14 Feb 2015

2. Great and small visions of philosophical practice

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As philosophical practitioners, we believe that philosophy doesn’t belong only to universities, because it is relevant to everyday life. But relevant how? How can we, philosophical practitioners, use philosophy to touch life, to elevate life, to make a difference to life? In short, what is our vision?

Let us not satisfy ourselves with trivial answers. Philosophy is a huge thing – it talks about life and death, about beauty and meaning and wisdom, about the foundation of everything. It is easy to trivialize it, to turn it into a simple technique, to turn profound ideas into superficial formulas.

How can we do philosophical practice without trivializing it? What kind of vision would be appropriate for practitioners who call themselves “philosophers”?

I believe that we can find the answer in the history of philosophy. Because almost all the great philosophers, East and West, searched for better ways to live life.

Think about Plato, Epictetus, Epicurus, Plotinus, Spinoza, Rousseau, Emerson, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Bergson, Buber, Jaspers, Sartre, Camus, not to mention many Oriental philosophers. All these thinkers developed practical visions about how to live life.

The problem is that the academic world doesn’t like these visions. University professors prefer abstract discussions. (I myself was a philosophy professor…) University textbooks often ignore those visions, or turn them into academic theories (Nietzsche’s “theory” of the Overman, or Buber’s “theory” of relationships).

I suggest that we open our eyes and hearts, and look again at the vision of those great thinkers. After all, we call ourselves “philosophers.” We studied philosophy for many years. Philosophy is what we bring with us into our practice. The voices of the great philosophers are our intellectual and spiritual root. I believe that we should listen to their voices, in order to make our vision deep and powerful.

But aren’t those philosophers very different from each other? Is there a vision that is common to Plato, Marcus Aurelius, Rousseau, and Nietzsche?

The answer seems to me clear: These thinkers all agree that philosophy can show us ways to transform our life. They all agree that life is normally superficial, automatic, narrow – but that we can transform life and make it deep, full, free, large.

Can we, the philosophical practitioners of the 21 century, rise to the level of these grand aspirations? Or are we going to satisfy ourselves with “small” philosophy, with logical tricks, and with methods for "normalizing" people that we borrowed from psychology?

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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