2012 has been my tenth year as a “philosopher in private practice”. I’m a bit surprised to find that what began with a hunch and a leap of faith has developed in unanticipated directions, yet stayed true to its roots.
The hunch concerned philosophy as a way of life. First, that philosophical activity – to observe, wonder, discern, make meaning, and speak of everything – is intrinsically and fundamentally human. And that, as much as our actions are guided by our understanding, we’d do better if we were able to think better (with heart, mind and belly). Second, that philosophical counselling offers a meaningful alternative to mainstream psychotherapy. It is not reductionist. It does not pathologise. In philosophical counselling, a person is received in all their uniqueness and everything is open to question. For me, this is grounded in the ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas and the therapeutic lineage of RD Laing, where the other is to be recognised as a legitimate other, the one who commands my attentive care and non-aggressive regard.
What began in the intimate realm of the personal expanded into the (small-p) political with a monthly philosophy café. I wanted an opportunity for open-ended conversation about “things that matter”, a place to explore views and opinions in a spirit of inquiry rather than contention. A couple of years ago – and not unconnected with the escalation and collision of global crises – I came across David Harvey’s assertion that “we have a duty to change our mode of thinking.” If he’s right, how do we do that? Another quote, from Clay Shirky, seemed to reply: “Nothing will work, but everything might… Now is the time for lots and lots of experiments.” I think our philosophy café is one of those experiments. In the new year, I’d like us to lean into this challenge, to become more conscious of what we may already be engaged in.
With all my fine companions, I have travelled constantly without map or destination, navigating by a sense of what was good and possible, and the idea that this was a way to live well together. That was the leap of faith. Faith, surviving these tests of time, has put on substance, ripening into something like belief or confidence.
This year, as I have written, I’ve been thinking about emancipation, its meaning and conditions. It’s a funny sort of word, a bit old-fashioned and awkward in the mouth, but it feels like the proper aim of philosophical practice: “that every common person might conceive of their human dignity, take the measure of their capacity and decide how to use it” (Rancière).
What keeps us from this? How can we emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, sing our redemption songs? This question moves through every facet of my philosophical practice. The answer, as always, is found in the question, in the working out of our own struggle and desires. We each must do it ourselves. But we shouldn’t have to do it alone.