QA 60. None the wiser (On the obligation and cultivation of wisdom)

Last week, I had the pleasure of addressing a conference of family mediators in Cape Town on the topic of “Wisdom in mediation”.

byzantine philosophy

Two stories

First story. An ethics professor once said to an undergraduate philosophy class, “If you believe that a professor of ethics is an ethical person, you are making a category mistake.” The students recognised that this was true. At the same time, at least one of them thought, “Yes, but you ought to be.”

Second story. Václav Havel, the writer and dissident who became the last president of Czechoslovakia, was hypersensitive to the temptations of political power. In 1991, he spoke about the perks of his office – the chef, the chauffeur, the personal assistants, the special access to medical attention – and the “unassailable logic” of their necessity: “It would be laughable and contemptible for me to miss a meeting that served the interests of my country because I had spent my presidential time in a dentist’s waiting room, or lining up for meat, or nervously battling the decrepit Prague telephone system.” Read more


QA 58. “But it doesn’t work like that!”

Annals of philosophical counselling/practice with others

“But it doesn’t work like that!” I say this in response to some proposed scheme or strategy of yours. I mean that, in terms of what you want to achieve, what you are doing seems either futile or malicious because you have a mistaken view about what’s going on. (I could be wrong, of course. We can talk about that.)

My basic theory is that, although there’s no saying how something will turn out, the world generally makes sense and we are basically equipped to take part in that. And  we always are taking part in that. Sometimes we get the wrong end of the stick. We can do better. Philosophical practice is how we learn to do that by our own lights. That is why I call it “emancipatory”.

push the pull

Read more


South African Journal of Philosophy, 35 (2), 2016, pp 123–131.

You can find it here or there.

The self-confidence of the human being, freedom, has first of all to be aroused again in the hearts of these people. Karl Marx

ABSTRACT: sajp-coverIf a time of crisis calls for a new mode of thinking, philosophical practice offers the means to answer that call. Contemporary philosophical practice revitalises the ancient Greek understanding of philosophy as a way of life that cultivates personal transformation and new ways of seeing the world. This article describes the development of the author’s philosophical counselling practice as a practice of emancipation, in concert with the writings of Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Rancière. It considers the significance of personal engagement and companionship for the cultivation of practical wisdom, and suggests that the intransigence of our global social and economic crises ultimately indicates an incorrect view of human nature and an ossified or unbalanced relationship between practical and theoretical ways of knowing and wisdom.

The ethics and politics of life: An interview about philosophical counselling

agora interview

“But if they’re interested in being able to work out their life, with someone who is going to keep them company, keep them safe, and not do anything to them while they’re doing that, then they stay. And then we work.”

Ran Lahav interviewed me and several other participants at the recent 13th International Conference on Philosophical Practice in Belgrade, for the Philo-Practice Agora project. You can find my interview here or on YouTube.

QA 48. Think, again (The end of philosophy)

ImageIn 2010, Stephen Hawking pronounced philosophy dead: “Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” But he had not kept up with Martin Heidegger, who already said this in 1964, in “The end of philosophy and the task of thinking”. Philosophy’s dissolution into science, Heidegger says, is a legitimate end. What was begun with questions of being and reality, physics and metaphysics, ends up here. Western philosophy has reached its destination.

“Science” signals a rational, objective methodology of “systematic observation, measurement and experiment, and the formulation, testing and modification of hypotheses”. Heidegger saw this attitude illuminating every area of human life. The fields of psychology, sociology, the arts, economics: everything will be “determined and steered by the new fundamental science which is called cybernetics”. (Cybernetics” as “the science of communications and automatic control systems in both machines and living things”.) “Philosophy turns into the empirical science of man”, writes Heidegger, thus achieving “the triumph of the manipulable arrangement of a scientific-technological world and of the social order proper to this world. The end of philosophy means the beginning of the world civilisation based upon Western European thinking.”

He’s right, of course, never minding the havoc that Western European thinking had already let loose in the world. With all its evident technological and scientific achievement, this new world civilisation has also delivered cascading economic, environmental, political and social crises. All of our institutions of state, political and religious order are now plagued by corruption. Read more

QA 35. Aug 2012. Philosophy for emancipation

It starts off very personally, very intimately. You’re going about your business and then ­– for some unknown reason – you can’t carry on. Maybe there’s a choice you don’t know how to make. Maybe you’ve reached a dead end or the limit of some chain you didn’t even know you wore. You are thrown back on yourself. It’s very close and uncomfortable, painful.

Simon Critchley (2007:1) writes that philosophy begins in “disappointment”: “the indeterminate but palpable sense that something desired has not been fulfilled, that a fantastic effort has failed.” Philosophy begins the moment your intelligence reaches out from within this situation to clarify, to identify and understand, to find a way through. What’s happening? What is the meaning of this? Read more