Φιλοσοφική Άσκηση «ΑΛΗΘΕΙΑ»: τι είναι;


Παρασκευή, 18 Μαρτίου 2011

The Socratic Shrink

March 21, 2004 By DANIEL DUANE  (Tribe.net)

On a recent Manhattan morning, with a cold wind slashing off New York Harbor, Lou Marinoff took the granite steps of the federal courthouse two at a time -- brown eyes fierce, ivory white skin offsetting his dark beard, a Russian fur hat making him the very picture of the engaged intellectual. A tenured philosophy professor at City College of New York and the author of ''The Big Questions: How Philosophy Can Change Your Life'' and of the international best seller ''Plato, Not Prozac! Applying Eternal Wisdom to Everyday Problems,'' Marinoff is the world's most successful marketer of philosophical counseling. A controversial new talk therapy, philosophical counseling takes the premise that many of our problems stem from uncertainties about the meaning of life and from faulty logic.

Passing through courthouse security, Marinoff placed his World Economic Forum tote bag in the metal detector – swag from his annual gig in Davos, Switzerland, and filled that morning with documents for Marinoff's lawsuit against his own employer. Claiming a violation of his freedom of speech, the case stems from a C.C.N.Y. moratorium on Marinoff's campus counseling, instituted while administrators looked into liability questions. What if a philosopher with zero mental health training, they worry, fails to recognize a student's suicidal tendencies and prescribes Heidegger instead of psychiatric intervention? The moratorium is no longer officially in effect, but Marinoff is suing for lost income and professional opportunities, and C.C.N.Y. attorneys have also laid out insurance requirements that Marinoff finds utterly offensive: ''We have never, not ever, had a single case in which philosophical counseling caused psychological harm,'' he said in the courthouse elevator. ''These people just can't tell the difference between psychology and philosophy. That's how badly educated people are these days.''

The lawsuit is only one of several fronts in Marinoff's crusade to make philosophical counseling a mainstream profession, and to make himself its public face. His message, spoken in a defensive staccato, goes like this: Americans are tired of psychologists dwelling on our every painful feeling, we're sick of psychiatrists prescribing a new drug every time we feel confused and many of our most pressing problems aren't even emotional or chemical to begin with -- they're philosophical. To wit: You don't have to be clinically depressed or burdened by childhood guilt to want help with the timeless questions of the human condition -- the persistence of suffering and the inevitability of death, the need for a reliable ethics. ''Even sane, functional people need principles to live by,'' Marinoff told me, his voice lowering without slowing in the sun-flooded courtroom, ''so we are offering what Socrates called the examined life, the chance to sit with a philosopher and ask what you really believe and make sure it's working for you.''

Regardless of C.C.N.Y.'s unease about philosophical counseling, the public appears ready and eager for at least some form of philosophy in the daily diet. Witness Tom Morris, a former Notre Dame professor, charging the likes of I.B.M. and General Electric up to $30,000 an hour for his lecture on the ''7 C's of Success,'' distilled from Cicero and Spinoza, Montaigne and Aeschylus. Christopher Phillips, author of ''Six Questions of Socrates'' (just out from W. W. Norton), has been traveling the country engaging spontaneous crowds in Socratic dialogue about the nature of justice and the meaning of courage. And ''Philosophy Talk,'' a new San Francisco-based radio show modeled on NPR's ''Car Talk,'' offers two wisecracking Stanford professors -- and their many call-in guests – tackling thorny matters like ''Is Lying Always Bad?'' and ''Would You Want to Live Forever?''

As for philosophical counseling, in which the philosopher serves as a kind of life coach/bodhisattva, the practice does have a toehold in Europe, Israel, South Africa, India and especially the U.K., where Alain de Botton's 2000 best seller, ''The Consolations of Philosophy,'' became a six-part television series. Marinoff wasn't the first to try philosophical counseling in the United States, but he's way ahead of the pack when it comes to building the institutions of legitimacy and seeking access to the river of money known as health-insurance reimbursement.

Like any entrepreneur cornering a new market, Marinoff has worked fast and furiously, sometimes bruising competitors along the way. In short order, he has established the American Philosophical Practitioners Association (A.P.P.A.), started a series of three-day counselor-certification weekends and begun setting up an academic journal. Before those pesky lawyers got involved, he was even performing research on human volunteers at C.C.N.Y. and arranging for a New York foundation to finance free philosophical counseling through the C.C.N.Y. campus wellness center.

Marinoff does have his fans - Vaughana Feary, a New Jersey-based practitioner and A.P.P.A. board member, says that Marinoff's books bring her a steady stream of would-be clients. But to many of the other philosophical counselors in this country -- and to quite a few overseas – Marinoff may be the worst thing ever to happen to their fledgling field. Shlomit Schuster, an Israeli practitioner, calls ''Mr. Marinoff's overpopularizing presentation a worldwide embarrassment for the profession,'' and David O'Donaghue, a licensed psychologist with a doctoral background in philosophy, says that Marinoff ''is not a scholar, he's not a guy who should be leading a country'' in philosophical counseling. ''This is an infant field, and we're all asking questions.'' O'Donaghue says that he considers Marinoff's three-day certification efforts ''ludicrous'' and that ''the psychologists are laughing at us!'' Marinoff's strongest competition, in fact, comes from the American Society for Philosophy Counseling and Psychotherapy (A.S.P.C.P.), which is devoted to precisely the opposite tack -- seeking bridges to the established professions. According to Elliot D. Cohen, one of the society's executive directors, who has a Ph.D. in philosophy from Brown University and is a certified practitioner of rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), a common form of talk therapy, ''The biggest obstacle to philosophical counseling's growth in the U.S. is its acceptance by the established mental health fields, because we're the newest kid on the block. And what are people in those fields saying now? With Marinoff certifying people who have no clinical training? They're saying, 'Philosophers don't know anything about mental health, and they're going to serve as an endangerment to clients.'''

Marinoff considers his philosophical practice all the clinical training he needs, and could be on the verge of rendering the question moot. Ruben Diaz Jr., New York State assemblyman for the 85th District in the Southeast Bronx, said he believed so strongly that his constituents could use philosophical help that he is pursuing the only thing that can make it affordable: New York State certification of the profession, and the H.M.O. co-pays that certification makes possible. To that end, Diaz has written to the New York State commissioner of education, asking that certified philosophical counselors be recognized under a 2002 law that grants state licensing to marriage-and-family therapy and creative arts therapy. Most important, Diaz, who first heard about philosophical counseling through Marinoff, has suggested that the state recognize Marinoff's own A.P.P.A. as an official certificate-granting body.

Diaz explained that there are those who ''make bad decisions, based on economic pressures. We have single mothers, families broken, people getting sick. Philosophical counseling teaches people about moral and ethical choices. If this is available to our young people, it might better their lives.''

As in the early days of psychoanalysis, and the famous rift between Freud and Jung, philosophical counselors disagree on everything from the best name -- philosophical practice? public philosophy? -- to whether they should be trying to cure people, empower them or guide them to self-understanding. Thus far, only Cohen and Marinoff have branded easily comprehended techniques. Cohen's logic-based therapy builds on the work of his mentor Albert Ellis, who invented REBT. Citing the ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus, and the insight that it is not the events in our lives that cause us suffering but the way we interpret them, Ellis sees much of our unhappiness as based on irrational ssumptions, like demanding perfection from yourself and others. Cohen teaches critical-thinking skills that help us identify those irrational assumptions and correct them.

Marinoff and other practitioners hold that we all have a philosophy of life, whether we know it or not, and that we can benefit from identifying that philosophy, making sure it helps us rather than hinders us -- defining success, say, in a way we might actually achieve it -- and then strengthening it through dialogue with the great thinkers. Where Marinoff departs from the others, and sets their teeth on edge, is in the way he packages the journey of philosophical self-improvement. In ''Plato, Not Prozac!'' for example, Marinoff outlines a five-step ''PEACE process'' that seems ready-made for daytime TV: identify the Problem, take stock of your Emotions, Analyze your options, Contemplate your entire situation and then -- voila! -- reach Equilibrium.

Citing privacy concerns, Marinoff declined to give contact information for any of his clients, but in ''Plato, Not Prozac!'' he includes a case study of ''Doug,'' a late-night-radio talk-show host. Doug sees his Problem as his inability to be happy without a woman to love and the impossibility of meeting a woman while he works the graveyard shift. Doug's Emotion is loneliness, and his Analysis of possible options turns up only two: leaving his job or being lonely forever. That's where Marinoff comes in: trying to free Doug from the mental trap he has built for himself, Marinoff encourages Contemplation of Eastern philosophy. Namely, the Taoist warning against craving things we've decided we cannot have, and the Buddha's reminder that what we experience in life is what we have previously willed. In short: stop obsessing on your need for love, stop thinking you'll never find it. Then will your life into the shape you'd like for the future.

Among serious academic philosophers -- even those who address the so-called human-condition questions -- there is an almost visceral revulsion at the very idea of philosophical counseling. Jonathan Lear, a psychoanalyst and philosophy professor at the University of Chicago, considers himself committed both to the therapeutic power of conversation and to the Socratic philosophical tradition of investigating life's pressing concerns. He is deeply skeptical, nevertheless, of any counseling approach that imagines that you can dwell purely in the realm of reason, ignoring hidden motive and unresolved feeling, ''That's a fantasy,'' Lear said by phone. ''And you don't have to be a Freudian to think so. One of the most looming problems for Plato about the human soul is that there's a powerful unconscious dimension.''

For Alva Noe of the University of California, Berkeley, the problem is much simpler: ''While there is every reason to think that philosophical method and rigor, when applied to life's problems, can lead to growth, emancipation, improvement, et cetera, philosophy is very, very hard. How many people really get a life turnaround from practicing kung fu or tai chi?''

Raised in Montreal, Marinoff followed a somewhat circuitous route to his role as philosophical counseling's American figurehead. In the 1960's, he was a middle linebacker- aka Animal -- on his high-school football team, and he lived on a kibbutz before spending the 1970's wandering North Africa and then playing electric guitar for the Dog Brothers, a hard-rock group. Married with a young son in the 1980's, Marinoff put much of his considerable energy into table hockey -- becoming the three-time Canadian Open champion. After philosophy doctoral work at University College London and post-doctoral research at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Marinoff helped organize the first international conference on philosophical counseling in 1994.

Marinoff landed his job at C.C.N.Y. later that year, applying soon after for approval to do counseling research on human subjects. In the meantime, he became active in what was then the only philosophical counseling group in the country, the A.S.P.C.P. The board, including its co-founder, Elliot Cohen, elected Marinoff president in 1996, and at first, the two worked in concert – Cohen wrote a professional code of ethics, another board member established mentor and internship guidelines for professional certification and Marinoff talked C.C.N.Y. into contributing $5,000 for the Third International Conference on Philosophical Practice.

But it was at that conference in July 1997 that Marinoff announced that the A.S.P.C.P. was certifying counselors and that a test was already available. The response was decidedly mixed. Shlomit Schuster perceived a power grab by the A.S.P.C.P. board, granting themselves undue authority. O'Donaghue protested that certification was premature for such an embryonic field. Marinoff did not take this lying down. ''He just blasted us,'' O'Donaghue said. ''He let us know this was his baby.''

Within days of the conference's ending, Assemblyman Diaz called, as did literary agents wanting a book proposal. Five months later, at the December meeting of the A.S.P.C.P., the board voted Marinoff executive director and, according to Cohen, asked him to look into professional malpractice insurance and nonprofit status, in order to establish the A.S.P.C.P. as a legal certifying body. Marinoff agreed to do all this but, as he recalls it, he was already quietly talking to certain board members about incorporating an entirely different nonprofit society, one that he could run, as he put it recently, like ''a C.E.O. instead of an academic committee chair.'' Marinoff said he never mentioned this to the full A.S.P.C.P. board because it was a private matter.

Then in March 1998, to the surprise of Cohen and other board members, they received an e-mail message from Marinoff inviting them to become ''honorary members'' of his new organization, something called the American Philosophical Practitioners Association (A.P.P.A.).

Marinoff stepped down as executive director of the A.S.P.C.P. later that year, and the embryonic field of philosophical counseling suffered its first full-blown professional schism. ''I think the American practitioners all kind of fell apart after that,'' O'Donaghue told me. ''We got a lot of anger from Lou,'' he said, describing Marinoff's bullying. ''We wilted.'' Marinoff ''did the same thing the following year at the conference in Cologne. He was a keynote speaker, and he talked about the 'clowns' trying to practice philosophical counseling without even being trained, and he was speaking about many of the practitioners in the room. As if he was trained.''

O'Donaghue continued: ''He's done so much damage, and if he gets in trouble, which I think he will, the movement might fall. Psychoanalysis really got identified with Freud, but Freud was brilliant. Marinoff is just self-promoting. He's like the emperor without any clothes. He's built something up and said, 'If I build up an illusion, people will start believing in it, and then it will become real.'''

When Marinoff left the federal courtroom that morning in January, he headed off to tape an interview that he said was for a Hollywood producer pitching him to Fox Television. Marinoff has had extraordinary success since the break with the A.S.P.C.P. - ''Plato, Not Prozac!'' translated into more than 20 languages, his annual visit to Davos. Crossing Lower Manhattan, Marinoff walked and talked with extraordinary vigor about his coming talk at the East Asia Economic Summit in South Korea and about a three-day training session he'll give in Genoa, Italy, next month. Meanwhile, Assemblyman Diaz says he is optimistic about state licensing. The process won't fully unfold until next year, but the commissioner of education has asked Marinoff for documentation about the A.P.P.A. If it all works out (by no means a foregone conclusion), Marinoff said excitedly, ''certified philosophical practitioners -- C.P.C.'s, if you will -- become eligible for reimbursement by insurance companies. Immediately, we will be on a level playing field with the other helping professions.''

Though C.C.N.Y. attorneys give no indication of wanting to settle the lawsuit, Marinoff, in his relentless drive forward, insists that they're getting scared. ''I'm perfectly willing to drop the suit if they'll partner with me -- on setting up a graduate program and the scholarly journal and my research, and all the rest,'' Marinoff said. ''I am not a litigious person. I have only been doing what is in the interest of philosophers and the general public. It's a pioneering effort, a global thing, and the university should be proud to be the center of it.'' Describing his grand -- even grandiose -- plans for a philosophical-counseling empire fills Marinoff with a combative intensity. ''We are already training and certifying practitioners,'' he said, his voice gaining speed. ''We could have them delivering services in prisons and elder-care facilities and hospitals working alongside of doctors. We could have ethicists helping people make difficult end-of-life decisions. We could be rendering services to governments all over the world. We could basically make philosophy more popular than it's been since the days of the agora, in ancient Greece.''

Daniel Duane is the author of ''A Mouth Like Yours,'' (published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux).

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