Conatus or Beyond Death Drive

Szymon Wróbel
(University of Warsaw, Polish Academy of Sciences)

Deleuze rightly discerns at least three ways of reading Spinoza’s central concept of conatus. First, conatus can be understood as a commitment to persevere in existing, sustaining life and circularity of being. This is a mechanical definition of conatus, which makes of it a tool of the death drive. From Hobbes to Freud, both philosophy of life and political philosophy were philosophies of self-preservation, i.e. sustaining life. Yet, paradoxically, these philosophies were becoming philosophies of death. In a second determination, the conatus is a pseudo-dialectic force opposing any disturbances and threats, and as such it negates, defends, avoids, wanders, cheats, and deceits. Hegel in his dialectic of master and servant gives perhaps the first outlook of this strange logic of deception and deferring death through deception, whereby life gets dispersed in a multitude of petty deaths and their simulations. Finally, in a third determination, the conatus is a dynamic force aimed at enhancing the power of understanding; as such it involves the freedom to react and create compositions (collectives). In this final determination conatus stands for reason, here understood as a power to select and organize. In my speech I will try to falsify Deleuze’s hypothesis according to which there is the possibility of deriving all three formulas of conatus from one affirmative concept of life. The key to this verification will be Spinoza’s thesis that affects-affections (affectus) are nothing other than its pseudo-figurations that arise when conatus is determined to do something in response to external stimulation (affectio) which is accidental to the body.

Szymon Wróbel is a professor of philosophy at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales” of the University of Warsaw and at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences. He is the author of numerous books and articles scattered in various scientific journals. His latest book in Polish, is Philosopher and Territory. The Politics of Ideas in the Thoughts of Leszek Kołakowski, Bronisław Baczko, Krzysztof Pomian and Marek J. Siemek, was published by the IFiS PAN Institute in 2016. Currently he leads the experimental Laboratory of Techno-Humanities at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales.”