Monday, January 29, 2007

What is Practical Philosophy? (number 2 in series on Practical Philosophy)

If Socrates had read my last article (Why Practical Philosophy?) then I hope he would have nodded sagely at my advocacy of the examined life (even if he would have thought he could have put it so much better himself).
But, being Socrates, I'm sure he wouldn't have left it at that. He believed that you shouldn't really be discussing anything - be it the nature of love, success or practical philosophy - unless you know what it is. The beginning of wisdom may lie in the definition of terms. It makes sense, if you think about it.
So what do I mean by practical philosophy?
Here's my definition:-
Practical Philosophy is a discipline that uses philosophical methods and insights to explore how people can lead wiser, more reflective lives.
It is also the name for the activity that helps people lead such lives.
Its topics include the nature and pursuit of wisdom relating to:- the good life, reason and the emotions, decision-making and the meaning of life. The activities of practical philosophy include philosophical counselling (usually with individuals), the community of enquiry (mainly used in Philosophy with Children) , Socratic Dialogue (used in management) and workshops and courses on practical philosophy.
Practical Philosophy covers much the same ground as religion and self-help books, but its methods are reason and rational argument rather than faith or dogmatic assertion. I'm currently giving a course on Practical Philosophy and the titles of each week's seminars gives a better flavour of the sort of thing it covers.

1 Socrates: Philosophy and the Good Life

2 Well-Being – Bentham versus Mill versus Aristotle

3 Human Excellence – Aristotle versus the Stoics

4 Wisdom – the most important virtue?

5. Existential Wisdom – Being true to yourself and the human condition

6 Love and personal relationships

7 Ethics – Doing the right thing – Kant versus Mill

8 The Meaning of Life - is it really 42?

9 How to develop even more enlightened values

10 Philosophical Counselling and Conclusions
An aspect of this course that Socrates would have approved of is that at the start of the course, each student is asked what they think the good life is. Then they are asked to 'play Socrates' and refute it. Each week, more philosophers are brought into the discussion, and further refutations and refinements are encouraged.
It being practical philosophy, students are also encouraged to take steps towards realising their vision of the good life, which again provides feedback into whether it really is the good life.

I hope that gives some inkling into what I mean by "practical philosophy". In my next article , I'll talk some more about how to do it

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