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Gerd B. Achenbach

"A short answer to the question: What is Philosophical Practice?"


The notion of "Philosophical Practice" was given shape by me in 1981 with the world's first founding of such an institution. 1982 the "Society for Philosophical Practice" was founded, also in Bergisch-Gladbach, which meanwhile has become the "International Society for Philosophical Practice". Today, it is the umbrella organisation for a variety of national societies.

What is Philosophical Practice?

Philosophical life counselling in a philosopher's practice nowadays has become an alternative to the psychotherapies. It is an institution for people who are tortured by sorrows or problems, who can't cope with their lives or who think they somehow "got stuck"; who have questions they neither solve nor get rid of; who get along in the prose of their everyday lives but have a vague feeling of not really being challenged – for instance if they realise that their actualities don't meet their possibilities. In Philosophical Practice, people show up who don't just want to live or to get through but rather want to give account of their lives and who want clarity about their lives' shape, the from-where, in-what, where-to. Their demand quite often is to reflect upon the special circumstances, the peculiar entanglements and the somehow ambivalent course of their lives. In short: They visit a Philosophical Practice in order to understand and to be understood. It is almost never the Kantian question "How shall I live" which moves them, but more often the question of Montaigne: "What am I actually doing?"

Behind this you'll possibly find the oldest philosophical insight, namely Socrates' maxim that only an examined life is worth living. Maybe this maxim shows up as a vague fear that a life merely lived down in an emphatic sense is "not really lived", "wasted", somehow "missed" and dispersed. Schopenhauer:

"When looking back, most people will find they had being living all life ad interim, and they will be surprised to see that what they let pass by unconsciuously and unaware was precisely their life, that what they had been expecting all the time. And so, the usual course of man's life is that he, fooled by hope, dances death into its arms".

He who realises this as a horrifying possibility will see the weight of philosphical reflection as a promise, for the philosphical attitude towards life really is a respectful overload: Thus, it gives weight to our life, importance to our being and meaning to our presence.

Usually, there are certain triggers who made the guest of philosophical counselling looking for the dialogue with a practical philosopher. These triggers normally are disappointments, unexpected experiences, collisions with other human beings, strokes of fate, failures, bad or just boring accounts of life. And then he presumes what Karl Popper – even if only vaguely – determined as the task of Philosophical Practice before it existed:

"We all have our philosophies, if we realise it or not, and they are rather worthless. But their effects on our acting and on our lives are quite often disastreous. Therefore the attempt is necessary to improve our philosophies by critique. This is my only excuse why philosophy exists at all."

If it where to be announced briefly in what manner the Philosphical Practitioner helps his visitor – the question usually is what "method" is being used –, it must be answered that philosophy works on methods rather than with methods. Obedience towards methods is a matter of science, not of philosophy.

Philosophical thinking is not moving within pre-arranged ways but rather looks for the "right way" forever anwew; it doesn't use thinking routines but sabotages them in order to enlighten them. Also, the object is not to show the guest a – philosophically determined – track but rather to help him advancing in his own way. By the way, this presupposes an attitude of the philosopher which respects the other "neither with approval nor with reproach" (to use Goethe's words) without having to agree with him.

Also, philosophy is not just "applied", for instance by treatring the guest's matters with Platon, Hegel or whomever: Readings are no recipees for healing. Is any sick person seeing a doctor in order to listen to a lecture in medicine? In the Philosophical Practice, nobody gets a lecture, is fed with sophisticated remarks or served with "theories". The question rather is whether the philosopher learned to understand and to be aware, whether he developed sensors for that what usually is overlooked and whether he has become able to feel at home even in deviant and unusal thinking, feeling, and judging, because only as fellow thinker and fellow feeler he is able to liberate the visitor from his loneliness – or forlornness –, and by these means might get him to change his opinions about life and his circumstances.

Isn't this also the aim of psychologists and psychotherapists? And of spiritual welfarers? Unavoidably, in a flourishing culture of therapy the question rises how Philosophical Practice distinguishes itself from the psychotherapies. Well: Whereas the psycho-logical view is trained on recognising the special in a special way, above all psychogenic, that is psychically caused fatalities (the psychologist and psychotherapist is a specialist, and if he is not specialist, he is a dilettante), the Philosophical Practitioner is, to use a paradox, specialist for the non-special, be it the general and clear (also for the rich tradition of sensible thoughts), be it contradiction and deviancy, be it – with special emphasis – the individual and unique.

In this way, the philosopher takes his visitor serious: He isn't understood by theories, i.e. schematically; not as an "example for a rule", but as the unique human being which he is. He isn't judged by any "measure" (also none of "health"), the question rather is whether he lives according to himself – with Nietzsche's famous phrase: whether he became what he is.

It has to be added that Philosophical Practice proves itself not only in individual counselling but also (since years) supports companies, organisations, and associations in their attempts to find solid convictions and orientating guidelines.




[cf. the article "Praxis, Philosophische" by Odo Marquardt in the "Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie", edited by Joachim Ritter et. al., Vol. VII, Basel 1989, pp. 1307f.]

Translation: Dr. Patrick Neubauer


 




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