08 Aug 2015

1. Why philosophical companionships?

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Since its birth in the early 1980s, the philosophical practice movement has been dominated by two main formats: First, one-on-one counseling about personal issues, or so-called “philosophical counseling.” Second, discussion groups, especially philosophical cafés and Socratic dialogue workshops.

Both of these activities were “borrowed” from other fields. One-on-one philosophical counseling is an imitation of psychotherapy. The Socratic dialogue was imported from the Socratic Dialogue movement, founded in the 1920s by the German philosopher Leonard Nelson. The philosophical Café was introduced in 1992 by the French philosopher Marc Sautet, who was not part of the philosophical practice movement.

It is curious that philosophical practitioners chose to borrow foreign formats. The vision of philosophical practice is that philosophizing can be relevant to individuals’ personal life, and can help them live more meaningfully and fully. Philosophical discussion groups are interesting, but they are abstract and intellectual, and it is unclear how they can be relevant to the person’s life any more than university courses or philosophy books. Philosophical counseling may be helpful to some individuals, but one wonders how much philosophizing can be done in a counseling session if the main concern is a personal issue.

There is nothing wrong with these two formats, but one wonders why they should dominate our field. After all, their success has been very limited. People are not flocking to our offices. The general public has little knowledge of us. Why limit ourselves to those formats? Why not try new formats?

These were among the considerations that led the Agora team to search for a new format of philosophical practice. And this is how the format of philosophical companionships was born.

For me, the basic insight of the philosophical companionship is the power of ideas. Ideas, including philosophical ideas, have a tremendous power to influence us and change us. After all, people sometimes change their entire life as a result of existential insights, religious convictions, and social and ethical ideas.

Philosophizing is especially powerful in this regard. Unlike dogmatic ideologies or popular slogans, it encourages a free and open exploration. It can cultivate new depths of understanding within us and enrich our attitude to life. And when this is done in togetherness with others, it may inspire us to go beyond the narrow limits of our personal opinions and thinking patterns.

A philosophical companionship is a small group of companions who meet periodically, online or face to face, contemplating philosophically in togetherness. Three principles govern their activity: philosophizing as a creative, dialogical and critical exploration of basic life-issues;togetherness, as opening ourselves to our companions and resonating with them; and contemplating as a way of stepping beyond our usual thinking patterns.

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Ran Lahav

I am a philosophical practitioner, working with individuals and self-reflection groups. I received my PhD in philosophy and MA in psychology from the University of Michigan in 1989. I then started teaching philosophy at a university in Texas, but was not satisfied with academic philosophy. In 1992 I started practicing philosophical counseling, and a year later started giving at Haifa University (Israel) the first university course in the world about this field, and continued teaching it for 15 years. In 1994 I initiated the First International Conference on Philosophical Counseling, and co-organized it with Lou Marinoff. In 2014 I envisioned the Agora webpage, and launched it together with my friend and colleague Carmen Zavala from Peru.

I now live quietly in rural Vermont (northeast USA), where I write, walk in nature, and teach online at two universities. I also give workshops on philosophical practice around the world. My publications include two novels in Hebrew, an anthology on philosophical practice in English, two books on philosophical practice in Italian, and more than 30 professional articles.

My professional website is PhiloLife.net