Philosophy and the Therapeutic Analogy 1: Introduction


Cora DiamondStanley Cavell Frederich Waismann

There is a school of therapy called 'philosophical counselling' which makes use of philosophical methods to address problems and dilemmas that may in different circumstances be treated with conventional psychotherapeutic methods. Let me make clear that I am not going to be talking about that. What I am interested in is rather an idea that works in the opposite direction: the idea that a helpful way of understanding the tasks of philosophy is by an analogy with the tasks of psychotherapy. The analogy owes itself to developments from the work of the later Wittgenstein by authors such as Stanley Cavell, Rupert Read, Cora Diamond, Frederich Waismann, Gordon Baker, and Eugen Fischer.

I ought to say immediately that the analogy is indeed one I find very compelling; and that it would be self-deception to not admit that some of this may stem from my transference to the above-named philosophical pantheon. This makes me wonder if I ought not to focus instead on my own understanding of how I would ideally like to practice philosophy, and to leave aside any more general claims. This however would presumably be of limited interest to others. It also occurs to me that I could write about just what, exegetically, can be made of the claims of Wittgenstein or Cavell or whoever that philosophy can or should be practiced 'therapeutically'. That however would be of limited interest to myself (but see J. Wisnewski (2003). Five forms of philosophical therapy. Philosophy Today, 47, 53-79; J. Peterman (1992). Philosophy as Therapy: Interpretation and Defense of Wittgenstein's Later Philosophical Project and Severin Schroeder (2006) Wittgenstein: The Way Out of the Fly-Bottle for several such exegeses).

Instead I shall try to describe what I think are the principal strengths of the therapy analogy. The analogy, and the analogically driven practice of philosophy is, I believe, one that can and should be profitably taken up by others. This is because I believe it illuminates the nature - not of the practice or the self-conception of the practice of much philosophical activity but rather - of the problems, and our relation to those problems, to which the practice is directed. [This helpful orienting suggestion is taken from a remark by Peter Hobson.] Philosophy is - or better, should be - akin to therapy because philosopical problems are akin to neuroses. The method must be apt for the nature of the difficulty to be treated.

The structure of what follows, in three forthcoming blog posts, will be:

  1. First, a description of the nature of neurosis. I present this in two tiers - one rather cognitive/behavioural/existential, another analytic. In order to present both clearly, I make use of distinctly philosophical ideas, since it is through these ideas (belonging to Wittgenstein, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty) that I have myself come to understand the nature of neurosis.

  2. Second, a description of the nature of philosophical problems, and a comparison of a philosophical with a psychotherapeutic solution - or rather dissolution - of the relevant difficulties. At this stage I shall develop my suggestions through a contrast with a perfectly natural way of reading Wittgenstein's therapy-analogy - as akin to a form of cognitive therapy - developed in impressive detail by Eugen Fischer. I shall suggest that this cognitive approach may result in a somewhat shallow conception of the possibilities of both clinical and philosophical therapy.

  3. Finally, I shall briefly address some different understandings of the origins of philosophical problems. Here I shall consider whether some accounts - such as the fascinating and profound story provided us by Stanley Cavell - might not stretch the (neurosis/therapy - philosophical problem/philosophical solution) analogy too far, and whether others which, like Eugen Fischer's, take very seriously Wittgenstein's 'bewitched by language' idea, do not take us far enough. Instead I shall explore a view of the genesis of philosophical problems which I believe can be found in the work of Martin Heidegger.


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