March 23, 2004

Philosophers Wanted

by Nick Morgan

Julia Annas, the professor I had for an undergrad class on Plato, wrote and spoke a lot about happiness, and how Plato's vision of virtue could get you some. She always cited the self-help sections of bookstores as evidence that lots of people weren't living the good life, and then proceeded to take all comers who challenged pretty much anything Socrates said. As I like to remember it, she thwacked us with a Eudaimonia stick.

Now I see, via Matt Yglesias, that philosophy has made its way to something very like the self-help genre:

    A controversial new talk therapy, philosophical counseling takes the premise that many of our problems stem from uncertainties about the meaning of life and from faulty logic.... [Proponent Marinoff said:] ''Even sane, functional people need principles to live by ... so we are offering what Socrates called the examined life, the chance to sit with a philosopher and ask what you really believe and make sure it's working for you."

Having been a philosophy major, my first reaction is skepticism: philosophers get jobs? My second reaction, though, is skepticism: people use philosophy? The rest of my reactions, however, are a little hopeful.

I'd at least like to think that broadening one's self- and world-understanding at the abstract, lower conceptual level of philosophy is healthy. In my experience, however, people who learn philosophy don't typically start a fresh, happy life. They go to law school. See day three of our last symposium for a taste of what that means. (Admittedly, going to law school was, for me, starting a fresh, happy life.)

I'll confidently say, though, that studying philosophy has vastly enriched my appreciation for every kind of thinking and learning--especially when it's about the really important stuff, like what I ought to be doing. And I often think I ought to be reading more philosophy.

March 23, 2004 01:29 PM | TrackBack

philosophical counselling has been around for a long time... remember the book by Lou Marinoff, "Plato, not Prozac"?

now, I find the biggest problem with philosophical counselling are its underlying assumptions viz. the role of people, etc. (For instance, every single time I read a blog by one of those "submitted" Christian women, I want to vomit.) Philosophical counselling, such as it is, with its emphasis on philosophy and psychological muck-raking, has too many potentials for abuse, particularly when you consider how many philosophies are sexist or otherwise flawed.

Posted by: Katherine at March 24, 2004 07:32 AM

Philosophical counseling, to be useful, needs to recognize the role of religion in people's views of themselves and the Big Questions. Bioethics realizes that people are often guided far more by religion than by secular philosophy, and the same is true for any application of abstract ideas to real moral life.

Posted by: PG at March 24, 2004 11:14 AM


Just came across your site, and thought you might like to know I have a philosophical counselling practice in Cape Town. Please don't judge us all by Marinoff! The question of "underlying assumptions" is of course a meaty one - and exactly to the point of philosophizing together. These assumptions are just what we try to bring to awareness and critique, in the context of the client's situation, and as much as the client desires.

Posted by: Helen Douglas at June 21, 2004 10:36 AM

if I could change the world thinks would you even be interested? If so is there desire with in any of you to help?

Posted by: michael mcclinton at November 20, 2004 09:16 PM

I am a different michael mcclinton. I can kill exestentilisim in one page. I can prove with out a doubt why all is. If you have the true desire to see this marvel. I will show you. I find it is a waste of time as many are not ready to hear the truth especially from me.

Posted by: michael t mcclinton at January 27, 2005 03:56 PM
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