Friday, 20 February 2015 19:00

1. Is this thing really philosophical?

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Somebody tells you about a session of philosophical counseling. You listen, and you wonder: But what is “philosophical” in this counseling? Is it philosophical at all?

Indeed, what is “philosophical” in philosophical counseling? This seems to me a fundamental issue for us, philosophical practitioners. This issue is about our unique contribution, about our unique skills, our roots and aspirations. It is about what we taking from years of university studies, and from the treasures of wisdom of the past 2600 years.

Here is one way of formulating the issue: Imagine that you are watching a series of counseling sessions by an unknown counselor. You have no idea whether it is supposed to be philosophical, or psychological, or something else. Now, which elements must exist in this session in order for you to say: “This is a philosophical kind of counseling”?

Obviously, we cannot hope for a simple formula, because there is no simple definition of “philosophical.” Nevertheless, we must be able to say something intelligent about this issue. After all, there is no simple definition of “art” or of “psychology” or “science” or “religion” – and yet, many intelligent things have been said about these activities.

This is, then, my hope in this string of reflections: Not to find a final answer, but to formulate some intelligent ideas which would shed light on what we are doing as philosophical counselors.

Because if I cannot explain what is “philosophical” in my counseling, then I cannot explain what I am offering to my clients. If I have nothing to say about this issue, then why are my philosophy studies at university relevant to what I am doing? Am I not misleading my clients when I use the word “philosophy” – a word which connects me to the writings of Plato and Aristotle and Rousseau and Nietzsche, and to many other great thinkers?

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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