30 Mar 2015

1. The amazing power of ideas

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Philosophy deals with ideas. Philosophical practitioners work with ideas, but for a special purpose: to make life deeper, richer, fuller with wisdom. Because ideas have a tremendous power to awaken us, to inspire us, to open for us new worlds, to connect us to new sources of plenitude.

Ideas can do many things. Some ideas transmit information from one person to another. Other ideas analyze – they dissect a situation into elements. Others express feelings. And others can be funny, or nasty, or provocative.

But as a philosophical practitioner, I am especially interested in one special kind of ideas – in ideas that awaken in me new fountains of wisdom and life. Of course, other kinds of ideas can be important too, for example ideas that analyze or clarify. But the big potential, the big fire, belongs to ideas that awaken, that inspire, that open us to new horizons and new depths. These are LIVING ideas. And these, for me, are at the heart philosophical practice.

Because ideas have an immense power to transform us. Think of a person who gains an existential awareness of death – and then suddenly leaves his successful career and chooses a quiet life in nature. Think of a person who witnesses cruel oppression, and the new awareness fills her with energy to fight for justice. Think of somebody who is touched by a spiritual idea, and this idea gives her new powers and love.

Somebody might object here: "But these are not pure ideas! They are emotional experiences!"

Well, the old distinction between ideas and emotions is not very helpful. There is no such thing as experiences without ideas. Ideas can be dry, but they can also be experiential. They can live within us, they can touch us and move us, and they can grow and develop within us. Call them whatever you want – "a living idea" or "an emotional understanding" or "an experiential awareness" – the name does not matter. The point is that a new understanding can change us deeply.

Of course, ideas can also change us in destructive ways. An ultra-nationalistic idea, for example, can make us hateful. Our task, as philosophical practitioners, is to cultivate the power of ideas in a deep, wise, constructive direction, just as the gardener cultivates flowers, but not weeds.

Philosophy is about ideas, and philosophical practice is about cultivating LIVING ideas. As philosophical practitioners, let's not preoccupy ourselves with logical analysis, with dry opinions, with smart problem-solving. Ideas can do much more than that – they can give life.

 

 

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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