FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1. What Is Philosophy?
The twentieth-century French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, provocatively defined philosophy as “the art of creating concepts.” In many ways this definition accurately describes the current state of the discipline of philosophy. Philosophers create new ways of understanding, sometimes by helping us to see new aspects of life and reality that we could not see before, sometimes by intellectually destroying old explanations and thereby creating the opportunity to rebuild our understanding. You will find though that philosophers have seen philosophy as a fundamental inquiry into the basis and possibility of all forms of understanding, of every discipline in the sciences and humanities. Indeed, philosophy is an ancient discipline that continues as the parent discipline of our most ambitious intellectual endeavors ranging from religion to science. What marks the philosophical lineage is the desire to attain truth, whether this involves facts about existence or that which transcends the facts.
Philosophy literally means “the love of wisdom.” Wisdom implies something beyond knowledge. One can discover many things about people, the world, and the universe by studying them carefully (the arts and sciences), but until one delves with rigor, honesty, and acute critical facility into the meaning, significance, profundity, or lack of these, one will never have achieved anything of value. The facts will become encyclopedic, with no purpose and no direction. Reasons become taken for granted. Fortunately, this rarely happens since philosophy stands behind every human pursuit. It seems to be part of human nature to stop and ask, “Why are we doing this?” or “Shouldn’t we really be putting our efforts into something else? Why are we here anyway?” Having studied philosophy for many, many years I have little fear that our culture will become a cult of technology for technology’s sake, or that philosophy will become irrelevant to people’s lives because of mindless consumerism and entertainment. The great danger is that the philosophy that stands behind our activities goes unexamined and that it looses the philosophical spirit of radical inquiry, radical honesty. In order for wisdom to emerge, we must be willing to question the facts, the reasons for the facts, and the explanations, including the explanations we give ourselves about our personal behavior and lifestyles.
Philosophy has its roots in the world’s most ancient cultures, such as those of India and the Mediterranean. When Socrates began his philosophical practice in Ancient Greece, he cited a religious mandate. The oracle of Apollo, the god of reason, commanded “Know Thyself!” This mandate has not lost any of its urgency as thinkers and philosophers today strive just as in Ancient Greece to understand the significance of their lives. Philosophy quickly became a way of life for many Ancient intellectuals, a way of leading an “examined life” which was held to be the highest human attainment. So, there are two desires here—for the Ancients and for us. One is to attain wisdom and the other is to help people lead better lives. These desires are the essence not only of philosophy, but also of your humanity. When Aristotle defined human beings as not merely “featherless bipeds” (still a most accurate zoological description) but as those who had a “desire to understand,” the emphasis was on desire more than understanding. Indeed, “The Therapy of Desire” is one of the many names for philosophy both East and West. It is in understanding our desires, our phlios, that Sophia, the goddess of wisdom, graces our lives. The aim of philosophy and philosophical counseling is to bring about this philos-Sophia. If we have to create a few concepts and transform or lives and our understanding in the process, then this is all for the better.
2. What is Philosophical Counseling?
Many personal or interpersonal problems are rooted in philosophical issues such as meaning, value, purpose, identity, dignity, autonomy, responsibility, happiness, fulfillment, morality or justice. Philosophical counseling can be therapeutic in these cases by helping you develop new tools for understanding and new ideas for moving beyond your problems. Even if you are not suffering from immediate problems, philosophical counseling offers a chance to look at your implicit or explicit philosophy of life, your worldview. It offers a chance to examine your assumptions and to build a better outlook on life. An examined life is a better life and this will be reflected in both you and your relationships.
The practice of consulting philosophers on a broad range of important issues–from the value of life to the practical decision, ethical dilemma, or life-course—is as old as civilization. Emperors, queens, religious leaders, generals and entrepreneurs have consulted philosophers in their libraries and studies throughout history and in all parts of the globe. They have seen philosophers as guides in their personal and world-historical planning, thinking and deliberating. But since its inception, philosophy has also been practiced in the streets—Socrates began his practice in the public market in Ancient Greece—and in the countryside, the commerce house, the monastery, the union hall, the café, in exile, and in prison. Over the centuries philosophers have helped people in every walk of life and with a vast array of personal problems, decisions, and meditations. Philosophy, which means literally the love of wisdom, is an ancient discipline that has evolved time-tested techniques for approaching wisdom, applying wisdom to living, and reaping the inherent benefits of leading the examined life.
Philosophers are uniquely trained to address life problems in ways that bring you closer to life’s most profound meanings, goals, and intrinsic joys. Philosophy is an examination, but not in the medical sense in which life’s problems are viewed as diseases. Philosophy is an examination in an inquisitive sense in which life’s challenges are viewed as insights. To consult a philosopher is to ask questions about oneself and about everything. It is to examine your worldview and to employ the tools of reason and description to approach the wisdom embedded within. To consult a philosopher is to engage your deepest life questions as a motive force in personal change.
Philosophical counseling deals with everyday issues and my counseling sessions involve talking in everyday language about these issues. Philosophical counseling is also client centered and focuses on your own descriptions, explanations and insights. My role as a philosopher is to help you to elucidate these insights, recognize both their flaws and their wisdom, and see their consequences and implications. This can help you clarify your worldview, establish direction, make decisions clearer, and open exhilarating new creative vistas. Another primary role of the philosopher is to raise incisive questions and bring assumptions into question in ways you may not have previously considered. This can help bring you out of entrenched ways of thinking which are destructive or holding you back. Philosophy also deals with emotions to the extent that they are directly associated with philosophical issues. Emotions are explored for their significance and with the time-tested knowledge that with understanding comes consolation and growth. Every philosophical counseling session generates new ideas and perspectives. These are the gifts of the examined life.
3. Can I Benefit From Philosophical Counseling?
Yes. Everyone can benefit from philosophical counseling. However, philosophical approaches are not appropriate in every instance or in every period of a person’s life. It is important that the reasons for counseling be examined and that the course of therapy be appropriate to those reasons. Our first meeting will usually determine whether philosophy can help. For an initial consultation, please call.
4 . Is Philosophical Counseling a Substitute for Psychiatric or Psychological Treatment?
If you think you may have a psychiatric problem, you should see a psychiatric professional. I do not and cannot diagnose or treat psychiatric problems or abnormal psychology. Philosophy cannot directly treat any medical condition. Many people who have not been helped by psychologists have been helped by philosophical counselors, but I believe that this is because these people were misdiagnosed with psychological problems to begin with. Philosophy is a way to find wisdom in your life, to resolve problems philosophically, and to find the insights that your experiences are giving you. Any philosophical counselor will take you seriously as a thinker and will not treat your thoughts as symptoms. In philosophical counseling, your ideas will be dealt with for what they are, the beginnings of profound insights and understanding. In many cases this in itself does apparently have psychotherapeutic effects and many have argued and observed that when one’s worldview becomes healthy then one’s body tends toward a parallel health. My philosophical orientation and research tends to make me believe this, but I make no claims for philosophy beyond its natural scope. Philosophy is a way of examining, reordering, and developing your understanding. The tradition of philosophical counseling is an educational and tutorial tradition whose therapeutic effects stem from understanding and wisdom.
Your insights are poignant opportunities to delve into the heart of your life, its meaning, its significance, and your own desire to understand. Often we don’t recognize our insights as philosophically significant and even misidentify them because they occur at the same time as psychological or medical symptoms, or they are associated with great emotion. Doctors rarely identify philosophical problems. Indeed, doctors are usually so keen to identify the problems within their areas of expertise that most doctors will skip philosophy altogether and jump to prescribing treatments for medical or psychological conditions. Philosophically, this is a mistake. You may well have a medical or psychological problem (doctors are the ones to determine this and to prescribe treatment) but this does not mean that you are not dealing with—and even dealing primarily with—a philosophical problem. Cases of crises of meaning, ethical dilemmas, social difficulties associated with lifestyle or self-understanding, romantic problems, and issues of life direction often have philosophical issues at their root and they should be explored and treated philosophically. A philosopher can be of tremendous help in these situations. Of course, if you have a medical or psychological problem, it should be treated by a psychiatrist or professional trained in that area. You should not, however, mistake psychiatry for comprehensive knowledge (which it is not) and you should not assume that your philosophical problems are medical symptoms (which they are not). Indeed, if you have a philosophical problem it is because you are having a philosophical insight. This insight should be explored for the sake of wisdom in your life and for your well-being. The examined life is a life worth living!
5. Do You Counsel Children?
At present, I do not counsel children individually.
Every parent knows that children are natural philosophers and quick to question everything from cosmology and ontology to the most rarefied metaphysical issue. They are quick to speculate and to test explanations. Parents often recognize that the philosophical impulses of their children should be fostered and encouraged. The skills the child uses to uncover the inconsistencies in her parents’ hermeneutical stances, or to venture explanations for relationships, if developed, would serve her well in any profession, art, or science. Critical thinking and speculative system building are the beginnings of significant advancement in every human endeavor. Philosophy is one of the most primary fields of education and certainly Reason is one of the primary “R”s and should be explicitly taught as an integral part of elementary and secondary education.
Fostering and encouraging philosophy in children is a challenge that is as old as humanity and various cultures have responded in a variety of ways ranging from all out suppression to challenging development. Our own culture would greatly benefit from developing its philosophical traditions. Hoping to promote philosophical development in our children, I am currently working on designing curricula for private children’s courses. If you are a parent or guardian and interested in enrolling your child in such a course (or just learning more about it), please contact me and let me know of your interest and the age of your child. I will put you on my mailing list for course information and registration.