04 May 2015

9. Is there anything wrong with methods?

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Some philosophical practitioners are against methods. This might seem strange. After all, many important philosophers had methods: Aristotle's syllogistic method, Husserl's phenomenological method, the method of conceptual analysis. Epicurus had methods to assess needs, and the Stoics had methods to for philosophical contemplation. So what's wrong with philosophical practitioners using methods?

Some practitioners are afraid that methods might block your spontaneity, and might put a distance between you and your client.

Imagine that you are a painter. In Art School you learned methods for holding the brush, methods for laying paint on the canvas, methods for creating perspective. Imagine somebody saying: "Stop! Don't use methods – they would block your spontaneity and sincerity. Methods put a distance between you and your art!"

Or, imagine that you are a musician. In the conservatory you learned the laws of rhythm, of harmony, of musical keys. Somebody tells you: "Don't use any of these laws and structures, they would block your spontaneity! They would put a distance between you and your listeners!"

How should we respond to this? "On the contrary, thanks to these methods I can express myself sincerely, spontaneously, from my heart."

Methods, or structures, give us the ability to express ourselves. The rules of grammar allow us to whisper words of love, and to create beautiful poetry. The mathematical rules of music allow us to compose wonderful songs, and to improvise and invent. Learning the structure of steps allows us to dance spontaneously. Learning the rules of thinking helps us think original thoughts.

So are methods really bad for us?

Well, it depends on how we use them. Methods are very productive when they help us give voice to our thoughts, our feelings, our creativity. But they are not productive when they are imposed artificially, in a rigid and strict way. Methods can be used, but also misused.

So for me, this is the message of the "No method" people: These practitioners remind us that like the musician or the painter, we philosophical practitioners should use methods carefully. We should use methods when they help us express ourselves, but we should not impose them on the conversation in an artificial way.

Is this conclusion surprising? Well, it applies to philosophical counselors, but also to psychotherapists, psychological counselors, social workers. ANYBODY working with people should avoid imposing rigid, artificial methods. There is nothing especially philosophical about "don't impose rigid methods." What makes a conversation philosophical is not an issue of methods or no methods.

So let us continue using methods, as we have always done. And obviously, as philosophers and psychologists already know, we will try not to impose them in a rigid, artificial way.

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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