Tuesday, 17 March 2015 20:00

9. Critical self-awareness in philosophical counselling

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Clients invariably seek out philosophical counseling to address or resolve a problem that seems to arise from a sense of inner tension with their existing life situation. In other words, clients or counselees come not because they have been diagnosed with a panic disorder, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or because they have been perceived to be in unhealthy relationships, are under-achievers and the like. Rather, it is their subjective experience of themselves living such life-circumstances that impresses upon them the awareness that they are not living as they should or as they would like.

The unsettled nature of this form and level of self-awareness, of course, motions to the opacity of this subjective experience and the perceived quandary which typically leaves clients feeling overwhelmed. A Socratic lesson long quoted amongst pedagogic enthusiasts concerns this point of self-awareness – Socrates would pose directed questions about matters personally relevant to the interlocutor's moral standing with the intent to publicly expose inconsistencies which would throw him into an aporetic state. Prior to the subjective experience of one's own shortcomings and their social - and for some existential - import, discourse would be disingenuous.

Of course, this does not suggest that those intrinsically motivated are not genuinely interested in the object of inquiry. Rather, the suggestion is that the subjective or self-conscious experience of their own understanding is lost to them since their inquiry is disengaged, and thereby factors the subjective experience out of the equation.

Philosophical counseling, as I have argued previously, is a transformative art, that aims to open up creative forms of thoughtful and self-critical reflection. Neither the relayed knowledge of one's predicament by others (as with those who are diagnosed by others), nor the intellectualized awareness of oneself (as one intrinsically motivated) suffering from certain acknowledged limitations could charter a path to self-understanding. The client would, if you will, have to be in "crisis" mode which is attainable as a subjective experience of one's understanding of one's predicament.

Notice in the latter case, one may be self-critically aware of oneself and her limitations, but in such a scenario one is rendered an object or specimen of discourse quite detached from the matter of experiencing oneself as the subject of this mode of understanding. The art of philosophical counseling would require what Kierkegaard referred to as "Subjective Truth". "Truth", he argued, "is Subjectivity". What I borrow from Kierkegaard is this understanding of the mode of inquiry as concrete, engaged and refined, rather than biased, via the subjective particularity of the subject who is both the agent of discourse and constitutive of its unfolding.

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Elly Pirocacos

I am a professor of philosophy presently on leave from the American College of Greece and Visiting Professor at the Graduate School of Education, Department of Integrated Studies in Education, at McGill University. My research is focused on working out the inter-subjectivity of dialogical engagement to address fundamental epistemological issues with regards to counseling and teaching methods. I have a practice in philosophical counseling in Montreal, Canada and am secretary to CSPP (the Canadian Society for Philosophical Practice).