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Philosophy as Therapy – Beyond the Medical Model

 

B.Contestabile       admin@socrethics.com        First version 2008   Last version 2017

 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Abstract

 

1.      Introduction

2.      Basics

2.1  History

2.2  Definition

3.      Structural Model

3.1  Overview

3.2  Discourse (Logos)

3.3  Ancient Practice (Askesis)

3.4  Discourse versus Practice

4.   Forms of Therapy

      4.1  Overview

      4.2  Ancient Goals

      4.3  Modern Goals

      4.4  Methods

5.      Risk Ethics

5.1   Definition

5.2   The Creation of Sense

5.3  The Search for Truth

5.4   Chances

5.5  Risks

5.6  Language Analysis

6.   Comparison with the Medical Model

6.1  History

6.2  Psychological Health

6.3  Diagnosis

6.4  Beliefs

6.5  Moral Questions

7.     Conclusion

 

References

 

 

 

 

 

Abstract

 

 

Starting point

The predominant movement in today‘s English-speaking philosophical culture is toward an increasing fragmentation of the subject into a set of highly professional specialisms and quasi-scientific and highly technical sub-disciplines whose connection with a “way of life” is virtually nil – except in the minimal sense that achieving the relevant qualifications and mastering the relevant intellectual techniques is how their practitioners happen to earn their living. If anyone today were to ask whether a member of a modern philosophy department can hope to “live better” than a lawyer, say, or a member of a metallurgy department, the question would in all probability be taken to be merely about relative salary and career prospects [Cottingham, 148-149].

Philosophy as therapy is a countermovement to this “culture”, which roots in ancient ways to do philosophy.

 

 

Type of problem

- What is philosophy as therapy?

- What is the difference between modern and ancient therapy.

- What is the relation between philosophical therapy and psychotherapy?

 

 

Definition

The shortest definition of philosophy as therapy is philosophy as a means to cure (or reduce) suffering.

In ancient times doing philosophy was a way of life; it was not restricted to an intellectual discipline [Hadot].

 

 

Difference between modern and ancient therapy

The history of philosophical therapy is a movement

- from the biological self to an enhanced perception – respectively dissolution – of the self (Buddhism, Stoicism)

- and then all the way back to the reconstruction of the biological self (Nietzsche, Freud)

On the way back the focus – which was on the control of desires – shifts to the liberation of repressed desires. Obviously in ancient times the main risk was to be misguided by passions, whereas modern therapists focus on the risks of repression.

 

 

Relation to psychotherapy

The analogy with medicine – i.e. the structure constituted by the three concepts health ideal, disease and process of treatment – does not adequately represent the diversity of philosophical therapy. There are significant disanalogies concerning the conception of psychological health, moral questions, beliefs and diagnosis.

 

The delineation between philosophical therapy and psychotherapy is vague insofar, as philosophical methods like maieutics, hermeneutics and the change of perception are also used in psychotherapy. Philosophical therapy competes with psychotherapy mainly in the counseling of mentally sane people.

 

For the contemporary practice we suggest a typology of therapies, which is based on chances and risks. Relating the term therapy to suffering/risk opens a door for people who seek philosophical assistance and do not associate their condition with a disease. The reinterpretation of specific desires/emotions (or suffering in general) as “disease” in ancient therapies is first and foremost of historical interest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Short Version

 

A short version of this paper is available from Philosophy as Therapy – Introduction.

 

 

 

 

 

1. Introduction

 

 

 Starting point

The predominant movement in today‘s English-speaking philosophical culture is toward an increasing fragmentation of the subject into a set of highly professional specialisms and quasi-scientific and highly technical sub-disciplines whose connection with a “way of life” is virtually nil – except in the minimal sense that achieving the relevant qualifications and mastering the relevant intellectual techniques is how their practitioners happen to earn their living. If anyone today were to ask whether a member of a modern philosophy department can hope to “live better” than a lawyer, say, or a member of a metallurgy department, the question would in all probability be taken to be merely about relative salary and career prospects [Cottingham, 148-149].

Philosophy as therapy is a countermovement to this “culture”, which roots in ancient ways to do philosophy.

 

 

Type of problem

- What is philosophy as therapy?

- What is the difference between modern and ancient therapy?

- What is the relation between philosophical therapy and psychotherapy?

 

 

 

2. Basics

 

 

2.1 History

 

 

Etymology

The original meaning of the word therapy is service or ministration and the context was predominantly ancient worship (Ritter 1998, 1163). The term philosophical therapy is therefore reminiscent of the close relation between philosophy and religion in the antiquity (Clark 2010, 83) (Kapstein 2013, 99-100). Later the term included other types of services, in particular the care for body and soul. Therapy in the sense of healing and curing is probably found for the first time in writings of the Hellenistic Age. Curing the soul was traditionally seen as a task of the philosophers and wise. The cure of mental suffering by means of counseling is already mentioned with the Sophists and Platon (Ritter 1998, 1164).

 

 

Ancient India

Therapy begins to be philosophical, if the cure of mental suffering includes critical-rational thinking. Given this criterion the therapeutic function of philosophy can be traced back to the Upanishads (Vedanta, last chapters of the vedas), in particular to the Samkhya doctrine, which provides the metaphysical background for the Yoga school [Soni, 219] and which is a possible root of Buddhism [Baus 2006, 43-44].

The Upanishads are a collection of philosophical texts of Hinduism and a part of the vedas. They developed out of Brahmanas (ritual texts) and are partially prose, partially verse (…). The early Upanishads all predate the Common Era, some in all likelihood pre-Buddhist and pre-Jain (7th-6th century BCE) and therefore also pre-Socratic. In Sanskrit Upanishad literally means “to sit down close to” a guru (Upanishaden, Wikipedia) .

The Upanishads are a transitional form between the earlier vedas and the critical rational thinking of early Buddhism and Jainism.

The topics are – in contrast to the earlier vedas – not of a sacral or ritual nature. They address thinkers and seekers (Upanishaden, Wikipedia).

The Upanishads were, for centuries, memorized by each generation and passed down verbally (Upanishads, Wikipedia).

Since the goal of teaching was the liberation from suffering (moksha) the Upanishads can be associated with philosophical therapy [Soni, 222, 231-232].

Knowing the “supreme reality” means knowing the path to the liberation from suffering – that is the claim of the Samkhya doctrine.

-        With the mediation by a guru the Upanishads can be seen as precursors of guided therapies and philosophical counseling.

-        In the 4th century BC the proliferation of new ideas was favored by the emergence of sutras (textbooks). The written forms of the Upanishads can be seen as guidebooks for self-therapy.

 

 

Middle East

The Therapeutae were a Jewish sect which flourished in Alexandria and other parts of the Diaspora of Hellenistic Judaism in the final years of the Second Temple period. The term Therapeutes means one who is attendant to the gods, although the term, and the related adjective therapeutikos carry in later texts the meaning of attending to heal, or treating in a spiritual or medical sense. The Therapeutae are described in De vita contemplativa ("On the contemplative life"), written in the first century A.D (…) The author was employing the familiar polarity in Hellenic philosophy between the active and the contemplative life, exemplifying the active life by the Essenes, another ascetic sect, and the contemplative life by the desert-dwelling Therapeutae (Therapeutae, Wikipedia)

 

In ancient times there were no clear boundaries between the role of a priest, physician and psychiatrist [Gowans, 12].

The specialized profession of “physician” had not yet separated itself out from the larger profession of shaman or “medicine man”, which included functions of magic, mythmaking, protophilosophy, and song or poetry, along with healing. Some of those whom we now regard as Greek philosophers would have appeared in the eyes of the Persian kings as “physicians.” [McEvilley, 15]

According to Lothar Baus the Therapeutae originally were Buddhist monks [Baus, 201].

 

 

Ancient Greece

The Hellenistic therapies emerged from the conflict between the representatives of the antique pagan world view and their critical-rationally arguing challengers. In the course of this development philosophy was stepwise detached from religion (except for pantheism) and “therapy as worship” became “therapy as an art of living”. Philosophers who specialized on ethics like Socrates, Pyrrho, the Cynics, the Stoics and Epicurus adopted a therapeutic function, which the priestly caste was not able to exercise.

         With Socrates, one can see all of the components necessary for the construction of an art of living.

         In ancient philosophical sources, however, the idea of an “art of living” is primarily associated with the Stoics [Sellars, 55].

For a therapeutic interpretation of Hellenistic philosophy see The Moral Ideal of the Complete Life.

 

 

Middle Ages

According to Pierre Hadot the decline of philosophy as a way of life was caused by the rise of Christianity. Christianity positioned itself as a “philosophy” with its own regimen of spiritual exercises and spiritual goals. Christian interest in pagan philosophy was limited to its discourse [Zeyl].

Throughout the Middle Ages philosophy as a way of life survived in niches. Philosophers such as Peter Abelard and John of Salisbury drew upon the readily available Latin works of Cicero and Seneca, not only for philosophical ideas but also for an understanding of the nature and function of philosophy as such [Sellars].

 

 

Renaissance

         In the Renaissance conceptions similar to the ones of Abelard and Salisbury can be found in Petrarch’s On the Remedies of Both Kinds of Fortune and in the explicit attempt to create a Neostocism by Justus Lipsius [Sellars, 174-175]

         A clearly therapeutic conception of philosophy was promoted by the Dutch philosopher Baruch de Spinoza in the 17th century [Spinoza] [Hampe, 2004]. Spinoza’s claim that knowledge of true causes of passive emotion can transform it to an active emotion anticipated one of the key ideas of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis. In contrast to the Stoics Spinoza maintained that strong emotions have to be controlled by opposing strong emotions. Consequently, if reason should control passion, then reason itself has to become a passion (Spinoza, Wikipedia).

         Spinoza’s monistic (pantheistic) concept was in conflict with the dualist theory of Descartes [Cottingham, 159-164]. Descartes prevailed in this competition and his methodical criticism could explain the subsequent academic refusal to work on therapeutic topics [Hampe 2015].

 

 

Late modern period

         With the translation of the Upanishads in the early 19th century they started to attract attention from a western audience, in particular the attention of Hegel, Schopenhauer and the transcendentalists (Upanishads, Wikipedia). Hegel was more impressed by the level of abstraction in some parts of the Upanishads, than by their therapeutic potential. He basically understood philosophy as an abstract system, constructed by a process of intellectual analysis [Sellars, 167].

Schopenhauer, in contrast, lamented that philosophy has been relegated to a purely abstract and theoretical subject, cut off from the goal that gave it its very raison d’être in earlier times, the goal of achieving a vision of reality that would lead to self-understanding and self-transformation. With Nietzsche’s existentialist approach philosophy finally returned to being a concrete attitude, a way of life and a way of seeing the world [Cottingham, 148-149].

         In the 20th century Ludwig Wittgenstein promoted the therapeutic understanding of philosophy by claiming that “philosophy is not a theory, but an activity” [Aubry, 212]. For Wittgenstein the use of language is rooted in “forms of life”, which are ultimately ways of acting in the world [O’Grady, 239]. His therapy consists in disclosing these roots, thereby unraveling the distortions of (philosophical) language.

         Under the influence of Nietzsche Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze conceived “practical philosophy” as a way of life in which philosophy and life are united. In this context Deleuze explicitly referred to Spinoza [Sellars, 3-4].  

         Since the 1980s the so-called “ivory-tower philosophy” is challenged by a movement in practical philosophy called philosophical counseling or philosophical practice.

 

 

 

2.2 Definition

 

The notion of “philosophical therapy” depends on the interpretation of the terms “philosophy” and “therapy”.

 

 

Philosophy

         In ancient times doing philosophy was a way of living; i.e. it was not restricted to an intellectual activity [Hadot] [Sellars, 6, 171, 175]. This definition assigns a high significance to the philosopher’s biography. Philosophical doctrines are primarily expressed in one’s behavior. It enables one – in the words of Nietzsche – to examine a philosopher through what he did, rather than what he said, let alone what he wrote. Biographical literature and anecdotal material such as Xenophon’s Memorabilia or Laertius’ Lives of Eminent Philosophers are accordingly instructive [Sellars, 171-172].

         For modern philosophers like Hegel and Bernard Williams the idea that there is a relationship between philosophy and an individual’s biography merely indicates a weakness in the philosophical position in question [Sellars, 167].

Philosophy as therapy accords with the ancient view, according to which philosophy is a way of living.

 

In metaphilosophy the distinction between the two conceptions is expressed as follows:

         Some philosophers (e.g. existentialists and pragmatists) think philosophy is ultimately a practical discipline that should help us lead meaningful lives by showing us who we are, how we relate to the world around us, and what we should do.

         Analytic philosophers, in contrast, see philosophy as a technical, formal, and entirely theoretical discipline, with goals such as "the disinterested pursuit of knowledge for its own sake”.

(Metaphilosophy, Wikipedia)

Philosophy as therapy accords with the view of existentialists and pragmatists, according to which philosophy is a practical discipline.

 

 

Therapy

The original meaning of the word therapy is worship and is reminiscent of the close relation between philosophy and religion in antiquity [Clark, 83] [Kapstein, 99-100]. In the later usage we can distinguish between

1.      a narrower definition, which relates therapy to the cure of a disease [Banicki 2014, 15] 

2.      a wider definition, which relates therapy to the cure (or reduction) of suffering, see Philosophy as Therapy – A Review.

 

The two definitions are reflected in two four-fold models of philosophical practice:

1.      One is a model of medicine found in the treatises of the physicians, according to which there is an account of disease, the causes of disease, health or ‘freedom from disease’, and the treatment of disease.

2.      The other is the soteriology made famous by the Buddha as the ‘four noble truths’, consisting in accounts of suffering, the causes of suffering, liberation from suffering, and the path from suffering to liberation in the shape of eight sorts of ‘right understanding’.

[Ganeri, 122-123]

The two models coincide, if the four Noble Truths are interpreted as diagnosis, etiology, prognosis and prescription [Gethin, 63-64] [Burton, 187].

Another example for coincidence stems from Epicurus:

 

 

 

 

Empty are the words of that philosopher

who offers no therapy for human suffering.

 

For just as there is no use in medical expertise

if it does not give therapy for bodily diseases,

so too there is no use in philosophy

if it does not expel the suffering of the soul.

 

Epicurus [Long and Sedley, 155]

 

 

 

 

 

Philosophy as Therapy

In this paper we will work with the wider interpretation of the term therapy:

 

Philosophy as therapy = Philosophy as a means to cure (or reduce) suffering.

 

         In this definition the entire topic of mental health is bypassed. Philosophical therapy aims at the clients' well-being without assuming that he/she suffers from a mental disease [Cohen, 32].

         Furthermore the definition abstains from characterizing philosophy as a happiness promising recipe or wellness-package. Life satisfaction can be influenced, but not controlled; see The Controllability of Life Satisfaction. The deliberate attempt to become happy may even generate a counter-productive result [Hettlage, 154]. (For the purpose of this paper we can use the terms life satisfaction, well-being and happiness as synonyms).

 

For more information on the semantics of “philosophy as therapy” see Philosophy as Therapy – A Review.

 

 

Political philosophy

The term therapy is usually applied to an individual or a group. Attempts to reduce suffering on the cultural level are associated with the terms political philosophy and cultural critic. But in ancient times the boundaries between philosophy, psychotherapy, science and religion were fluent and therapies were imbedded in worldviews and social ideals (e.g. Buddhism and Stoicism).

In Socrates’ day, almost all Greek thinkers assumed or argued that the polis, the community, was the correct and only environment for human moral flourishing – that a good polis created goodness in its citizens (…). As a moral philosopher, then, Socrates was also a political philosopher [Waterfield, 29].

The Platonic (possibly not the historical) Socrates suggested that politics is an art which takes care of the soul. While legislation preserves the good of the soul, justice restores it [Sellars, 40-42]. Aristoteles can be seen as political philosopher for similar reasons [Zeyl].

 

 

 

3. Structural Model

 

According to Konrad Banicki the structure constituted by the three concepts health ideal, disease and process of treatment seems to be generally accepted in thinking about medicine or therapy of any kind [Banicki, 14]. Consequently he demands that a therapeutic vision of philosophy has to identify the diseases it attempts at curing [Banicki, 15]. The model presented here, in contrast, strives to liberate philosophical therapy from the medical terms disease and health ideal, consistent with Lou Marinoffs vision of a “therapy for the sane” [Marinoff]

 

 

3.1      Overview

 

 

Self-transformation

Philosophy can change our way of living. We will associate such a change with the term self-transformation, because it implies a change of one’s character and not merely a change of one’s environment. Self-transformation is the key characteristic of Socrates’ conception of doing philosophy [Sellars, 46]. It changes the internal disposition that determines the way in which one responds to external events [Sellars, 83].

 

 

Self-realization

The term self-realization emphasizes that the “true” self is somehow hidden and has yet to be discovered.

         Ancient concepts suggest that the true self is the same for everybody.

         Modern concepts describe the true self an authentic solution of the conflict between biological and cultural demands (see Moralischer Perfektionismus und Gerechtigkeit)

 

 

 

Discourse and practice

Philosophy as a way of life is more than philosophical discourse. According to the Stoics philosophy is an art of living (technê), comprised of

         Knowledge (episteme) or discourse/theory (logos) and

         Practical exercise (askesis)

Philosophical discourse is a part of the philosophical way of living, but discourse makes only sense, if the acquired knowledge is implemented in practical life [Sellars, 170].

 

 

Exchange of experiences and arguments

Experiences and arguments include spontaneous perceptions, associations and reflections within the discourse. A major part of the discourse, however, concerns the chances and risks that were taken in the past, and possible changes in the future. These kinds of evaluations are a topic of risk ethics.

 

 

Empathy and authenticity

In the counselling of mentally sane people the importance of psychological theories, techniques and jargons is probably overestimated – in particular if there are no specific symptoms. According to Jürgen Kriz non-quantifiable factors like experience, authenticity, empathy and “interpersonal chemistry” decide about the success of a therapy [Kriz 2000, 20].

 

 

Language Analysis

An important aspect of the philosophical discourse concerns language analysis:

The adventure of philosophy initially assumed for Socrates the form of a linguistic analysis of what he and others said about moral matters (…).

For Socrates language analysis is not the goal of philosophy and should not be viewed as an end in itself. For him, it was only a means, a method that allowed for the clarification for what he viewed as the essence of human existence [Navia, 48].

The ancient observation that the clarification of language can have a therapeutic effect was resumed by Freud, Wittgenstein and Cavell. Language serves a purpose. It can either support or hinder the insight, which is required to change one’s way of living.

 

 

 

3.2 Discourse (Logos)

 

What do philosophical therapeutic discourses have in common?

 

 

Greek philosophy

With regard to ancient Greek philosophy the following answer has been given:

According to Martha Nussbaum philosophical practice is characterized by arguments, precise reasoning, logical rigor and definitional precision. Building an art of living is not specific to philosophy, it has to be an art that is committed to the truth (in contrast to religion, astrology etc.). The key is the interpretation of the term “philosophical argument”. According to Nussbaum “philosophical argument” means

         Practice of argumentation

         Psychological interaction aimed at personal and societal change

Ancient philosophers want to distinguish themselves from magicians and sophists, but they are aware that there is a personal frame and an interpersonal, historical and cultural context. That shifts the philosopher’s interest to psychology and the effectiveness of arguments: rhetorical, narrative, imaginary, mnemonic. Literary and rhetoric techniques are essential. A therapeutic argument cannot be understood without its context. Arguments are not timeless and abstract. Philosophical arguments are inherently personal, responsive to the particular case. Most classical philosophical arguments can easily be discussed without reference to their recipient and author. In case of the therapeutic argument this is impossible [Banicki 2015, 618-620].

 

 

Buddhism

Reflections on impermanence and selflessness can ameliorate the suffering of loss [Burton, 213]. It seems uncontroversial that Buddhism is therapeutic in intent [Burton, 187]. But is it also philosophical?

The claim that Buddhist and other types of Eastern thought are not philosophy can itself be symptomatic of a Western arrogance which sees only European-derived cultures as capable of argumentative and logical skills that are frequently considered to be the hallmarks of genuine philosophy. This contention seems unsustainable and parochial given that many Indian forms of thought, including Buddhism, often have been attentive to the rules of correct thinking and rigorous debate [Burton, 189].

Also see [Baus, 16] [Sick, 269] [Kapstein, 101] [Bhikkhu]

 

 

Conclusion

Philosophical discourse – the dialogue with others and with oneself – is an integral part of the philosophical way of living. This is not only true for Socrates, Platonism, Aristotelianism and Hellenistic schools [Banicki 2015, 624], but also for non-dogmatic Buddhism.

Non-dogmatic Buddhists would continually question and test the efficacy and truthfulness of the teachings and be receptive to the possibility that further inquiry and experience may require revision of the therapy and its truth claims [Burton, 217].

The same can be expected from non-dogmatic therapists in the contemporary Western tradition (Nietzsche, Freud).

 

 

 

3.3      Ancient Practice (Askesis)

 

 

Greek philosophy

According to Pierre Hadot and Michel Foucault the focus on arguments is typical for the analytical branch of contemporary philosophy and is not suited for the study of ancient philosophy [Banicki 2015, 612]. Ancient philosophers emphasize that acting is more important than reasoning. Theory is in the service of practice [Banicki 2015, 614-617]. One cannot claim that one has genuinely philosophical logos unless one produces a way of life which is authentically philosophical [Banicki 2015, 625-626]. Philosophy, in the words of Seneca “teaches us to act, not to speak” [Banicki 2015, 613]. The translation of theoretical understanding into practical ability requires training or exercise [Sellars, 107-108, 119]. Consequently there are two distinct forms of philosophical texts:

         Philosophical theory:

o   Treatises such as those produced by Aristotle, Chrysippus, or Hierocles

o   Commentaries, such as those produced by Alexander of Aphrodisias or Simplicius.

         Description of philosophical exercises:

o   Instructional texts directed towards training, such as the Enchiridion (Handbook) of Epictetus

o   Texts where the act of writing itself can be seen to constitute the exercise, such as Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.

[Sellars, 126-127]

 

Philosophical exercises can be subdivided into

         Exercises for the soul (spiritual exercises), not to be understood as esoteric or religious [Banicki 2015, 622]. The Stoics and the Epicureans, both proposed materialist accounts of the soul and yet both schools have engaged in spiritual exercises [Sellars, 114]. The study of physics, for example, was seen as a spiritual exercise with a moral aim and philosophical dialogue existed for the sake of spiritual guidance [Zeyl].

         Exercises for the body (physical exercises), thought to impact the soul at the same time. All physical training involves an element of spiritual exercise [Sellars, 113].

 

Philosophical exercises aim at the change of one’s habits. Typical Stoic aims are the following [Sellars, 120, 135, 137].

         Self-control in difficult situations, control of desires and aversions, control to act or not to act.

         Critical reflection of one’s judgments, freedom from deception and hasty judgment.

         Awareness of transience, acceptance of the fact that all living beings have to die.

The overall goal is to detach life satisfaction from external circumstances and bring one’s will in harmony with the will of the cosmos [Sellars, 141].

 

 

Buddhism

Similar to Hadot’s and Foucault’s criticism of a purely argumentative and logical approach to ancient Greek philosophy, there are also reservations against such an approach to the Buddhist philosophy:

1.      Buddhism emphasizes that it can be extremely difficult to transform deeply engrained emotional and cognitive habits through straightforward rational considerations [Burton, 196]. The philosopher’s mistaken theories are simply rationalizations of these habits and therefore a superficial problem. Theories – which are more symptoms than causes – can be refuted trough arguments, but not habits. The refutation of the view that there is a permanent self, for instance, does not destroy one’s attachment to the ego [Burton, 197]. Buddhist writings therefore make use of literary forms such as parable, metaphor and contextualized descriptions. Many of the Buddhist scriptures are purportedly records of dialogues that took place between the Buddha and various disciplines. [Burton, 198].

2.      The purpose of the “right view” has been missed, if one’s understanding of it is a cause of self-satisfaction, or if one uses it to appear clever or superior to other people. Such a misguided attitude betrays the fact that one has not been genuinely affected by the therapeutic message, namely that craving and selfishness are to be given up [Burton, 209].

3.      Rational examination needs to complemented and confirmed by experiential verification (…). But experiences unscrutinised by reason are also unreliable (…). Hence there are developed traditions of debate in some forms of Buddhism. The Buddha said that his words should be accepted “after due investigation” rather than out of respect for him [Burton, 216].

 

 

 

3.4      Discourse versus Practice

 

How can the daily life of an ancient philosopher be distinguished from the daily life of a religious sectarian?

Nussbaum suggests that if one does not emphasize the role of reason in ancient philosophy then an ancient philosophical way of life will become indistinguishable from ancient religious ways of life. Hadot and Foucault are unable to account for the difference between the sorts of ascetic exercises undertaken by, say, the Desert Fathers, and a properly philosophical exercise [Sellars, 117]

         According to John Sellars this criticism is unjustified in the case of Foucault [Sellars, 115-118]

         According to Konrad Banicki the criticism is also unjustified in the case of Hadot [Banicki 2015, 622-624].

 

Banicki concludes that Nussbaum’s, Hadot’s and Foucault’s interpretations of Greek philosophy are not as distant after all [Banicki 2015, 604]. But that is only true for the interpretation of the philosophical discourse (logos), as discussed above. There remains a disagreement with regard the importance of theory versus practice:

         Nussbaum – in the tradition of Aristotle – considers discourse (logos) to be the essence of a philosopher’s life [Banicki 2015, 615]. In Aristotle’s world view intellectual activity is ranked higher than practical activity.

         Hadot, in contrast, assigns a secondary and derivative character to logos. According to Hadot philosophical discourse originates in a choice of life – not vice-versa. The task of philosophical discourse is to rationally justify a way of life, as well as the corresponding vision of the world. Discourse of this kind turns out to come after the fact [Banicki 2015, 613-614].

To interpret theory merely as the rationalization of a previously chosen practice is probably overdone, but conversely, it is well possible that Nussbaum underestimates the importance of practice. The right way of living cannot be found solely by arguments, even if these arguments have a practical goal and are inherently personal and responsive to the particular case. The validity of philosophical arguments has to be verified in a concrete implementation (exercise, experiment, daily life). A major part of ethical knowledge is emotional knowledge and can only be acquired in practice. When ancient philosophers like Socrates declared that acting is more important than reasoning [Sellars, 49, 52] then they meant that only practical life can decide, if the theoretical reasoning was correct [Sellars, 170].

The ancient emphasis on practice anticipates the stance of contemporary pragmatists. The following statement of John Dewey may serve as an example:

Theory is an abstraction from direct experience and ultimately must return to inform experience.” (Pragmatism, Wikipedia).

 

In ancient Greece the feedback from practical life led to a vast diversity of theories. The disagreements were such that Pyrrho concluded that the best strategy for the pursuit of happiness is to suspend judgment [Sellars, 88-103]. Obviously Nussbaum’s “truth-orientation” did not exclude conflicting therapies, even within the same cultural context. If we extend the investigation to truth-orientation in different cultures, then we can even find opposing visions of a “good life” (as will be shown in the following chapter).

 

 

 

4. Forms of Therapy

 

A therapy is characterized by a goal and a method. We start with a rough classification of goals:

 

 

4.1      Overview

 

There are two kinds of avoidable suffering:

         Suffering that is avoidable by changing one’s way of living (chapter 5.4 and 5.5)

         Suffering that is caused by linguistic confusion (chapter 5.6)

The removal of linguistic confusion (e.g. by Socrates’ Maieutics or by Wittgenstein’s language analysis) is a prerequisite for an authentic choice of one’s way of living.

 

Historically philosophical therapy started as a soteriological mission, closely affiliated with religion. Knowing the “supreme reality” means knowing the path to the liberation from suffering – that is the claim of the rationalist Hindu philosophy (Samkhya), which could be at the root of Buddhism [Baus 2006, 43-44]. In this context the term liberation from suffering has a very different meaning than in contemporary therapies and relates to a radically different notion of the self. Obviously we are already confronted with the need for the linguistic clarity mentioned above:

 

 

Self-realization

         In ancient philosophy the “true” self emerges from the re-discovery of a (lost) universality [Ganeri, 120, 126]. Examples of “spiritual exercises” are Platonic dialogues, notably the practice of death in the Phaedo and the practice of transcendence over all that is mundane described in the Theaetetus [Zeyl]

         In the modern understanding (Nietzsche, Freud), however, the art of living is the fabrication of a personality for oneself. The “true self” emerges from an authentic discovery of one’s individuality [Martin, 27-28].

 

 

Liberation

         The ancient understanding of liberation is „liberation of the mind from the body” respectively “liberation of the spiritual from the material”.

According to Plotinus it is possible to understand ourselves as elements in a larger world. Civil virtue requires us to prefer public duties to our lesser, personal attachments. But there are at least three reasons to reckon that even this service is parochial:

o   However glorious our city, its service may be corrupting

o   All moral action is inferior, dependent of the existence of evils that no truly virtuous person could desire to exist

o   All action is uncertain, we can never be sure of its outcome

The moral ideal is the detached, contemplative life, the life of a resident alien rather than the life of a citizen [Clark, 97].

In ancient times uncontrolled desires/passions were the prime source of (avoidable) suffering.

         Nietzsche and Freud, however, developed their philosophies in a historical environment where the repression of desires had become a problem. Their therapeutic method accordingly consists in liberating and enforcing desires, by disclosing the destructive effects of morality, social control and indoctrination [Pearson, 139, 142-143]. The value of personal attachments is rediscovered at the cost of civil virtue and spiritual goals.

 

Following a more detailed description:

 

 

 

4.2  Ancient Goals

 

 

Buddhism

Buddhism emerged out of Hinduism.

Eastern philosophers learn to see ones true self as something indestructible. That thought motivates the spiritual exercises described in the Upanishads. These typically involve precisely that return to the self of which Hadot speaks, encouraging us to turn our attention inwards in order to re-acquaint ourselves with a universal, impartial self that indwells each of us [Ganeri, 121]. Indians reject the aesthetic model altogether, whether it sees life as sculpting a self or weaving a persona and narrating a biography [Ganeri, 130]

 

In Buddhism the notion of a self is completely given up (see Anatta). Self-realization is replaced by the insight into non-selfhood.

In the Simile of the Lute the Buddha explains that if one looks within and investigates, one will find only the psychological elements and not the self, just as one will search in vain among the components of a lute for the sound that the lute makes [Ganeri, 128]

Coming to know that there is no enduring self is thus clearly seen as a therapeutic philosophical achievement. No emotion that requires one to admit the existence of enduring self, such as regret or possessive desire, is able to survive the surgical removal of that commitment [Ganeri, 124]. Greed is a failure to understand that none of things one seeks to obtain is going to last; it should also be understood that greed is, of its nature, insatiable [Ganeri, 130].

The condition of being without pain and suffering is also a condition of being without pleasure, because pleasure and pain are always inter-mixed, just as someone who wishes to administer a bitter poison, mixes it into honey [Ganeri, 124]. Believing that the ideal state is a pleasureless state might lead me, not to give up all pleasure, for that is not a realistic human end, but to allow myself to be nourished by the pleasures I have and also to resist voluntarily seeking out new ones (...) Philosophy, then, enables us to (…) direct our efforts securely on their target, the living of a life free of suffering [Ganeri, 135].

 

 

Stoicism

There are good reasons to assume that Hellenistic philosophy was influenced by the Eastern tradition [McEvilley] [Clark, 84].

In the Stoic understanding the art of living is the discovery and exposition of something that pre-exists. According to Hadot the ancient spiritual exercises lead from individuality and particularity to objectivity.

Freeing oneself from the limited first person perspective will free one from the emotional turmoil that goes with it. From the cosmic perspective, everything is in a continual state of change and nothing is expected to remain stable for long. In this sense, the “point of view of the cosmos” enables one to free oneself from attachment to particular external objects [Sellars, 154, 163].

 

 

 

4.3  Modern Goals

 

 

Nietzsche

It is in the texts of his middle period (1878-1882) that Nietzsche’s writing comes closest to being an exercise in philosophical therapeutics [Pearson, 137].

In his essay Dawn (1881) Nietzsche suggests that by reflecting, with the aid of psychological observation, on what is “human, all too human”, that “we can lighten the burden of life” [Pearson, 139].

According to Nietzsche the acquirement of philosophical knowledge cannot be reduced to arguments and precise reasoning [Pearson, 157]; it requires self-experimentation [Pearson, 145]. There is not a single morality – numerous new attempts at living life and creating community should be undertaken [Pearson, 161]. Nietzsche criticizes the European prejudice, according to which sympathetic affects and compassion define the moral [Pearson, 146]. The emotional knowledge to be acquired in a Nietzschean therapy is therefore in conflict with the Buddhist tradition.

 

 

Freud

The philosophical significance of Freud’s psychoanalysis was investigated by Stanley Cavell [Cavell 2004, 289-295] [Hampe 2006]. Philosophical psychoanalysis is practiced on the basis of free association and hermeneutics, without using an expert language and without being fixed on Freudian concepts like the Oedipus complex. There is a methodical similarity between Freud’s and Wittgenstein’s way to do philosophy, although Wittgenstein’s method rather treats a question than the person raising it. Wittgenstein aims at general insight, but on the basis of particular person’s sensibility and experiential background [Hagberg, 68-69].

If we aim at a fuller understanding of our own courage or cowardice, or pride or prejudice, we need an overview of the self’s words and deeds in the corresponding context. This constitutes a kind of connective analysis of the self’s past, i.e. an analysis of one’s intellectual genealogy [Hagberg, 79].

A Freudian therapy attempts to connect the present with the past as well, but the emphasis is more on the emotional than on the intellectual genealogy. Since the uncensored emotions, which are discovered in such a process, are conciliated with the self, the Freudian therapy is in conflict with the Buddhist tradition [Rubin, 47, 75]. Whereas Freud promotes adaptation to the biological nature of humans, Buddha strives to transcend it.

 

 

Conclusion

Ancient concepts of self-realization are in conflict with modern concepts. In today’s language

         the Stoic notion of self-realization is rather associated with self-restriction

         the Buddhist notion is rather associated with selflessness.

For Socrates language analysis was a method that allowed the clarification for what he viewed as the essence of human existence [Navia, 48].

Ancient and modern philosophers characterized the “essence of human existence” by the term self-realization. Given the contradicting meanings of this term, language analysis is a prerequisite for taking an authentic choice.

 

 

 

4.4  Methods

 

Methods depend on the goal to be pursued:

 

Maieutics is a possible tool for diagnostic talks. The Socratic examination may lead to the solution of pending problems [Van Hooft, 24] or to the insight that a more profound therapy is indicated. The deeper forms of therapies aim at the kind of self-transformation that was described in the previous chapters:

 

         Therapies of desire [Nussbaum] tend to be normative (Buddhism, Stoicism)

Normative therapies (Buddhism, Stoicism) are characterized by a specific time-tested solution for dealing with risks. However, Buddhism and Stoicism are just two among a wide variety of ancient philosophical schools, which correspond to various personality types or attitudes [Chase, 263]. The decision to adopt an ancient ethical ideal can be as authentic as the decision to develop an individualistic lifestyle [Sellars, 170].

 

         Therapies of repression tend to be individualistic (Nietzsche, Freud):

Individualistic therapies (Nietzsche, Freud) do not prescribe an ethical ideal. The goal is to explore the individual risk profile, and take account of the fact, that it changes in the course of time. The discovery of the individual risk profile corresponds to the discovery of the individual chances and risks within a social and cultural environment. It can be associated with the discovery of the true self in moral perfectionism (see Moralischer Perfektionismus und Gerechtigkeit). An individualistic therapy does not promote but also does not exclude the re-discovery of ancient ethical ideals.

 

 

 

Philosopher

Goal

Method

 

Related Psychotherapy

Socrates

 

Self-appraisal:

Realistic assessment of one’s own character

Maieutics

 Diagnostic talk

 

Freud

 

Self-realization:

Strengthening of the I against the pressures of sexual drives and moral norms

Free association and Hermeneutics

 Psychoanalysis

Nietzsche

Self-realization:

Affirmation of life as will to power

.

Moral criticism

 

 Existential therapy

Stoics

Self-restriction:

Elimination of inadequate desires/emotions

.

Stoic asceticism

 

Cognitive

behavioral therapies

Buddha

 

Selflessness:

Insight into non-selfhood (Anatta) and development of compassion

Insight meditation

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy

 

 

Table from Philosophy as Therapy – A Review

 

 

Wittgenstein’s philosophical therapy stands (among others) in the tradition of Socrates [Peterman, 129] and aims at the best possible clarity in the description of different ways of living. Clarity is a prerequisite for making an authentic choice. Because “best possible clarity” is an aesthetic criterion, Wittgenstein’s method could be called aesthetic [Peterman, 121]. Language analysis is the major tool in the pursuit of representational clarity. The term language includes metaphorical, pictorial and visual language. Cavell for example attempts to describe life forms and self-transformation by means of Hollywood films, see The Good Life in Philosophical Films.

 

 

Disclaimer

1.      There is no claim in this paper that the chosen typology of therapies is compelling. But it is also not arbitrary:

a.    The chosen therapies have a certain practical relevance, whereas practitioners in the tradition other therapeutically interpretable philosophers (e.g. Schopenhauer) are hard to find.

b.    The chosen typology can be linked to ancient concepts like the Purusarthas, Plato’s cardinal virtues and Aristotle’s lifestyles, as well as to modern concepts in empirical social psychology, see Konkurrierende Lebensziele.

2.      There is no claim in this paper that the above described therapies are (or should be) applied in a pure form. In practice therapies are often variations and combinations of the above described forms. Ideal-typical forms are used here in order to bring some order in the chaos of therapies and concretize the discussion.

 

 

 

5. Risk Ethics

 

In the course of history, philosophy has developed a potential to give consolation. But the goal to reduce suffering also implies a strong demand for prevention. Similar to a navigator the therapist has to evaluate different routes according to their chances and risks. Within the ancient models for the art of living [Sellars, 42-47, 70] philosophical therapy comes closest to the art of navigation, if we assume that the traveler’s character is transformed by the journey. Self-transformation is the key characteristic of Socrates’ conception of doing philosophy [Sellars, 46]. The analogy with navigation – in contrast to the analogy with crafts [Sellars, 123] – models behavior under changing internal and external conditions. The analogy to guided therapies is the guided expedition. Erikson compared the linguistic aspect of self-transformation with a “travel diary across terms”, “Reisetagebuch durch Begriffe” [Erikson].

 

In the following we will look at the different therapies from the perspective of risk ethics. Therapeutic goals will be characterized by chances and risks, and not by a health ideal.

 

 

5.1  Definition  

 

         Risk ethics investigates the general question under which conditions a person is permitted to expose him-/herself or others to a risk. The term risk ethics includes the evaluation of chances [Rippe, 4].

         Risk-averse ethics is characterized by sacrificing chances (respectively efficiency) in order to avoid risks. For a more detailed definition see Hostility and the Minimization of Suffering.

The term ethics within risk ethics clarifies that – whatever kind of self-transformation is pursued – it has to be subjected to a Socratic examination.

 

 

 

 

.        1.  Risk ethics suggests that agents should be as well-informed as possible, in taking their decisions.

      2.  The demand to be well-informed asks for searching the truth and for the best possible clarity of representation (Socratic tradition).

.        3.  If the search for truth leads to the discovery of chances, then it creates sense in life.

 

 

 

 

In the following we will investigate this process in more detail:

 

 

 

5.2  The Creation of Sense

 

The conception of philosophy as a highly abstruse, technical and specialist activity with little or no bearing on the individual’s experience has become dominant only in comparatively recent times. The tendency for philosophy to be divorced from the concerns of everyday life has occurred especially since the European Enlightenment and the advent of professionalized philosophy as an academic, secular discipline which often allies itself with scientific analysis. By contrast, pre-Enlightenment thinkers in many cases saw it as the purpose of philosophy to address matters of ultimate concern to individuals – matters what might be termed sense in life questions [Burton, 189].

 

The emergence of sense in life is a process where new or previously meaningless information is ordered in such a way that it

         takes the form of an insight (cognitive aspect) and

         allows an emotional attachment (affective aspect) with specific chances and risks.

The philosophies discussed in this paper are examples of such processes:

 

 

  philosopher

  cognitive component

  of sense

   affective component

   of sense

  In terms of desires

  Freud

 

  Laws of psychology

 

  object of love

 

  Liberate desires

  Nietzsche

  Laws of evolution

  elite or opposition

 

  Enforce desires

  Stoics

  Laws of physics

  universal law

 

  Adapt desires

  Buddha

  Dharma

  Nirwana

 

  Liberate from desires

 

  

The kind of insight which is required to change one’s way of living is usually a long-term step by step process. Epiphany (like Buddha obtaining enlightenment under the bodhi tree) requires a predisposition, i.e. a long period of searching the truth or unease with one’s living condition.

 

In the following we will investigate the cognitive and affective component of sense in more detail:

 

 

   creation of sense

 (chapt.5.2)

          ¦

------------------------------------------------------------

¦                                                                              ¦

                           cognitive component                                            affective component

                                         ¦                                                                               ¦

              -------------------------------------                                      -------------------------------

              ¦                                               ¦                                      ¦                                        ¦

the search for truth          clarity of representation               chances                                risks

               (chapt.5.3)                              (chapt.5.6)                        (chapt.5.4)                         (chapt.5.5)                                  

 

 

 

 

5.3  The Search for Truth

 

All forms of philosophical therapy attempt to adjust the agent’s perception to a critical-rational world view, i.e. they confront him-/her with the reality principle. All above mentioned philosophers search for the truth, but they concentrate on a different aspect of reality:

 

 

Buddhism

         Buddhists observe the evolution of global suffering and risk. If suffering and/or risk increases, then culture as a whole may have to be considered as a patient needing a therapy. In this case it is inconsequent to advise patients to lead a reasonable life without at the same time analyzing the culture (as Freud did in Civilization and its Discontents) which continuously produces new patients. The belief in progress could be – similar to religious promises of salvation – just another pretext to sanction the immense suffering in this world.

         In Buddhism the reality principle is e.g. phrased as follows:

“What is the cause of suffering according to Buddha? Could it not be the same cause as the one for our social problems? The root cause of all these disturbing mental states (kleshas) is ignorance – we do not see things as they really are. The perception of the world is systematically distorted. We live in a collective madness.” (adapted from Buddhismus, Santikaro Bhikkhu)

This is reminiscent of Socrates’ claim that that no one errors or makes mistakes knowingly. It is also reminiscent of the Platonic analysis of the soul:

There are different levels of the soul, only a bit of us is real and knows truth (…). We live in a dream, we are wrapped up in a dark veil, and we don’t believe anything exists except ourselves [Clark, 99].

         The collective madness – according to Buddha – is the struggle for survival and procreation, a struggle which requires attachment to transient values. When we are confronted with transience (loss, illness, aging, death) then we suffer and we are disappointed of life – the delusion cannot be maintained (German “wir sind ent-täuscht”). The Buddhist therapy strives to avoid this disappointment by avoiding attachments, in particular, the attachment to the self. A Buddhist considers the self to be an illusion and the identification with the self’s desires to be irrational.

 

 

Late Stoicism

         Despite pronounced differences of cosmology, of many particular doctrines, of nuance and accent, there nonetheless is much in Buddhism and Stoicism that merits close comparison. Especially noteworthy is the rigor with which both hold that our pains and frustrations stem from false beliefs about ourselves, beliefs that are to be therapeutically overcome through a sustained process of education and ascesis [Kapstein, 106].

Late (Roman) Stoicism (ca. 27 B.C.-180 A.D.) – in contrast to early Stoicism – is characterized by the engagement for marriage, family and politics.

By changing our way of looking at the world, we are to transform ourselves to the point of becoming fully integrated beings (…) harmonizing our will and desires with the course of Nature, and recognizing and fulfilling the social obligations placed upon us by the demand for justice. By all these means we can achieve a cosmic consciousness that raises us above the petty concerns of our individualistic lives, and makes us aware that we are parts of the All [Chase, 264].

       The Stoics do not avoid disappointment by avoiding attachments; they avoid it by attaching to timeless values. Stoics find eternity in the law, which governs the world. The Stoic world view is pantheistic. Humans as rational beings can recognize the universal law. The only virtue is – being conscious of this law – leading a rational life. Whereas the original Stoa was a center of dissident asceticism and social radicalism [Francis], the late Stoicism promoted a mystical absorption in the structure of society, similar to the Hindu caste system. Acting rationally was interpreted as acting with respect to our natural impulses for self-preservation, family and society [Gowans, 21].

       The Stoic ideal of a government of reason was taken up by Immanuel Kant in the Age of Enlightenment. The goal to be in “harmony with the cosmos” is not an appeal for passivity. The vision of justice has changed, but not its appeal. The normative force of a reasonable concept of justice is a part of the cosmic force.

 

 

Nietzsche

         Nietzsche’s search for truth is best understood against the background of the life sciences in the 19th century (although he does not explicitly refer to science). His genealogy of values and his account of a will to power are influenced by 19th century debates on teleology, biological functions, and theories of evolution [Emden]. Nietzsche sees cultural evolution as an open process. Reality is not given, it can be changed. Reality is interpreted by the survivors and the survivors are always right.

         Another important influence was the atheistic thought which spread out in Western countries after the French Revolution and which opened the way for the nineteenth century movements of Rationalism, Freethought, and Liberalism. An early atheistic publication in Germany was The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig Feuerbach (History of Atheism, Wikipedia)

Nietzsche’s atheism aims to redirect people's attention to their inherent freedom, the presently-existing world, and away from escapist, pain-relieving, heavenly otherworlds (Nietzsche, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

         Nietzsche vigorously attacks the "free will" of the theologians that is designed to make men "guilty" in the eyes of God. But he also warns against a naturalism that makes man a simple mechanism governed by cause and effect (The Information Philosopher).

 

 

Freud

         In his search for truth Freud explicitly refers to a science-oriented worldview. He conceived the mind as an energy processing apparatus that obeys Newtonian mechanics and the law of entropy. According to mechanistic principles, energy that accumulates within a system leads to a buildup of pressure and accumulated energy is converted into anxiety. Unless the energy is discharged or transformed symptom formation ensues. Energy transformation leads to higher levels of organization whereas symptom formation leads to lower levels [Palombo, 15].

         Psychoanalysis navigates in the opposite direction of Buddhism and strives to raise consciousness of repressed desires. As compared to antiquity culture has changed in such a way that the loss of passion is considered to be a main source of suffering. The Buddhist dissolution of the self in meditation or the Stoic dissolution of the self in Pantheism are now considered to be a regression:

Freud categorizes the oceanic feeling of wholeness, limitlessness, and eternity as being a regression into an earlier state of consciousness — before the ego had differentiated itself from the world of objects (…) Freud imagines that the oceanic feeling became connected with religion later on in cultural practices (Civilization and Its Discontents, Wikipedia)

         In psychoanalysis the dissolution of the self is only considered to be useful if it serves the exploration of the unconscious [Süsske]. Psychoanalysis is clearly life-affirmative. Religions and ideologies which attempt to direct emotions to transcendent goals are categorized as collective madness. The sense of life is an individual concept where the struggle for power and love can take a decisive position. Psychoanalysis strives to condition people for the biological race, whereas Buddhism questions the sense of this race. For Buddhists the psychoanalytic reactivation of biological motives is a relapse into ignorance.

 

 

Long-term view

An explanation for the historical shift from retreat-oriented to life-affirming therapies could be the survival value of ethical concepts. Buddhism may be effective in the reduction of suffering, but it succumbs in the competition with life-affirming ethics. At the borders of life-affirming cultures, however, the Buddhist truths re-emerge, because the expansion of life is followed by an expansion of suffering (see Negative Utilitarianism and Buddhist Intuition).

 

 

Cross comparison

Therapies have all sorts of consequences; nevertheless the ones that have to do with social relations are more frequent and therefore significant:

According to their specific vision of reality each of the four philosophies emphasizes a certain form of social relation:

         Psychoanalysis typically leads to a changed behavior in partnership or a new partnership

         Therapies based on Nietzsche’s philosophy typically lead to new activities in social groups. The emphasis is on creating and enforcing one’s own values.

         The Stoic identification with nature and humanity (respectively the universal law) brings about that individual strokes of fate are given less importance.

         The Buddhist Insight meditation makes it possible to devaluate external activities and enjoy self-absorption. This is perceived as a gain in freedom.

 

The identification corresponds to the aspect of reality that is considered to be the most important:

 

 

  philosopher

  aspect of reality

identification

  social relation

 

  Freud

 

  biological drives

object of love

  partner, children

  Nietzsche

  survival of the fittest

elite or opposition

 

  groups

  Late Stoics

  universal law (logos)

universal order

 

  cosmopolitan

  Buddha

  transience

Nirwana

 

  absence of relations

 

 

The discovery of the biological utility function makes clear that striving for uniqueness has a biological root and individualism cannot be the ultimate criterion for inner freedom. In the struggle for survival and procreation we operate with a biological self, which is in a certain sense in foreign services (an insight which exists in Buddhism already in the 5th century BC). It is possible to liberate oneself from this dependency (partly at least) by changing ones identification.

The human psyche is able to identify with a person, a family, a community, a concept of justice or even a state of consciousness like the Nirwana. The (relative) freedom in behavior consists in being able to understand ones dependencies and options, and attain a realistic estimation of chances and risks.

 

For more information on

         above forms of therapies, see Cultural Pessimism and Therapy

         the conflict between biological and cultural goals, see Konkurrierende Lebensziele

         the different levels of heteronomy, see Eine interdisziplinäre Betrachtung zur Willensfreiheit

 

 

Metaphor

In the Hindu metaphor of the world theatre adaptation to reality means that the philosopher acquires knowledge about the play that is performed and the role which he/she is supposed to undertake.

         In Buddhism the philosopher learns to become a spectator.

         In Stoicism the philosopher learns to understand the reasons driving the plot.

         In modern therapies the philosopher acquires the ability to change roles and influence the script.

The aim of philosophical therapy is to attain certain freedom of choice over one’s own destiny.

                    

            

 

5.4  Chances

 

 

Philosophy and religion

Whatever form it takes, a larger world-view is a spiritual need that we all have and which both Plato and Aristotle thought grounded a fully happy life. Philosophy (along with theology, theoretical physics, art, politics, and possibly other human cultural forms) answers to this need. Accordingly, any counselling process that calls itself philosophical must go beyond offering pragmatic help to people. It must take them to what Raabe has called a level of transcendence [Van Hooft, 28].

 

This quest for transcendence is reminiscent of the close relation between philosophy and religion in antiquity. But what is a level of transcendence in contemporary therapy?

         Most premodern thinkers believed that the nonphysical and the immaterial are somehow more real than what we can perceive and sense in this world [Rizvi, 133]. Under these premises philosophy was inseparably linked with metaphysical intuitions and speculations [Rizvi, 141-144].

         In contemporary philosophy, however, the quest for transcendence does not imply teaching metaphysical doctrines. Philosophy has a potential to substitute religion without recurring to metaphysics. In order to explore this potential we use the following typology of philosophers [Hampe 2002]:

 

 

                

 

Outsider

Buddha

 

           Prophet

Nietzsche

 

Judge

Rawls 

 

Healer

Freud 

 

 

 

Each of the philosophers above combines the search for truth with a specific form of transcendence. This could explain why their philosophies create chances with strong emotional attachments:

 

1.      Freud

         Psychoanalysis opens the mind for the transcendent force of love and desire. In the state of infatuation, the positive characteristics of the partner are inflated and sometimes even distorted into godlike dimensions. In Hinduism love and desire is the only aim in life that is linked to the name of a god. The term Kama expresses the longing for divine emotions.

         The unconscious stands for the inexhaustible life force and never ending human creativity. Although love and ecstasy are subjective and temporary experiences, the identification with the life force opens a door to transcendence.

 

2.      Nietzsche

Nietzsche created the idea of overman as a goal of humanity. The “overman” transcends the biological limits of human existence by means of cultural perfectionism. Nietzsche thought of cultural perfectionism mainly in terms of willpower and unlimited creativity. A technological interpretation of “overman” is the immortal transhuman.

 

3.      Rawls

With regard to the way of thinking, Rawls philosophy is in the tradition of

         Stoicism, which strove for an objective judgment and proclaimed that rationality itself has a divine origin

         Plato and Kant, who maintained that moral laws have the character of truths, and can be discovered by rational thinking

Kant’s grave in the city of Königsberg (now Kaliningrad) attracts attention by the following epitaph:

 

 

 

 

Two things fill the heart with ever new

and increasing admiration and awe:

the starry skies above,

the moral law within.

 

Immanuel Kant

 

 

 

Finally Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance is reminiscent of ancient concepts or reincarnation. According to recent discoveries in biology 99.9% of the human genes are constantly being reincarnated. An impartial observer in the Original Position is in a similar situation like a Hindu, who does not know in which position within society he/she will be reincarnated.

 

 

4.      Buddha

Wandering ascetics like the early Buddhists were often considered to be fools. However, since they looked at society from outside, they were able to discover and describe the weak points in the so called “normal behavior”. From the Buddhist, Cynic and early Stoic perspective the “everyman” could be called a fool as well, because he/she is desperately attached to the ego and to all kinds of material objects – despite of the fact that life is short and the world is transient like a dream [Sellars, 61]. Buddhism strives for a painless accordance with the inevitable dissolution of the self. The positive experience of non-existence (of the ego) in mediation (Nirwana) is the key for coping with transience and death.

 

 

Transcendence within the language

In each of above philosophies transcendence is mirrored in a specific aspect of language:

 

1.      Freud’s method of free association, which was developed out of the hypnotic method of his mentor and colleague, Josef Breuer, encourages the philosopher to transcend the ordinary way of thinking and enter an altered state of mind – a state of unlimited mental freedom. Furthermore – according to Freud’s interpretation – dreams are a kind of language which opens the door to the mysterious world of the unconscious.

 

2.      The transcendent dimension of Nietzsche’s philosophy shows up in about every aspect of his work: topics, style and prophetic mission. Interestingly Nietzsche, who was one of the fiercest critics of religion, copied the style of the bible, referred to Zarathustra and wrote like a prophet and founder of a religion. Similar to religious texts, his writings are sometimes poetic and allow multiple interpretations.

 

3.      Rawls strove for an objective judgment and his principles resemble a mathematical formula. Plato thought that there is a perfect world which transcends the earthly world and that mathematics is the appropriate language to describe it. In particular, he was convinced that geometry was the key to unlocking the secrets of the universe. Similarly the Stoics thought that natural laws have a divine origin and that the language used to describe them mirrors their perfection.

 

4.      Buddha suggested that ordinary language cannot describe the Nirwana experience. In order to demonstrate the limits of language Zen-Buddhism uses the so-called Koans. A Koan is a story, dialogue, question or statement which cannot be understood by logic.

 

How can transcendence be embedded in daily life?

For an answer to this question see Erkenntnis und Transzendenz in der Lebenspraxis.

 

 

 

5.5  Risks

 

Each construction of sense (chance) is tied to specific risks:

         If the sense of life is found in the family, then accidents, illnesses and death may destroy it.

         If the sense of life consists in a business career, then the failure of this career will destroy it.

The more ambitious and emotionally loaded the sense of life is construed; the higher is also the involved risk.

 

 

  philosopher

  identification

 

  risks by social commitments

  Freud

 

  object of love

  high (biological altruism)

 

  Nietzsche

  elite or opposition

 

  medium (opportunism)

  Stoics

  universal law

 

  low or by pietas (not passion)

  Buddha

  Nirwana

 

  missing

  

 

 

Nietzsche and Freud – the risk of pursuing desires

The struggle for power and love goes with passionate attachment and potentially devastating consequences [Burton, 212]. The corresponding risks can be reduced

         by sublimation, e.g by expressing love in art and power in science/technology.

         by diversifying and decentralizing the attachments to the world.

In both strategies happiness is usually less intense, but more stable. This leads to concepts like Buddhism and Stoicism:

 

 

Buddha and the Stoics – the risk of repressing desires

Buddhist and most Hellenistic schools developed strategies to reduce risk by reducing passionate attachments, a reduction which has to be paid by the loss of “natural” happiness [Burton, 211-212]. The mentioned schools strive to compensate the loss by alternative (meditative, contemplative) kinds of happiness, see The Moral Ideal of the Complete Life. This strategy, however, is not risk-free as well [Sellars, 60, 63]:

         The (unconscious) desire for stronger emotions may cause depression, i.e. the feeling that life is “without sense”.

         Permanent self-reflection and excessive self-control increase the risk of neurotic disorders [Carlise, 9].

Finally the result is a similar intensity of suffering as one attempted to avoid in the first place. This leads to a reconsideration and re-evaluation of passionate attachments – as Nietzsche and Freud did [Pearson, 149-151].

 

 

Metaphor

Humans are born with an addiction to gamble in the casino of life. Utopists believe to win, but science suggests that the bank always wins in the long-run. The maximal win is a feeling of ecstasy, but the maximal loss is so horrible that it is repressed by most of the gamblers:

         Buddha suggests liberating from the addiction and offers a method for complete withdrawal.

         Freud, in contrast, suggests that high risk-aversion or withdrawal lead to depression and somatic illness. He motivates his patients to take risks.

         The Stoics continue to gamble but reduce the risks. The price for this reduction is a corresponding reduction of chances.

         Nietzsche strives to change the rules of the casino in his favor.

For an impartial view on the casino of life see The Denial of the World from an Impartial View.

 

 

 

5.6  Language Analysis

 

Language analysis is the major tool in the pursuit of representational clarity.

 

For Socrates language analysis is not the goal of philosophy and should not be viewed as an end in itself. For him, it was only a means, a method that allowed for the clarification for what he viewed as the essence of human existence [Navia, 48].

 

The most prominent successor in the Socratic tradition of language analysis is Ludwig Wittgenstein [Wisnewski, 64-70]. For Wittgenstein the use of language is rooted in “forms of life”, which are ultimately ways of acting in the world [O’Grady, 239]. His therapy consists in disclosing these roots by means of language analysis.

 

Example:

Let us assume that Socrates’ “essence of human existence” can be described by the therapeutic goals of chapter 4 and that the corresponding philosophies represent Wittgensteinian “forms of life”. Language analysis of the term self-realization then is a prerequisite for an authentic choice between these conflicting ways of living.

 

 

Repression

Language is a means and serves a purpose. One of these purposes is to implement repression.

         Intentional repression can be implemented by excluding undesired terms/associations from the language.

         Conversely non-intentional repression can be removed by rediscovering the previously undesired terms/associations.

Language accordingly supports or hinders the insight, which is required to change one’s way of living.

 

Example:

         If the language expresses, that all things are impermanent, then we are immediately aware that it is futile to get attached. In some Buddhist traditions, the word for color is the same as for desire. Color is a characteristic of everything and at the same time a symbol for transience. These traditions cultivate an accordingly ascetic-melancholic view on sexuality, which reflects the volatility of all desire [Seelmann, 2009].

         How far the Korean language is influenced by Buddhism cannot be examined here. It is noticeable, however, that this language does not know the term self and therefore promotes a distant perception of one’s needs, desires and actions. Koreans, for example, do not say “I am thirsty”, they say “the throat is dry”. They also do not say “I am angry”; they say “the anger rises” [Seelmann, 2012].

From the Buddhist perspective the Western language is harmful, because it represses the source of suffering. From the Western perspective the Buddhists language is harmful because it represses natural desires. But from an impartial view neither the Western nor the Buddhist language can be characterized as “disease-causing”. Both philosophies may be unproblematic for a majority and harmful for a specific person. If – for this specific person – the pressure of suffering becomes too high, then philosophical therapy can cure or reduce suffering by disclosing an alternative way of living

 

 

Non-intentional analogical reasoning

There are different ways to do philosophy. One of these ways has a potential to cause emotional problems [Fischer, 53]. Wittgenstein talks of a specific kind of “disquiet” which is caused by imaginary issues (pseudo-problems) and which can only be calmed by terminating the unreasonable worry about them. (Compare: When a child is afraid that monsters might creep in at night, there is no security problem; we do not have to guard the room, we have to liberate the child from the fear). According to Eugen Fischer there are uncontrolled cognitive processes, which make the philosopher address pseudo-problems [Fischer, 57-58]. One of them is the following:

Structural analogies are forged by metaphorical extension [Fischer, 63]. Metaphors which were initially applied to concrete or familiar things or actions (like “grasp a stone to throw”) are extended to abstract or new concepts (like “grasp the implications of a claim”). Much of our “mental vocabulary” is recruited in this way from the domains of manipulation and perception [Fischer, 60]. In the moment where we engage in philosophical reflection, we are prone to unwittingly mishandle such analogies, in what cognitive psychologists call “non-intentional analogical reasoning” [Fischer, 63, 66].

 

Example: Problems with false analogies can be solved by becoming aware of the non-intentional reasoning, possibly with the help of an advanced philosopher. If, for example, a student were bewildered because of John Locke’s conception of the mind – which rests on the false analogy between intellectual and perceptional activities – then he could be reassured by a philosopher with advanced knowledge in cognitive linguistics and cognitive psychology [Fischer, 60].

 

Is it appropriate to talk of mental illness in this context? Problems with false analogies are not only known in philosophy, but also in disciplines like mathematics and computer programming. This kind of disturbance, disquiet and bewilderment may certainly contribute to emotional and behavioral problems [Gunnarsson] [Fischer, 53] but it is not sufficient to explain the emergence of mental illness. The majority of philosophers, mathematicians and programmers cope with their problems or – if they feel overwhelmed – change their activities before getting ill.

 

 

Intentionally distorted language

Since philosophical therapy has a political dimension, it not only investigates the language of the patient, but also the language of his/her environment. In practical philosophy – as well as in theoretical philosophy (example above) – we may be guided by false analogies and dubious connotations which are embedded in the meaning of words and pictures [Fischer, 60]. The distortion of language is a well-known means to indoctrinate, oppress and mislead people.

 

One of the most famous examples in this context is the entry gate to the Auschwitz I Schutzhaftlager, or Protective Custody Camp, with its infamous "Arbeit macht frei" sign over the entry (this phrase, found also at other concentration camps, can be translated as "Work makes you free / Work sets you free" or "Work brings freedom") (Auschwitz-Birkenau, by Geoff Walden)

 

 

 

 

 

 

It has to be emphasized, though, that language analysis is not sufficient to change one’s way of living. Language analysis is only therapeutically effective, if the change or rediscovery of meaning is accompanied with a change of emotion. Self-transformation is an emotional process and not just an intellectual activity. The emotional process may require openness, spontaneity and experiments or – in the case of normative therapies – concentration, self-discipline and exercises (see chapter 4.4).

 

 

 

6. Comparison with the Medical Model

 

 

6.1 History

 

Medical analogies are commonly invoked in both Buddhist dharma [Gowans, 17-18] [Burton, 187] and Hellenistic philosophy. Cicero and Galen expressed the view of many Hellenistic philosophers when they described philosophy as a medical science for the mind [Sellars, 64-68]. The most general form of analogy may be stated as follows: “Just as medicine cures bodily diseases and brings about physical health, so Buddhist dharma and Hellenistic philosophy cure mental diseases and bring about psychological health.” [Gowans, 11]

 

For Nussbaum, Hadot and Foucault ancient philosophical therapy is a therapy of passions/desires, which can be understood in analogy to medical therapy [Banicki 2015, 627-628]. According to Konrad Banicki the structure constituted by the three concepts health ideal, disease and process of treatment seems to be generally accepted in thinking about medicine or therapy of any kind [Banicki 2014, 14]. Consequently he demands that a therapeutic vision of philosophy has to identify the diseases it attempts at curing [Banicki 2014, 15].

 

John Sellars, however, suggests that the prevalence of the medical model reflects the influence of Socrates who hints at the analogy but who would not have engaged in the careful analysis (of the status of medicine) begun by Plato and taken to its heights in later authors such as Galen and Alexander of Aphrodisias [Sellars, 74]. A closer examination shows that even Socrates considered the medical analogy to be insufficient. It strikes for example that he discarded the stochastic nature of medicine, when he referred to the medical model [Sellars, 41]. Furthermore he used several additional analogies to characterize the art of living:

         He associated philosophical knowledge with the knowledge of artisans and craftsmen. Productive arts are quite different from the medical model.

         He compared the function of philosophy for the soul with the function of gymnastics for the body [Sellars, 110]. Gymnastics is closer to a performative art than to medicine.

         Finally the Socratic happiness (Eudaimonia) stems from the process of searching for wisdom [Sellars, 167-168] and not from the result of the search. Socrates even suggested that wisdom may be unreachable. Again, the model seems to be closer to a performative art than to medicine.

 

According to Christopher Gowans the medical analogy does not have as much importance as its intuitive appeal and the frequency with which it was invoked might lead one to suspect. In Buddhism and Hellenism there are significant disanalogies between

         medical practice and physical health on the one hand and

         philosophy and psychological health on the other hand.

 

These disanalogies turn on three central features:

1.      Their radical conceptions of psychological health

2.      The inevitable moral questions these conceptions raise

3.      The assumption that attaining psychological health requires modifying or eliminating beliefs in response to rational argument

[Gowans, 12]

In the following we investigate these disanalogies in more detail:

 

 

 

6.2 Psychological Health

 

The ethical goal to liberate oneself from anger, fear and grief is a controversial conception of psychological health. In addition, these traditions believed that in various ways it was necessary to withdraw from ordinary life (psychological or otherwise) in order to achieve genuine tranquility. The claim that psychological health requires downgrading the importance of ordinary life is also controversial (…). Any conception of physical health that is at all empirical needs to respect what is biologically necessary and possible. The general form of the medical analogy might be thought to suggest something similar for psychological health. In fact, however, in Buddhist and Hellenistic thought conceptions of psychological health are put forward that, to many persons, are beyond the limits of human capacity. The mentioned traditions acknowledged the great difficulty of achieving their goal [Gowans, 26-27] [Soni, 226].

 

By disassociating tranquility therapies from psychological health [Zhang, 442] and from normality it is possible to exclude them from public support. But possibly the culture which excludes tranquility therapies is not as “healthy” and “sound” as it pretends to be. The question is especially pressing in authoritarian and totalitarian systems. The political and ideological abuse of the term “psychological health” often goes with an abuse of psychiatry. Examples are abundant in history and seen during the Nazi era and the Soviet rule, when political dissenters were labeled as "mentally ill" (Political abuse of psychiatry, Wikipedia). The political and ideological instrumentalization of psychiatry is one of the reasons for using the wider definition of “therapy” (chapter 2.2) and liberating philosophy from the medical terms health ideal and disease.

“The goal of philosophical counseling cannot be to return its clients to some socially (or biologically) defined level of functioning; nor can it be to treat deviancy” [Paden, 10].

 

In order to apply the medical model to philosophical therapy the terms health ideal and disease have to be considerably stretched. This is especially questionable, if philosophical therapy – as in the case of Wittgenstein – strives for a perfect linguistic clarity. There is a negative and a positive goal in Wittgenstein’s therapy, both associated with a health ideal [Peterman, 108-111]:

1.      Negatively Wittgenstein aims at the removal of puzzlement. Illness is identified with philosophical puzzlement and disturbance that comes from not being able to resolve puzzlement and arrive at thoughts that are at peace. Health is identified with arriving at thoughts that are at peace [Peterman, 89].

Disturbance that comes from not being able to resolve puzzlement are also known in disciplines like mathematics and computer programming. What sense does it make to use the term illness in this context? Most philosophers are confronted with puzzlements that are not easy to resolve, but the majority enjoys this kind of intellectual challenge. If puzzlement causes mental illness, then there are more factors involved than just doing philosophy.

2.      Positively he aims at coming into agreement with one’s form of life and so at the sort of philosophical peace that comes from having a perspicuous representation of one’s form of life [Peterman, 110].

Being in agreement with one’s form of life is necessary, given standard circumstances in one’ environment, for fulfillment of those goals that are necessary and jointly sufficient for one’s minimal happiness [Peterman, 110]

If finally the health ideal is reduced to achieving minimal happiness, then why not bypass the entire topic of mental health and simply aim at philosophical forms of life which cure or reduce suffering?

Wittgenstein does not give concrete examples for “one’s form of life”, but interestingly he does not exclude a philosophical acceptance of religious forms [Peterman, 117]. A possible interpretation of “finding one’s form of life” is Cavell’s moral perfectionism and the corresponding examples in philosophical films. But what is the gain in introducing the terms health ideal and disease in this context? Associating a certain form of life with a disease is a strong normative claim. In our view contemporary philosophical therapy should not distinguish between different mental diseases – that is the task of psychotherapy – but between different kinds of suffering/risk, caused by different ways of living.

 

 

 

6.3 Diagnosis

 

         Psychotherapy treats i.a. mental disorders like hysteria, bulimia, compulsive disorder, anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder.

         The focus of philosophical therapy is not on mental disorders. It competes with psychotherapy mainly in the counseling of mentally sane people [Van Hooft, 12] [Clark, 83] [Martin, 2].

Extract from an interview with Lou Marinoff:

Many of our most pressing problems aren’t even emotional or chemical to begin with – they’re philosophical. To wit: You don’t have to be clinically depressed or burdened by childhood guilt to want help with the timeless questions of the human condition – the persistence of suffering and the inevitability of death, the need for a reliable ethics. ‘’Even sane, functional people need principles to live by’’ [Duane].

 

 

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41zhBYphg1L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

 

 

Contemporary therapies may pursue a concrete goal – as the Stoics did – but they can also be open processes:

The verb “to diagnose” is massively laden with medical connotations (…) Philosophical verification or diagnosis can be completely different from medical diagnosis in that trying to understand the nature of the problem is not based on a priori knowledge [Schuster].

 

A special aspect of the diagnosis is its language:

         Psychotherapy objectifies the client, forms a theory about the client and interprets the client’s statements in terms of that theory [Van Hooft, 20]. The definition of mental diseases may be influenced by political ideologies, religions or dictators of the mainstream.

         Individualistic philosophical therapies strive to avoid theory-specific terms and consider the patient’s constitution, environment and life story as a unique phenomenon. The language should be theory-neutral, because otherwise the patient is guided in a specific direction. A standardized language is already a loss of individuality. Ideally, the patient discovers his/her own language in the course of the therapy [Hampe 2007]. If the patient has already been confronted with a particular theory, then the corresponding way of thinking has first to be undone [Schuster].

 

The distinction between the philosophical and the medical model can be explained with the subtle, but important distinction between the Socratic and Stoic conception of philosophy [Sellars, 167-168]:

         Socratic conception: According to Socrates philosophy as an art of living is an activity that aspires to wisdom. It is a method for searching knowledge. This agrees with the etymological sense of the word philosophy which is “love for wisdom”.

The Socratic philosopher is not wise, but possesses the self-awareness of lacking wisdom, and thus pursues it (Sage, Wikipedia)

         Stoic conception: According to Zeno philosophy represents wisdom. (Stoic) philosophy is the time-tested result of numerous search processes, exemplarily represented by Stoic sages.

The medical model accords with the Stoic conception. The Stoic therapists thought to know the “diseases” and corresponding remedies.

A philosophical therapy may pursue a concrete goal – as the Stoics did – but it can also be an open (Socratic) search process with unknown destination.

 

The entire history of philosophical therapy can be seen as a Socratic search under changing internal and external conditions. Whereas the notion of “disease” (and the corresponding notion of the “right way of living”) changes considerably in the course of history, the goal to reduce suffering by means of knowledge is vastly undisputed and survived all times. With regard to contemporary philosophical therapy it is therefore recommendable, to apply the wider definition of therapy as sketched in chapter 2.2.

 

 

 

6.4 Beliefs

 

Psychotherapy is a specialized field within the social sciences. Psychotherapists – with some exceptions like existential therapists – typically adopt the scientific stance of value-neutrality. They validate emotions, but not world views [Martin, 19-20]. Philosophical therapy, in contrast, resumes the holistic and interdisciplinary view that was characteristic for the ancient world. It is not only concerned with the well-being of the patient, but also with the search for the “objectively” true and good [Van Hooft, 28] [Martin, 21]. The Buddhist and Stoic therapies [Sellars, 150-164], for example, rely on specific world views with clear conceptions of the true and good.

 

The separation of the disciplines began with the development of individualistic therapies:

As a specialized science, a branch of psychology – ‘depth-psychology’ or psychology of the unconscious – it is quite unsuited to form a Weltanschauung of its own; it must accept that of science in general (Sigmund Freud, A Philosophy of Life).

 

In medical practice in the primary sense the removal of a patient’s false or unwarranted beliefs is arguably much less central than in Buddhism and Hellenism, because physical diseases are less likely to be directly caused by beliefs [Gowans, 15].

The conception of well-being and moral rules within a non-violent philosophy like Buddhism is necessarily different from Nicomachean ethics, because the world view is different. There are good reasons for believing in progress, but there are also good reasons for skepticism and retreat. In medicine there is only one goal (health). The medical model cannot explain why there are conflicting (or even opposing) goals in philosophical therapy.

 

A specific disanalogy concerns the soteriology of Buddhism:

         The medical goal is to be again free from disease, a previous state of heath presupposed. Buddhism attempts to terminate a state of suffering and confusion without presupposing a previous state of wholeness and health [Halbfass, 250] (in contrast to Hinduism, where atman represents such a state).

         In Samkyha and Buddhism the goal is not well-being, but rather the freedom from attachment. Medicine itself is, as seen from this perspective, an integral part of samsara. In order to liberate from suffering, one has to sacrifice happiness [Halbfass, 253-254].

 

 

 

6.5 Moral Questions

 

Philosophers criticize those psychiatrists, who associate immoral behavior with mental diseases, without reflecting the cultural and historical background of the corresponding terms.

Most philosophically minded thinkers who have looked critically at the concepts of mental health and mental illness have found them to be inherently laden with moral value (…). We pack our value preferences and aversions into these notions. Critics object that positive concepts of health – like the WHO’s ideal of complete well-being [Banicki 2014, 16] – lead to the expansive pathologizing that alarms Marinoff and others (…). Unquestionably, our culture has been shaped dramatically by a therapeutic trend: the tendency to adopt health-oriented approaches to issues traditionally viewed as moral matters. As just a few examples, the DSM lists drug abuse, alcohol dependence, impulse control disorders, and a variety of personality disorders that in the past were discussed as character flaws. The replacement project seeks to replace morality with therapeutic outlooks (…). It is dangerous, insofar as it creates the "medical tyranny" of therapists who are implicitly given power in moral matters, under the guise of morally neutral science [Martin, 10-12].

 

Besides associating a healthy life style with moral value – which is a controversial issue – medicine does not contribute much to the development of moral guidelines.

If we think that living well requires living virtuously, then the medical analogy is problematic (…). There are no actions that are characteristically expressive of being healthy. By contrast, there are actions that are characteristically expressive of being just, courageous, or compassionate. Hence the medical analogy is not naturally suited to philosophies like Buddhism and Stoicism that regard virtue as a necessary feature of living well [Gowans, 27].

One of the primary objections to tranquility philosophies is that anger is a morally required response to serious wrongdoing on the part of others. Both Buddhism and Stoicism directly reject this: they maintain that a virtuous response to wrongdoing is free from anger (…). Since the normative question cannot be avoided, any tranquility philosophy implies a response to it and regarding psychological well-being as analogous to physical well-being is not a helpful model for reflecting on this position [Gowans, 29].

 

If the Socratic search for a good life is seen as one of the characteristics of philosophical therapy, then the search has to go beyond the specialized medical sciences. Whereas psychotherapy delegates economic and political questions to separate disciplines, philosophy works on normative answers. Philosophy may e.g. ask if it were not more efficient to improve the living conditions than to occupy therapists with the result of an oppressive environment. Moral questions induce the search for an “objective” point of view; see Philosophy as Therapy – Introduction.

 

 

 

7. Conclusion

  

 

Definition

The shortest definition of philosophy as therapy is philosophy as a means to cure (or reduce) suffering.

In ancient times doing philosophy was a way of life; it was not restricted to an intellectual discipline [Hadot].

 

 

Difference between modern and ancient therapy

The history of philosophical therapy is a movement

         from the biological self to an enhanced perception – respectively dissolution – of the self (Buddhism, Stoicism)

         and then all the way back to the reconstruction of the biological self (Nietzsche, Freud)

On the way back the focus – which was on the control of desires – shifts to the liberation of repressed desires. Obviously in ancient times the main risk was to be misguided by passions, whereas modern therapists focus is on the risks of repression.

 

 

Relation to psychotherapy

         The analogy with medicine – i.e. the structure constituted by the three concepts health ideal, disease and process of treatment – does not adequately represent the diversity of philosophical therapy. There are significant disanalogies concerning the conception of psychological health, moral questions, beliefs and diagnosis.

         The delineation between philosophical therapy and psychotherapy is vague insofar, as philosophical methods like maieutics, hermeneutics and the change of perception are also used in psychotherapy. Philosophical therapy competes with psychotherapy mainly in the counseling of mentally sane people.

For the contemporary practice we suggest a typology of therapies, which is based on chances and risks. Relating the term therapy to suffering/risk opens a door for people who seek philosophical assistance and do not associate their condition with a disease. The reinterpretation of specific desires/emotions (or suffering in general) as “disease” in ancient therapies is first and foremost of historical interest.

 

 

 

 

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