Likewise, the Stoics tell us that we are slaves of our automatic emotional patterns, and that philosophy can release us and give us freedom, peace, and harmony with the cosmos. Rousseau tells us that we are alienated from our natural self, but that we can connect to our true self and live fully. Nietzsche tells us that we live a small life, as slaves of fear and laziness and petty concerns, but that we can overcome our small selves and live a noble, passionate, big life. Emerson tells us that we are normally aware only of the visible surface of reality, but that we can open ourselves to larger spiritual horizons. Buber tells us that our relationships are usually distant and alienated, but that we can attain an intimate relationship of togetherness with others and with the world. Bergson tells us that we live a fragmented life on the surface of our being, but that we can connect to the holistic flow of our deep self.
All these philosophers called us to transform ourselves. Although they were different from each other, they all had a common vision: First, that normal life is narrow, automatic, superficial. Second, that there is a greater dimension of existence that we are normally not connected with. And third, that philosophy can show us the way to this greater dimension of life.
These philosophers had a grand vision. They did not trivialize philosophy, they did not use philosophy as a tool to satisfy the needs of their “clients.” On the contrary, they tried to awaken people to go beyond their small needs and satisfactions. They did not normalize people, but encouraged them to rise above “normal” life.
And we, modern philosophical practitioners, what do we hope to achieve in our philosophical counseling? To sell satisfaction to our “clients”? To make our “clients” normal and well-behaved, productive members of the market economy?
Let’s leave those goals to psychologists. If we call ourselves “philosophers,” then our vision must be much, much greater. If we are faithful to our philosophical roots, then we should aim at transforming life, elevating life, not at making life pleasant and “normal.” This is what I have learned from the great philosophers: that the task of philosophy is to awaken people, not to send them to sleep in their comfortable, automatic lives.