological perspective. To read a philosopher is no longer to aim at finding a single, correct interpretation, but is instead to present a philosopher's attempt to grapple with the problematic nature of reality. "Philosophers introduce new concepts, they explain them, but they don't tell us, not completely anyway, the problems to which those concepts are a response. [...] The history of philosophy, rather than repeating what a philosopher says, has to say what he must have taken for granted, what he didn't say but is nonetheless present in what he did say."[9] (See below, Deleuze's interpretations.)

Likewise, rather than seeing philosophy as a timeless pursuit of truth, reason, or universals, Deleuze defines philosophy as the creation of concepts. For Deleuze, concepts are not identity conditions or propositions, but metaphysical constructions that define a range of thinking, such as Plato's ideas, Descartes's cogito, or Kant's doctrine of the faculties. A philosophical concept "posits itself and its object at the same time as it is created."[10] In Deleuze's view, then, philosophy more closely resembles practical or artistic production than it does an adjunct to a definitive scientific description of a pre-existing world (as in the tradition of Locke or Quine).

In his later work (from roughly 1981 onward), Deleuze sharply distinguishes art, philosophy, and science as three distinct disciplines, each analyzing reality in very different ways. While philosophy creates concepts, the arts create new qualitative combinations of sensation and feeling (what Deleuze calls "percepts" and "affects"), and the sciences create quantitative theories based on fixed points of reference such as the speed of light or absolute zero (which Deleuze calls "functives"). According to Deleuze, none of these disciplines enjoy primacy over the others: they are different ways of organizing the metaphysical flux, "separate melodic lines in constant interplay with one another."[11] Philosophy, science, and art are equally, and essentially, creative and practical. Instead of asking, "is it true?" or "what is it?", Deleuze claims that better questions would be "what does it do?" or "how does it work?"


In ethics and politics, Deleuze again echoes Spinoza, albeit in a sharply Nietzschean key. In a classical liberal model of society, morality begins from individuals, who bear abstract natural rights or duties set by themselves or a God. Following his rejection of any metaphysics based on identity, Deleuze criticizes the notion of an individual as an arresting or halting of differentiation (as the etymology of the word "individual" suggests). Guided by the ethical naturalism of Spinoza and Nietzsche, Deleuze instead seeks to understand individuals and their moralities as products of the organization of pre-individual desires and powers. In the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Deleuze and Guattari describe history as a congealing and regimentation of "desiring-production" (a concept combining features of Freudian drives and Marxist labor) into the modern individual (typically neurotic and repressed), the nation-state (a society of continuous control), and capitalism (an anarchy domesticated into infantilizing commodification). Deleuze, following Marx, welcomes capitalism's destruction of traditional social hierarchies as liberating, but inveighs against its homogenization of all values to the aims of the market.

But how does Deleuze square his pessimistic diagnoses with his ethical naturalism? Deleuze claims that standards of value are internal or immanent: to live well is to fully express one's power, to go to the limits of one's potential, rather than to judge what exists by non-empirical, transcendent standards. Modern society still suppresses difference and alienates persons from what they can do. To affirm reality, which is a flux of change and difference, we must overturn established identities and so become all that we can become -- though we cannot know what that is in advance. The pinnacle of Deleuzean practice, then, is creativity. "Herein, perhaps, lies the secret: to bring into existence and not to judge. If it is so disgusting to judge, it is not because everything is of equal value, but on the contrary because what has value can be made or distinguished only by defying judgment. What expert judgment, in art, could ever bear on the work to come?" [12]

Deleuze's interpretations

Deleuze's studies of individual philosophers and artists are purposely heterodox. In Nietzsche and Philosophy, for example, Deleuze claims that Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals is a systematic response to Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, a claim that would strike almost anyone who has read both works as curious at best, as Nietzsche nowhere mentions the First Critique in the Genealogy, and the Genealogy's moral topics are far removed from the epistemological focus of Kant's book. Likewise, Deleuze claims that univocity is the organizing principle of Spinoza's philosophy, despite the total absence of the term from any of Spinoza's works. Deleuze once famously described his method of interpreting philosophers as "buggery (enculage)", as sneaking behind an author and producing an offspring which is recognizably his, yet also monstrous and different.[13] The various monographs are thus best understood not as attempts to faithfully represent "what Nietzsche (or whoever) meant" but as articulations of Deleuze's philosophical views. This practice -- Deleuze ventriloquizing through other thinkers -- is not willful misinterpretation so much as it is an example of the creativity that Deleuze believes philosophy should enact. A parallel in painting might be Bacon's Study after Velasquez -- it is quite beside the point to say that Bacon "gets Velasquez wrong". (Similar considerations apply to Deleuze's uses of mathematical and scientific terms, pace Alan Sokal.)


Deleuze's ideas have not spawned a school, as Lacan's did. But his major collaborations with Guattari (Anti-Oedipus, A Thousand Plateaus, and What Is Philosophy?) were best-sellers in France, and remain heavily cited in English-speaking academe. In the 1960s, Deleuze's portrayal of Nietzsche as a metaphysician of difference rather than a reactionary mystic contributed greatly to the plausibility of "left-wing Nietzscheanism" as an intellectual stance.[14]

Like his contemporaries Foucault, Derrida, and Lyotard, Deleuze's influence has been most strongly felt in American humanities departments, particularly in circles influenced by literary theory. There, Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus, written in a style at once potty-mouthed and jargon-laden, offering a frothy theoretical brew of Freud, Marx, structuralism, Nietzsche, and dozens of other thinkers, have acted as postmodern manifestos.

Deleuze's more general philosophical project has attracted fewer followers. Eric Alliez, one of Deleuze's doctoral students, wrote a defense and exposition of his teacher's thought entitled The Signature of the World, or, What Is the Philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari? (1993). Jean-Jacques Lecercle, another of Deleuze's former students, has developed a broadly Deleuzian approach to pragmatics.

Naturally, Deleuze has attracted many critics as well. The following list is not exhaustive, gives only the briefest of summaries, and refrains from any evaluation.

In Modern French Philosophy (1979), Vincent Descombes claims that Deleuze's account of a difference that is not derived from identity (in Nietzsche and Philosophy) is incoherent, and that his analysis of history in Anti-Oedipus is 'utter idealism', criticizing reality for falling short of a non-existent ideal of schizophrenic becoming.

In What Is Neostructuralism? (1984), Manfred Frank claims that Deleuze's theory of individuation as a process of bottomless differentiation fails to explain the unity of consciousness.

In "The Decline and Fall of French Nietzscheo-Structuralism" (1994), Pascal Engel makes a global condemnation of Deleuze's thought. According to Engel, Deleuze's metaphilosophical approach makes it impossible to reasonably disagree with a philosophical system, and so destroys meaning, truth, and philosophy itself. Engel summarizes Deleuze's metaphilosophy thus: "When faced with a beautiful philosophical concept you should just sit back and admire it. You should not question it." [15]

In Deleuze: The Clamor of Being (1997), Alain Badiou claims that for Deleuze, the apparent plurality and variety of the world is only a mask for the single, self-differentiating being-process (which Badiou calls "the One-All"). Badiou further claims that, in practical matters, Deleuze's monism entails an ascetic, aristocratic fatalism akin to ancient Stoicism.

In Reconsidering Difference (1997), Todd May argues that Deleuze's claim that difference is ontologically primary ultimately contradicts his embrace of immanence, i.e., his monism. However, May believes that Deleuze can discard the primacy-of-difference thesis, and accept a Wittgensteinian holism without significantly altering (what May believes is) Deleuze's practical philosophy.

In Fashionable Nonsense (1997), Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont accuse Deleuze of abusing mathematical and scientific terms, particularly by sliding between accepted technical meanings and his own idiosyncratic use of those terms in his philosophical system. Deleuze's writings on subjects such as calculus and quantum mechanics are, according to Sokal and Bricmont, vague, meaningless, or unjustified. However, by Sokal and Bricmont's own admission, they suspend judgment about Deleuze's philosophical theories and terminology.

In Organs without Bodies (2003), Slavoj Zizek claims that Deleuze's ontology oscillates between materialism and idealism, and that Deleuze's view of social ontology as immanent, materialist production (in Anti-Oedipus and subsequent works) fails to account for the negative transcendence that Lacanians maintain is the essence of human subjectivity.


By Gilles Deleuze:

  • Empirisme et subjectivité (1953). Trans. Empiricism and Subjectivity (1991).
  • Nietzsche et la philosophie (1962). Trans. Nietzsche and Philosophy (1983).
  • La philosophie critique de Kant (1963). Trans. Kant's Critical Philosophy (1983).
  • Proust et les signes (1964, 2nd exp. ed. 1976). Trans. Proust and Signs (1973, 2nd exp. ed. 2000).
  • Le Bergsonisme (1966). Trans. Bergsonism (1988).
  • Présentation de Sacher-Masoch (1967). Trans. Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty (1989).
  • Différence et répétition (1968). Trans. Difference and Repetition (1994).
  • Spinoza et le problème de l'expression (1968). Trans. Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza (1990).
  • Logique du sens (1969). Trans. The Logic of Sense (1990).
  • Spinoza - Philosophie pratique (1970, 2nd ed. 1981). Trans. Spinoza: Practical Philosophy (1988).
  • Dialogues (1977, 2nd exp. ed. 1996, with Claire Parnet). Trans. Dialogues (1987, 2nd exp. ed. 2002).
  • Superpositions (1979).
  • Francis Bacon - Logique de la sensation (1981). Trans. Francis Bacon: Logic of Sensation (2003).
  • Cinéma I: L'image-mouvement (1983). Trans. Cinema 1: The Movement-Image (1986).
  • Cinéma II: L'image-temps (1985). Trans. Cinema 2: The Time-Image (1989).
  • Foucault (1986). Trans. Foucault (1988).
  • Le pli - Leibniz et le baroque (1988). Trans. The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque (1993).
  • Périclès et Verdi: La philosophie de Francois Châtelet (1988).
  • Pourparlers (1990). Trans. Negotiations (1995).
  • Critique et clinique (1993). Trans. Essays Critical and Clinical (1997).
  • Pure Immanence (2001).
  • L'île déserte et autres textes (2002). Trans. Desert Islands and Other Texts 1953-1974 (2003).
  • Deux régimes de fous et autres textes (2004). Trans. Two Regimes of Madness: Texts and Interviews 1975-1995 (2006).

In collaboration with Félix Guattari:

  • Capitalisme et Schizophrénie 1. L'Anti-Œdipe. (1972). Trans. Anti-Oedipus (1977).
  • Kafka: Pour une Littérature Mineure. (1975). Trans. Kafka: Toward a Theory of Minor Literature. (1986).
  • Rhizome. (1976).
  • Nomadology: The War Machine. (1986).
  • Capitalisme et Schizophrénie 2. Mille Plateaux. (1980). Trans. A Thousand Plateaus (1987).
  • Qu'est-ce que la philosophie? (1991). Trans. What Is Philosophy? (1996).

Most of Deleuze's courses available here (in French, English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese...)

Select secondary sources:

  • Descombes, Vincent (1979). Le Meme et L'Autre. Minuit. Trans. Modern French Philosophy. Cambridge University Press.
  • Foucault, Michel (1970). "Theatrum Philosophicum", Critique 282, pp. 885-908. Trans. in Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory, and Practice, pp. 165-198. Cornell University Press.
  • Frank, Manfred (1984). Was ist Neostrukturalismus? Suhrkamp. Trans. What Is Neostructuralism? University of Minnesota Press.
  • Hardt, Michael (1993). Gilles Deleuze: An Apprenticeship in Philosophy. University of Minnesota Press.
  • Lecercle, Jean-Jacques (1985). Philosophy through the Looking-Glass. Open Court.
  • May, Todd (2005). Gilles Deleuze: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press.
  • Williams, James (2003). Gilles Deleuze's Difference and Repetition: A Critical Introduction and Guide. Edinburgh University Press.

On Deleuze and feminism

Some feminist theorists have sought to criticize and adapt Deleuze's work in the context of contemporary feminist theory. Some such texts include:

  • Braidotti, Rosi (2002). Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming. Blackwell.
  • Braidotti, Rosi (1994). Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory. Columbia UP.
  • Braidotti, Rosi (1991). Patterns of Dissonance: A Study of Women in Contemporary Philosophy. Trans. Elizabeth Guild. Polity Press.
  • Colebrook, Claire, ed. (2000). Deleuze and Feminist Theory. Edinburgh UP.
  • Colebrook, Claire (Spring, 2000). "From Radical Representations to Corporeal Becomings: The Feminist Philosophy of Lloyd, Grosz, and Gatens," in Hypatia - Volume 15, Number 2, pp. 76-93.
  • Gatens, Moira (Spring 2000). "Feminism as 'Password': Rethinking the 'Possible' with Spinoza and Deleuze," in Hypatia – Volume 15, Number 2, pp. 59-75
  • Goulimari, Pelagia (Spring, 1999). "A Minoritarian Feminism? Things to Do with Deleuze and Guattari," Hypatia – Volume 14, Number 2, pp. 97-120.
  • Grosz, Elisabeth (2005). Time Travels. Feminism, Nature, Power. Duke UP.
  • Grosz, Elisabeth (1994). Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. Indiana UP.
  • Grosz, Elisabeth (1994). "A Thousand Tiny Sexes: Feminism and Rhizomatics," in Deleuze and the Theatre of Philosophy, ed. Constantin V. Boundas and Dorothea Olkowski. Routledge, pp. 187-210.
  • Olkowski, Dorothea (1999). Gilles Deleuze and the Ruin of Representation. University of California Press.
  • Olkowski, Dorothea (1994). "Nietzsche’s Dice Throw: Tragedy, Nihilism, and the Body without Organs," in Deleuze and the Theatre of Philosophy, ed. Constantin V. Boundas and Dorothea Olkowski. Routledge, pp. 119-140.

See also

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:

includeonly>"Jean Ristat : entretien avec Gilles Deleuze (France-Culture, 2 juillet 1970)", L'Humanité, February 28, 2006.


  1. Foucault, "Theatrum Philosophicum", Critique 282, p. 885.
  2. Negotiations, p. 4.
  3. Mary Bryden (ed.), Deleuze and Religion (New York: Routledge, 2001), p. 201.
  4. "Bergson's Conception of Difference" in Desert Islands, p. 36.
  5. See "The Method of Dramatization" in Desert Islands, and "Actual and Virtual" in Dialogues.
  6. Difference and Repetition, p. 39.
  7. A Thousand Plateaus, p. 20.
  8. Desert Islands, p. 262.
  9. Negotiations, p. 136.
  10. What Is Philosophy?, p. 22.
  11. Negotiations, p. 125.
  12. Essays Critical and Clinical, p. 135.
  13. Negotiations, p. 6.
  14. See, e.g., D. Allison (ed.), The New Nietzsche (MIT Press, 1985), and L. Ferry and A. Renaut (eds.), Why We Are Not Nietzscheans (University of Chicago Press, 1997).
  15. Barry Smith (ed.), European Philosophy and the American Academy, p. 34.

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