Philosophy can seem nit-picky, technical, abstract, analytic, linguistic, self-serving, and plain irrelevant to practical life. This is not true, but is better experienced than explained. The core work of philosophy is meaning-making. It's a form of art: philosophy is the art of thinking. Even highly educated people recognize that they have missed this art throughout their education.
Articulate descriptions and fresh interpretations give dry, abstract concepts a felt sense of truth and meaning. Once this happens, we can engage with them and use them to form new ideas for an evolving humanity and society. Vibrant thinking is vibrant living.
What's in a bike? With Aristotle we can define the essence of all bikes: a human transportation thing on two wheels, placed in front of each other. With Foucault we can look at identity and power, associated with bikes. With feminists we can look at access to the public space. Let's go for an actual bike ride with a phenomenologist like Merleau Ponty or ontologist like Heidegger . We can examine how a bike is different for an American man and a Dutch man. Just look at how they dress for the road. And what they think it means for their identity and socio-economic status. What if you used to be an avid cyclist and get in a life-altering accident. What's a bike like for you?
Philosophy (ancient, western) used to be a somewhat public venture. Public for a select audience: mostly for free men who participated on the plaza, while women and slaves were excluded. Definition, debate, and application of ideas were a communal practice, equipped to engage with questions of human living. Evidently the answers were defined by those who got to participate.
Civic society became religious society. The church took ownership of this domain, transforming the project into a prescriptive and hierarchical practice. Definitions were given and life questions were dogmatically answered by the clergy. Ordinary people were not supposed to be critical thinkers. Philosophy became a technical project, performed in academia, separate from the commons.
With the secularization of modern life, the commons were lacking a space for critical meaning-making and guidance in life questions. Some found perspective in pop culture ideas or political movements. Deep seekers and sensitives felt lost, and the mental health profession came to the rescue. Common life questions became a disease, to be treated with prescribed medications and therapy models, that had to borrow ideas from philosophy.
While most philosophers were doing philosophy exclusively for and with other philosophers, pioneers have brought philosophy back in the public eye since the 1960-ies. Philosophers started to write for newspapers, were invited on talk shows, consulted for organizations and corporations on strategy and ethics. Café philosophique (or café-philo) is a grassroots space for philosophical discussion, founded in Paris, France in 1992. Philosophy Cafes are now held all over the world in public libraries, coffee shops etc. Others brought philosophy into schools, hospitals and prisons.
At the same time philosophers realized that they are often consulted by students, friends, and family about everyday life questions. Bringing philosophical skills and ideas into practical conversations actually is a natural ability for us. A variety of professional practices emerged around the common idea of "Talk with a Philosopher". Philosophical Counselors, Guides, Coaches and Consultants are available to assist people with questions of being-human-in-the world, meaning, personal and professional ethics, values, belief systems, identity, political matters, and all it takes to live a good life in community with others. They challenged the assumption that these questions were primarily or exclusively belonging to the domain of mental health, to be addressed by medical labels and treatments. Plato, not Prozac by Lou Marinoff, co-founder of the American Philosophical Practitioners Association, has been translated in many languages.
Professional organizations have emerged all over the world. They have trained philosophers to work with individual clients, groups, and organizations. The American Philosophical Practitioners Association has an international network of practitioners, publishes a journal and is instrumental in bringing attention to the benefits of philosophical practice.
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Philosophical practice seeks to enrich the individual's understanding of life, not to simplify life or make it more convenient and trouble-free. " - Ran Lahav