Is Philosophy Therapy, or is it Simply a Search for Truth?

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In this interview for Aeon, Nigel Warburton and Jules Evans explore the potential therapeutic value and shortcomings of using ancient philosophy to overcome emotional suffering.

“Personally, I’m not arguing that all philosophy is therapy, but rather that ancient Greeks and Romans viewed philosophy that way, as did many Indian philosophers. They developed various practical techniques which they said would help transform suffering, that were part of a comprehensive ‘philosophy of life’. These techniques weren’t simply positive thinking, rather they argued that we need to see the world as it is, in all its instability and adversity, and accept it. Some of these techniques have now been rediscovered and tested out by empirical psychologists, who have found that they do indeed transform emotional suffering. I want to communicate this as much as possible, because ancient philosophy really can help people overcome suffering – and that’s to the credit of philosophy, which as you know is a much-maligned and under-funded subject these days. Don’t you think the more we communicate that, the higher philosophy’s standing and relevance in the world will be?”

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1 COMMENT

  1. As the presumption behind therapy is ill health, I would not see therapy in philosophy. I know there is something of a movement to do so today, and I certainly don’t think a little indulgence in philosophizing bad for one’s health. No, that’s liquor, idleness, and other vices instead. Herbert Marcuse with his little Marx Freud synthesis and revision did see therapy in revolution, and about everything else. Do I think philosophy good for one’s “mental health”? Certainly, in the health department, wisdom trumps folly any day of the week. Of course, as Socrates pointed out, love of wisdom doesn’t necessarily make one wise oneself. Albeit, it doesn’t make one corrupt either.

    Illogic can be bad for you health, and it is easy to test this proposition. If you continually do what would reasonably be expected to make a healthy person ill in an effort to achieve good health, in all likelihood, it will only make you more and more ill. Should you pursue this illogical course to its natural conclusion, the result will be termination of life. Becoming a nominee for the Darwin Award doesn’t take so much thought, but, nonetheless, the result is the same.