First, one’s ethical worth can be evaluated by our capacities to successfully engage with the world. These capacities and actions can be evaluated, not by their degree of proximity to or distance from an external moral law, but by their power to interact with an ever wider range of situations. These capacities might include languages, technical skills, interpersonal or political skills, knowledge of different ways of life, etc. Deleuze and Guattari took up this notion of an ethics of capabilities in their political works. Under what conditions, they asked, “can we be separated from our powers, or allow or actually desire that our powers be diminished?” (Here it is important to note that Deleuze differentiated between two French words for power. He suggested we forego pouvoir which is the power of domination over another, and proposed that the we develop puissance; “the ability to affect and to be affected in multiple ways.”)
Secondly, ethical behavior can be assessed by considering how we develop ourselves in what Michel Foucault called the project of our life as a work of art. Foucault developed this concept from the early Stoics for whom “Ethics was not yet a business of calculation or logic”. Christianity developed a morality in which salvation was attained through the renunciation of the self. For the stoic Seneca, ethics was a practiced way of life; not a subservience to moral laws, but a project of self-formation, the care of the self, the “perfection of the soul.” Foucault proposed ethics as an aesthetics of existence, ethics as “an exercise of the self on the self by which one attempts to develop and transform oneself.” This was done by meditating on how well or badly others navigated life and incorporating these lessons into our outlook and interactions.
The third evaluative approach, that of willing an affirmation, was developed from the Stoics’ and Nietzsche’s idea of ethics as “embracing that which occurs, being equal to the event, that is, meeting the event in a way that involves neither resignation nor ressentiment.” Deleuze did not suggest that we acquiesce without demurring to whatever comes our way. When we are confronted by power relations (pouvoir) which seek to limit our freedom, the ethical response is to face the event with a calm spirit “like a master who with one word hushes the growling of dogs.” We respond by owning and affirming our situation, using our extended capacities to develop new relations.