Tuesday, 10 March 2015 20:00

6. Two visions of philosophical practice

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I can find in our field two main visions of philosophical practice, and they seem to me radically different from each other. According to one vision, philosophical practice helps clients deal with their personal problems. According to the second vision, philosophical practice encourages people to make their lives deeper and fuller.

In the first vision, philosophy is a tool for solving personal problems. In the second vision, philosophy is a journey towards new horizons of life. The first vision tries to make our Platonic cave comfortable and problem-free. The second vision encourages us to step out of our Platonic cave. The first wants to adjust us to normal life. The second offers to awaken us from normal life.

The first vision is inspired by psychotherapy. Just like the psychotherapist, the philosophical practitioner receives clients who want to deal with a personal problem. Just like the psychotherapist, the philosophical practitioner talks with counselees about their personal problems. Like the psychotherapist, the philosophical practitioner helps counselees overcome their problem. And like the psychotherapist, the philosophical practitioner feels successful when the counselee goes back to "normal" life with greater satisfaction and with less problems. In short, this is a normalizing approach.

Solving personal problems is a good thing. Somebody should do it. But is this the role of philosophy?

The goal of Socrates was not to help people find satisfaction in normal life, but to question normal life. The goal of the Platonic philosopher was not to make the cave comfortable, but to step out of the cave to a bigger world. The goal of Stoic philosophers was not to make us feel good about our usual behavior, but to free us from the prison of everyday behaviors. The goal of Rousseau's philosophy was not to make us satisfied with social games, but to question our social games, and to liberate us from them. The goal of Nietzsche was not to give us a small and comfortable life, but to inspire us to overcome "normality" towards a greater life.

These great philosophers express the second vision of philosophical practice. This vision is inspired not by the psychologist, but by the Platonic Eros – the human desire to go beyond our normal boundaries and make life fuller, deeper, bigger.

Some practitioners want to combine those two visions together. But I am afraid that this mixture doesn't work. It makes our vision vague and conformist. And in many cases, it may be an excuse to continue working like psychologists. Let us think more courageously about our vision, in other words, about who we are and where we are going.

 

 

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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