Monday, 06 April 2015 20:00

1. The practice of a practice

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In the discussion on philosophical practice, the emphasis is often on "philosophical". However, I would like to start a discussion on "practice". What is a practice?

I think that a theory on practice underlies philosophical practice, and philosophy contains many reflections on practice, which can be used for inspiration or justification of one's own philosophical practice. Such a theory could also be a more neutral ground for research than the word "philosophical".

A debate on the philosophical aspect of philosophical practice often excites people and leads them to calling names ("You are not a philosopher..."), to hurting people because their identity is involved, and to blocking community forming. The ICPP saw a lot of those moments. Therefore, I propose a shift of attention to the word "practice".

Theories on practice can be found in the works of Plato (the reflexive practice), Marx (the political practice), Bakunin (the anarchistic practice), Wittgenstein (the linguistic practice), Foucault (the practice of freedom), or Hadot (the meditative practice). I propose a (rough) definition of a practice along the lines of Foucault as a collective mode of action, which seems to be the idea in common to the philosophers mentioned.

In philosophical practice, we are in such a collective mode of action, e.g. in consultations, Socratic group dialogues, walks, teaching, etc. The practice harbors linguistic, political, educational, therapeutic or meditative qualities. Time and place determine an emphasis on one of these qualities. For example, a consultation emphasizes linguistic and therapeutic qualities, a Socratic group dialogue linguistic and political qualities, etc. So, I invite readers to join me in an investigation of the concept "practice", underlying our activities in philosophical practice. A theory of practice is relevant for groups, societies or communities, such as the International Community of Philosophical Practitioners (ICPP). 

Therefore, how would you describe your practice? What is its philosophical source? What are its qualities? What is its meaning?


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Peter Harteloh

I am Peter Harteloh, born on July 5, 1960 in The Hague. I studied medicine (graduation at Erasmus University as MD: 1987) and philosophy (MA at University Utrecht: 1996). I received additional trainings in occupational medicine, psychotherapy and philosophical counselling. I wrote a PhD thesis on quality management in which I explored the philosophical origins of the quality concept and its social application in quality management (2000). Since 2007, I work as a Philosophical Practitioner in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

In my practice, I offer individual consultations, Socratic group dialogue, courses on lifestyle management and philosophical walks. My main sources of inspiration are Pierre Hadot (philosophy as a way of life) who provides a theory for my philosophical practice, and Oscar Brenifier who offers an example of a radical Socratic way of doing consultations. My style can be called clinical, after the "klinikos" (Gr.) who went out to meet the patient in his or her own natural environment in order to understand. In my consultations, I combine a Socratic style of questioning with a phenomenology of understanding against the background of an eternal cycle of Wisdom as expressed in Western or Eastern philosophy.

Since 2011, I am a lecturer in philosophical counselling at the school for higher education of Utrecht. My research is on dialogue, silence and the relationship between concepts and place (topology). I conducted lectures and/or master classes on philosophical practice in Italy (2008, 2010), France (2009, 2012, 2014), Japan (2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013), Thailand (2009, 2013), Tai Wan (2009), Cambodia (2012, 2013), Korea (2012, 2014), China (2013), Sweden (2013), Greece/Athens (2013) and Serbia (2014). I was the secretary (2007-2010) and president (2010-2012) of the Dutch Association for Philosophical Practice.