Outline for a presentation on

“The Philosophical Yield of Philosophical Practice”

For the American Society for Philosophy, Counseling and Psychotherapy,   Pacific Division, American Philosophy Association, Pasadena CA, March 27, 2004

J. Michael Russell, Ph.D., Research Psychoanalyst

Professor of Philosophy and Human Services

Fullerton CA

This outline and several related papers and course syllabi can be found on


Email:  jmrussell@fullerton.edu



§      My “mission,” my interest as a philosopher-practitioner, is to enhance the reputation of philosophy as it is taught in the academy, and advocate its value both intrinsically and in practice.  A subdivision of my interest is in philosophical practice or philosophical counseling.  This is a term that can mean different things to different people.  I wll discuss this. More broadly, in this talk I will address background considerations for what I hope to get to this evening, viz., discussing some philosophically interesting ideas stimulated by engaging in philosophical practice.

I.          Sketch nature of philosophy, to narrow in on what counts as philosophical practice

1.      Philosophy is about predominantly non-empirical issues

2.      About fundamental concepts

3.      Part of a tradition

§      Traditional philosophers and their better known views

§      Traditional philosophical discussions

§      Conceptual analysis

§      Phenomenological exploration

4.  Characterized by an especially strong commitment to reasoned argument


II.  Sketch ‘counseling’ and ‘therapy’

§      Why is ‘therapy’ an unfortunate term (‘counseling’ isn’t so great either)

§      Implication of passivity, treatment, being fixed, being changed, medical model

§      Review grey area of therapy: unfortunately, there are so many things which are going to count as ‘therapy’ both in the popular mind and among professional therapist, and also so many things that are going to count as a province or the province of philosophers they will want to call “philosophical practice”  that these are going to overlap—like it or not.

§      I think in a way that is characteristic of my training, especially my intellectual roots.  So, first and foremost, I think like a philosopher.  That is, I tend, rather automatically, to focus on issues which are predominantly non-empirical in character, about fundamental concepts of a sort that figure into a philosophical tradition, and, hopefully, characterized by a high regard for reasoned argument.  

§      I also ‘think like a therapist’.  That means (or includes) being drawn to what I suspect are areas of conflict including inhibited affect.  I tend to assume that greater freedom in expressing affect frequently promotes insight or greater clarity about oneself.  It also means that I will be somewhat prone to understanding things my clients say in light of various theories – various psychoanalytically based theories—which interest me.

§      Important:  not everyone who is drawn to “philosophical counseling” will share my interest in the exploration of personal and affectively potent explorations.  Not all philosophical counselors will aim at doing things at all like ‘therapy’.  But some will.  We need to be able to advocate a broad vision of the field.

§      I will call something “philosophical counseling” roughly when and because it draws especially from the counselor’s philosophical background. 

§      What are some examples of a distinctly “philosophical” intervention?

1.      Focus is on making sense of predominantly non-empirical issues

2.      Might be a focus on concepts traditionally emphasized in philosophy

3.      Might draw heavily from some philosophical tradition, or some key ideas from some philosopher’s works

4.      Might emphasize  conceptual clarification

5.      Might emphasize phenomenological exploration

6.      Might (and eventually ought to) emphasize reasoned argument

7.      Phenomenological clarification


III. What are some examples of an intervention, whether distinctly philosophical or not, which may or may not elicit something of philosophical interest?

§      Providing a context for expression

§      Encouragement of expression

§      Dialogue, affect de-emphasized

o       Supportive

o       Clarifying

o       Challenging

o       Interpreting

§      Dialogue, affect encouraged

o                   First person language

o                   Here and now

o                   Role play

o                   Exaggeration

o                   Supportive

o                   Clarifying

o                   Challenging

o                   Interpreting



§      “How are we to know whether I’m getting any better?”  Discuss “criteria” for assessing whether philosophical counseling (or “therapy”) has gotten anywhere?  How do we tell what’s a useful “narrative”? 

§             Clarity

§             Broadened perspective

§             Increased (and manageable) access to affect

§             A good narrative – or lots of them

§             Personal satisfaction

§             Something like an education in the humanities

§             A mixed sense of having accomplished something (like graduation) yet not being done yet (or ever)

§      Interpersonal validation of some of the above


So, what’s some “philosophical yield” from philosophical practice?

§      Getting clearer about the nature of philosophy is one area of “yield”.  A by-product: how to tell when to refer?  When the issue becomes “predominantly” an empirical matter, it’s time to either refer or to be sure one is reasonably qualified.

§      Examples of philosophically interesting ideas furthered by philosophical practice –or some which interest me-- include:

1.      Clarification of concepts like ‘philosophical practice’

2.      Reflection on connections between speech and affect

3.      Reflection on the relationship of affect and reason

4.      Reflection on the nature of self-deception

5.      Reflection on diverse concepts in counseling and psychotherapy, including the concept of “the unconscious”

6.      Reflection on self as a synthesis (Kierkegaard)

7.      Reflection on the nature of causation and whether actions are made to happen by causes

8.      Reflection on whether character traits are anything over and above behavioral dispositions

9.      Reflection on whether mentalistic words have intrinsically private reference

10.  Reflections on views held by one’s favorite philosophers—Sartre, in my case.


IV.  Existential group as a sample of philosophical practice