This is the story of a newspaper article that might not be - how
should I say? - of apparent immediate consequence.
Just like philosophy.
Yet, rooted in problem solving, sprinkled with tension, and
inherently significant, it could therefore be useful.
Just like philosophy.
There is a new way of practicing it known as "philosophical
counseling" now growing in popularity in the United States, Germany,
the Netherlands, Britain, and Israel. In shorthand, this is problem
solving through applied philosophy.
Let's say you are caught up in a snarly ethical or moral problem
at work or home, or you want to marry someone from another faith with
differing cultural values and there is tension in the relationship.
Basically, nothing is wrong with you in a medical or
To avoid being labeled or categorized, you don't want to visit a
psychologist. But you know, or hope, that fresh insights would help
smooth the bumpy uneasiness of your perceived dilemma.
So, sit down with a philosophical counselor like Vaughna Feary,
Paul Sharkey, Thomas Magnell, or Louis Marinoff. Explore the logic
of your thinking, or your "self-talk," that might be clouding your
moral reasoning or straining the values of your world view. Clarify
meaning and values, philosophically speaking.
"We explore the ways in which clients think," says Mr. Sharkey,
professor emeritus of community health, philosophy and Religion at
the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, "and how their
own ways of approaching a problem could be contributing to the
problem. The main focus is that people are usually more upset
than they need to be, and we help them look at the problem more
Fair enough. As Socrates counseled centuries ago, always proceed
empirically, or realistically. Doing so here reveals that the
introduction of philosophical counseling in the US has not gone
Among US philosophers, arguments have broken out over definitions
of counseling, standards for it, motives behind it, and overall
intent. How is philosophical counseling better than, or different
from, other kinds of counseling? And any kind of counseling can
often be unsettling in a finite world, if it raises more questions
than it answers.
For philosopher Christopher Phillips, who conducts philosophical
discussions known as "Socrates' Cafe" in many venues around San
Francisco, academics are attempting to control this fledgling
counseling movement with premature restrictions. "They are trying to
force certification in a field that has yet to even be defined," he
says, "and in my opinion, trying to get a name for themselves."
Just as philosophy demands rigorous logic, some philosophers
insist that certification is necessary to protect the public.
'I think it is important to have standards of practice," says
Vaughna Feary, a philosophy professor at Farleigh Dickinson
University in Madison, N.J., and director of a philosophy program in
the Morris County Correctional Facility. "It's not a matter of
academics, but competence."
Ms. Feary has seen philosophy at work on murderers, sex offenders,
and white-collar criminals. "Inmates usually have poor consequential
reasoning," she says. "Cognitive rigidity is a big problem, too, and
almost all of them have an absolute inability to envision alternative
courses of action."
Feary works with captive, emotionally hungry participants breaking
out of egocentric viewpoints. What animates Mr. Phillips is the
conviction that pure philosophy is really "co-inquiry," a process
where there is more of a sense of inquiry being done together, and
not philosophical counseling as an alternative to other kinds of
Unlike psychology, the emphasis in philosophical counseling for
most philosophers is not on exploring past problems, but looking at
logic and reasoning here and now. …