Fermented Ph.D. Dump: Breaking Down the Philosophical Question "How Might One Live?"

A Tactical Recap to the Fermented Ph.D. Dump

Dump I | Dump II | Dump III | Dump IV

I cannot believe that another week has passed since the previous philosophy Ph.D. dump post. Time is a funny thing. The present is never, the future does not exist, and the past only exists in our minds which are trapped in the present, which is never. Funny thing. In any case, I have written about 5000 words in the last week for my Ph.D., so my brain is a little overworked. However, this does not stop one from working on ideas, constantly reiterating the same thing over and over but every iteration becomes something new, something with infinite new possibilities that stretch out beyond any measurability and graspability.

In any case, last week I began to introduce the notion of "How might one live?" as one of the most important philosophical questions.

This week, I want to begin to break down this question into smaller bits and pieces. So without further ado, let us begin this treacherous journey into the realm of "difference philosophy".

"How might one live?"

The question consists out of five elements:

  • how
  • might
  • one
  • live
  • ?

Each element can be discussed more fully to explicate the intricacy of this seemingly innocuous question.


Most of us are busy with the question of "what" or "what-type" questions. What is the purpose of life? What is knowledge? What does xyz mean? And so on. However, what-type questions can only do so much. One might state that they are elucidatory questions. They help us uncover, explain, understand. But they have their limits. In Difference and repetition Deleuze warns us that when we merely ask "what-type" questions, we might fall into the trap of essentialism, we should move beyond these types of questions to more important questions.

It is important to remember that for Deleuze and Guattari, philosophy is about concept creation and not concept elucidation. "What is a good life?" would thus consequently tell us what might be considered a good life, and it can quickly lead toward essentialism — xyz is to live a good life. We want to steer clear of this mindset. Hence the choice of "How" in our question of how might one live.


In the previous Ph.D. dump, I shared one of my all-time favorite quotes.

"What is the difference between ethics and morality? A morality functions according to principle, while an ethics functions according to experimentation. A morality presupposes a discontinuity between principle and action, while an ethics presupposes a continuity of action and character. A morality tells one what one ought to do, while an ethics asks what one might do." (Adkins, Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus: A Critical Introduction and Guide, p.96)

Considering "might", we can state the following. After the works of philosopher Immanuel Kant, moral philosophy dealt with questions of "ought". Morality, subsequently, deals with questions of how one should live according to a principle, rigid norms, and so on. Difference is problematic. On the other hand, ethics deal with experimentation, how might one live in this situation? How might this or that affect my choice? The joke in Kantian moral philosophy is if a murderer asks you where your girlfriend or sister is, he wants to kill her, you are obligated to tell him the truth and not life. You ought not to lie. But experimental ethics does not work with principles or dogma, it experiments and feels at home in difference and the unknown.


"One" is, ironically, not one. In the case of this question, the one is an interpersonal pronoun of sorts that can mean many different things. "One's eyes", "one's legs," and so on. One can also mean things beyond the human itself. One of the more important scholars of Deleuze's work, Todd May who formulated this question, tells us that we normally would have immediately taken the human as central, the point of view of the human. But in the case of this question, we need not do that. One can mean things non-human. It is therefore not human-centric.


The work of Deleuze and Guattari is about life, about living, hence, "How might one live?". It is not about conceptual clarification — how will knowing about concepts help me live a better life? Instead, their philosophy is about concept creation, how we can lead a better life in new terms, with new concepts at our disposal to understand life which is still rather perplexing when you think about it.


The question mark is the most important element in this question. It signifies a question, one with many answers, it signifies open-mindedness, open-endedness. Deleuze and Guattari writes, in A Thousand Plateaus, that:

“The tree imposes the verb “to be,” but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjunction, ‘and ... and ... and …’.”

Another Deleuzian scholar, Massumi, writes that

From one to another (and another ...). From one noun or book or author to another (and another...). Not aimlessly. Experimentally.

What does this have to do with the question mark? Simply put, Deleuze's philosophy is about difference, about never placing arbitrary stops where one can move onwards. Hence the rhizome idea, that it can always carry on, endless deferral, and, and, and, ... yet this is done experimentally, and not aimlessly.

What experiment? Well, the one to find a better life, a better way of living. Because life is always changing, we need to be able to adapt to that change.

Hence a philosophy that works with and in change is needed.

Postscriptum, Now you can live

This is quite dense work. I am also not an expert, always learning more and more. This work is provisional, not final, always changing, reiterating the same, never twice, always different yet the same.

I hope you learned something from it. I have tried to use as few words as possible, but I never seem to get that part right.

All of the images are my own, taken with my Nikon D300. The musings are also my own unless hyperlinked or stated otherwise.

Have you ever pondered this question?

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