I was reading a book by Todd May and I found his analysis on the history of philosophy quite interesting. He speaks of three significant periods or phases in the development of philosophy, which could be represented by 3 questions.
During the time of ancient philosophy, most of the diverse philosophers believed in a cosmic order. So one of the significant question during that period was — how one should live? This was directly associated to finding that cosmic order and order will tell me of how my life should be.
During the time of enlightenment and modernity, the question became — how one should act? They no more believed in a larger whole/order on which human life should find meaning. Humans became more individualistic during this time. God was not thrown out. The whole life doesn’t matter anymore — we were supposed to fulfill our obligations. The individual acts became important, the whole life was no more significant.
The third period was started in a significant way by the famous proclamation of Nietzsche, which is of the death of God. [I always see it as the death of the oppressive images of God and invitation for liberative understandings]. How one should act was always connected with God, but now it is open. You have to decide. Rather than one’s ways of acting, Nietzsche open a brave question — How one might live?
Two options are there before. The first one being was conformity to the existing structures. But there are others who pleaded to get out of those structures/constraints (according to them, those structures are not natural or inevitable). Foucault would say they are created due to political or historical reasons, which could be overcome. Derrida would say that the structure of the languages also adds to the problems — especially privileging of one over the other, for eg: masculine over feminine, presence over absence and so on. Deleuze would argue for the potentialities/possibilities of the difference which created the actual structure. The event of difference is a bundle of possibilities, not just the existing one way.
The common factor is, they are not giving you the exact path. They are certain of the question, which is How one might live? The responsibility of showing the path to humanity is not taken by any of them, but they say it is each one’s responsibility to find it and not just by conformity.
As a Christian, one of my favourite Bible verse is, “I have to come to give life and life in its fullness(abundance)”. It is an invitation to live fuller life, which is not definitely a life of conformity. It is a life of love and beauty, joy and meaning. I think the philosophers who spoke against blind conformity and spoke for unravelling ‘How you might live’ echo the spirit of Jesus’ command though most are atheists.