Wednesday, 28 January 2015 19:00

2. What is ‘method’?

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By ‘method’ I understand a fixed way to realize a pre-conceived effect. By example, to manufacture a car, you can do it with robots, or manually. Or to reach the top of a mountain, sometimes you can go by ski lift, or climb up the mountain.

A method applies techniques. In philosophy, we also have techniques, like ‘epochè’ or logical analysis. But do we have methods?

I doubt if Socrates wielded a method. We can say that he was doing ‘something’ in his conversations with other people. Maybe this ‘something’ can be indicated as doubting the other’s certainty on specific issues. In Plato’s dialogues we can distinguish this doubting as a specific, recurring act. But we cannot deduce some ‘Socratic method’ from these conversations, unless we violate the way Socrates acted in Plato’s dialogues (like Leonard Nelson’s reconstruction).

Can we say that Hegel wielded a method, the so-called ‘dialectical method’? Probably, since he processed his material by means of his dialectical plan, to arrive at his pre-conceived goal, Absolute Knowledge.

Maybe, we can consider Husserl’s phenomenological reduction a philosophical method, as well as Wittgenstein’s language game descriptions. Both are explicit ways to treat some ‘material’ (be it pre-knowledge, or philosophical propositions), in order to get to a certain goal (be it pure experience, or the ordinary usage of words).

Obviously, like in philosophy, methods are being applied in philosophical practice. It means, that the philosopher possesses some knowledge of what the guest wants to arrive at, and that he follows a beaten road to reach that goal. In Achenbach’s (and my) opinion, this means a violation of the guest’s own quests for sense in his or her life. Therefore, ’no method’.


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Leon de Haas

I practice philosophy as a counselor and trainer in the Netherlands and Germany. I am a board member of the German professional organization of philosophical practitioners (BV-PP, daughter organization of the IGPP). I am currently doing research on the consequences of Wittgenstein's later philosophy for philosophical practice.