04 Apr 2015

2. Giving space to the power of ideas

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Ideas, as I said earlier, have a tremendous power to inspire us and awaken us – not just philosophical ideas, but ideas in general. Nevertheless, philosophical ideas have an especially powerful potential. This is because they deal with fundamental issues of existence, and also because they give these issues rich and complex meanings. They can therefore make a difference to fundamental themes in our life.

But not all philosophical ideas touch us, and certainly not all the time. Most of the time, our minds are too remote, too clever, too opinionated, or simply stuck in automatic patterns. We think about ideas in the abstract, we think about them in a theoretical and uninvolved way, and we don't give them life within us. As Nietzsche says in a passage "On Scholars" (Thus Spoke Zarathustra):

I am not, like them, trained to pursue knowledge as if it was nut-cracking... I am too hot and burned by my own thoughts; often it almost takes my breath away... But they sit cool in the cool shade. In everything they want to be mere spectators, and they are cautious not to sit where the sun burns on the steps.

When ideas remain only in our cool thoughts, they may be "interesting" or "useful," but they don't touch anything significant within us. They are dead leaves that float on the surface of our being.

If we want to use the power of ideas in philosophical practice, as I believe we should, then we must learn how to let ideas act within us and within our clients. We must learn ways to push aside our familiar opinions, and open a space that is free. We must learn to develop ways of listening and thinking from the fullness of our being.

The problem is that we cannot control the power of ideas. We cannot tell in advance whether and how an idea would inspire us, or awaken our clients. Nevertheless, it is possible to create optimal conditions – both inside and outside us – that would "invite" ideas to think within us, and would make their action more likely. For example, a format of companions who contemplate together on a poetic philosophical text, quietly and personally, is much more inviting than an opinionated argument, or a discussion about a client's personal problems.

Even under optimal conditions, we cannot expect ideas to change us dramatically and immediately. They touch us gently, for a short time, and then they disappear. But their gentle action remains with us. I know it, because I have been practicing it for more than twenty years. Little by little they enrich us and deepen us, and we are no longer completely the same.

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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