Monday, 9 August 2010

what might philosophy be?

The enlightenment is so very seductive. Better and greater understandings of the universe without. And - in philosophy of mind, or in psychology - deeper and richer, more empirically informed, more theoretically developed, understandings of the universe within. Making slow progress on the big problems. Yada yada yada....

What if the philosophy of mind came to look more like psychotherapy? Where psychotherapy itself looked less like an enterprise of education or growth, but more like - say - merely the ego's growing acknowledgement, tolerance, of the id. (Desires to be a certain kind of desiring creature giving over, at some point, to acknowledgement of the desires one actually has.) Or like - say - the manifest content coming to approximate the latent content of a dream.


What if the philosopher came to see himself - not as the foundations man, or as the ideas man, but - as a therapist for a particular vein of society's repressed desire? As a therapist who aimed to simultaneously increase our 'ego strength' (our capacity to tolerate understandings of ourselves which might not fit so well with our current manifest image?) whilst increasing, through an analogue of interpretation, our knowledge of the availability of other such understandings? Understandings which were all along part of our implicit self-conception, understandings which - if we could only allow ourselves to help ourselves to them - would enable us to breathe more comfortably?


If such understandings were made therapeutically available, they could help forestall manic attempts to build our way out of conflict zones which will always remain such given their narcissistic, omnipotent, foundations. We might find we do have the resources to live on the rough ground after all - rather than, fearing we do not, attempting to maximise the use of a few intellectual resources within the confines of some shiny narrow urban centre.


Each age will have its own self understandings and self misunderstandings. And within the conversation of mankind we will always find other variants - the pulls of idealism and realism, conventionalism and platonism - in a range of sub-localities. Our work will be cut out for sure.


It seems less impressive though, doesn't it? The business of 'merely' making available to the social patient the self-understandings they already have (somewhere)? The therapist as a more lowly profession than the scientist. One swimming forward, the other happy to help the patient happy to tread water, to help them understand that they can be happy where they are, that there is plenty to see and do there, that the sea monsters there are really not quite so scary as to devour one, that there will be other monsters in other places too, that the frantic efforts to move forward are really just doomed efforts at escape.


Can that be enough? Can we philosophers value the therapist role model as much as the scientist role model? Well, perhaps that revaluation could itself be part of a recovery of values and self-conceptions lurking somewhere within. Perhaps that recovery is itself the first job - of making philosophy content with a now-manifest image of itself as a 'merely' humanistic discipline, as just perpetuating and enlivening the conversation of mankind. Of coming to value ourselves a little more - coming to value an interest in ourselves couched in terms which are uniquely and intimately our own.