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Practical Philosophy, 10:1, (web edition, 2011; originally published July 2010) 47Philosophical Counselling as a Process ofFostering Wisdom in the Form of VirtuesArto TukiainenAbstractThe main theme of this article is that an adequate understanding of the concept of wisdomenables philosophical counsellors to identify their proper tasks. The concept refers to a greatnumber of cognitive and practical virtues, and philosophical counselling is a process wherethe counsellee’s powers of virtue are examined and encouraged. This is often therapeutic inthe sense that it enhances the counsellee’s well-being.Keywords: Philosophical Counselling, wisdom, virtue, well-being, therapyIntroductionIt has often been said that the goal of philosophical practice is wisdom(Achenbach, 1998 and 2002; Lahav, 2001 and 2006). This is of course not asurprising view, given the original notion of philosophy as love of wisdom. Butwisdom is a philosophically challenging concept: it is by no means obvious whatwe mean by it. Since we do not wish to be ignorant about our aims, someexplication is necessary.1I will first provide a virtue-based account of wisdom, and then discuss someof the implications of this view to philosophical counselling. The first implicationis that philosophical counselling is a process of fostering virtues. The secondimplication is that philosophical counselling can be therapeutic.Virtues as WisdomRobert Nozick (1989, p.267) characterises wisdom in these terms: ‘Wisdom is whatyou need to understand in order to live well and cope with the central problemsand avoid the dangers in the predicament(s) human beings find themselves in.’ Hesays that a wise person needs to understand many things: the most importantgoals and values of life; what means will reach these goals without too great acost; what limitations are unavoidable and how to accept them; knowing whencertain goals are sufficiently achieved; how to tell what is appropriate at a giventime. John Kekes (1983), Sharon Ryan (1999) and Gerd Achenbach (2000, 2001)similarly emphasise that wisdom has to do with knowing how to live well.1 We cannot know whether the conceptions of wisdom of different people overlap each other withoutexamining them together. This article can be seen as a contribution to such an effort. On the one hand I donot see any reason to assume a priori that all readers have the same conception of wisdom. Philosophy aslove of wisdom may correspondingly mean different things to different people. On the other hand I do notbelieve that agreement of conceptions is impossible; and perhaps there are even now more similarities in ourconceptions of wisdom than one might initially assume. Such an agreement might bring a sense of unity to afield that can appear bewilderingly varied.Arto Tukiainen Philosophical Counselling as Fostering VirtuesPractical Philosophy, 10:1, (web edition, 2011; originally published July 2010) 48The conception that wisdom is concerned with knowing how to live wellmeans that philosophers have to set emphasis on the skills, dispositions andmental states that make living well possible. The concept of virtue should occupya central position in our account: any effort to live well depends crucially onvirtues.2 Attachment to virtues has of course been a part of the philosophical selfunderstanding from the very beginning, and we do not have any reason to severthis link.The following is not a complete catalogue of the virtues that belong to wisdombut rather examples from a vast set with fuzzy borders. Let us first briefly discusscognitive virtues and then practical virtues. As will become evident, the differencebetween these two categories is not sharp.Self-knowledge is an important virtue. This importance derives at least partlyfrom the fact that self-knowledge enables us to pursue goals that we findpersonally fulfilling instead of being controlled by external, to some extenthaphazard, influences. The idea that philosophical counselling is essentially‘world view interpretation’ (Lahav, 1995 and 2008a) or ‘critical examination of lifedirecting conceptions’ (Schefczyk, 1995) becomes understandable from the standpoint of self-knowledge: the self that philosophical counsellors wish to elucidateby their questions and remarks certainly includes the counsellees’ conceptions. Butwe do not have to reduce the philosophically interesting self to beliefs and othersuch relatively cognitive elements. The virtue of self-knowledge also concerns ourbodies and emotions.Knowledge of the external world can be seen as a virtue to the extent that itenables us to lead personally satisfactory and morally acceptable lives (Cohen,2005; Maxwell, 2000 and 2007; Ryan, 1999 and 2007). The truth of our beliefs aboutphysical and social realities is important because the success of our activitiesdepends on it. Ignorance may also lead us astray with respect to morally requiredends. In our time knowledge of ecological threats and disasters, for example,might be seen as morally important.Nozick says that a wise person needs to know what means will reach the mostimportant goals of life without too great a cost. The ability to form balancedoverall judgments concerning the feasibility and appropriateness of differentcourses of action to worthy ends can be called good judgment. Good judgment isboth a cognitive and a practical virtue. Technological know-how can be a part ofthis virtue, but a person with good judgement takes into account many additionalfactors in her deliberations.Openness to new ways of understanding ourselves and our world is acognitive virtue (Lahav, 2001, 2006, 2008c and 2008d; Mattila, 2001a; Tukiainen,2000). Occasionally we need radically new perspectives and novel concepts, andsome of these notions may not be logically deducible from our present views.Such changes in point of view may be identical with, or at least lead to, reevaluations of our situation. Reframing can also affect our feelings and behaviour,as Epictetus and many other philosophers have recognised (see for instanceCohen, 2003, pp.53–56; Mattila, 2001b).Cognitive virtues like knowledge, good judgment and openness to newconceptions are only a part of wisdom. Philosophical practitioners should be able2 A stronger claim would be that wisdom equals virtues. Although this is not far-fetched view, the presentclaim is a more modest one: virtues are necessary for wisdom.Arto Tukiainen Philosophical Counselling as Fostering VirtuesPractical Philosophy, 10:1, (web edition, 2011; originally published July 2010) 49to see a wider vista which includes virtues like sincerity, patience, mercy andjustice (see Achenbach, 2001, p.36). Ran Lahav (2008b) says that wisdom excludesbeing petty and self-involved, and there seems to be no reason not to count manyother vices among philosophically repulsive character traits. Cruelty, ruthlessness,thoughtlessness, manipulativeness, treachery, recklessness, irascibility, stubbornness, ingratitude, bitterness, dishonesty, malice, greed, gluttony and hubris surelydo not fit our conception of wisdom. Let us take a few more examples of thesemoral and existential virtues.Considered as a practical virtue, objectivity means distancing oneself fromone’s immediate concerns and seeing them in a larger context of human and nonhuman life, or even from a cosmic perspective. Plato’s lofty view that humanthings seem puny from a ‘satellite perspective’ of soul’s flight is a goodimaginative-pictorial representation of this virtue (Hadot, 1995, pp.238–250). Thevirtue of justice may presuppose, or at least benefit from, an objective view ofthings. And as Plato remarked, the aerial perspective gives rise to greatness of soul(Hadot, 2004, p.68). Bertrand Russell (2006, p.159) says that a person with greatnessof soul sees ‘himself and life and the world as truly as our human limitations willpermit’, and realizes ‘the brevity and minuteness of human life’. Russell also writesin a rather Platonic and Stoic manner that a person ‘who has once perceived,however temporarily and however briefly, what makes greatness of soul, can nolonger be happy if he allows himself to be petty, self-seeking, troubled by trivialmisfortunes, dreading what fate may have in store for him.’The virtue of disinterestedness is an ability to experience the world as it is initself, and not only as it is for us and our projects (Hadot, 1995, p.254; see alsoCurnow, 2000). Disinterestedness requires that we are able to disengage ourselvesfrom our everyday cares and motives of action, and this means that we have to letgo of an evaluative attitude towards our experiences and the world. Anygenuinely philosophical attitude involves a dimension of disinterested perceptionof life and the universe.Nozick’s definition of wisdom suggests that our conceptions of virtue shouldhave room for skills and dispositions that are oriented towards avoiding dangersto our personal well-being and enabling us to cope with difficulties in our ownlives. Some practical virtues like flexibility in one’s aims and hopes are not somuch moral virtues as ways of securing a personally tolerable or even satisfactorylife. This does not mean that moral virtues do not enhance our sense of personalwell-being. Often they do; and in many cases one and the same virtue—objectivity,disinterestedness, forbearance, foresight, moderation, carefulness or courage, forexample—has both moral aspects and aspects that have more to do with thehealth of our own souls (von Wright 1963, ch.7).To take some historical examples of these self-regarding virtues and theirobjectives, Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Cynicism deepened our understanding ofthe ideals of ataraxia (tranquillity) and euthymia (a steady, contented state of mind);and of course they were also concerned with the practical means of attaining theseideals. Autarkeia (self-sufficiency), for example, was valued because it was seen tolead to a calm state of mind without disturbing emotions. Other important virtuesincluded moderation in one’s expectations of worldly success, the readiness toaccept failure, and the ability to maintain one’s mental independence fromunreasonable social conventions.Arto Tukiainen Philosophical Counselling as Fostering VirtuesPractical Philosophy, 10:1, (web edition, 2011; originally published July 2010) 50In the contemporary philosophical counselling movement Elliot D. Cohen (2005;see also 2003 and 2008) has drawn attention to many virtues that are clearly selfregarding in the sense we are discussing. For instance, an ability to acceptimperfections in ourselves and external reality is conducive to peace of mind.Authenticity and temperance will similarly enhance a person’s capacity to lead asatisfactory life.3To complete this cursory overview of the great domain of virtues, let us recallthat wisdom and virtue are also concerned with ways of preserving bodily healthand attaining pleasure. For instance, Schopenhauer (1995, p.50) counsels physicalexercise as a means of preserving good health, and Seneca frequently gave thesame piece of advice to his counsellees. The centrality of the notion of ‘living well’in philosophy appears to make their advice quite understandable. Bodily pleasurewas the objective of the Cyrenaics, and perhaps we should have some place forthis notion in our philosophical thinking as well. Even Seneca—generally adefender of an austere way of life—writes to Serenus that we should occasionallyrelax properly and drink ourselves ‘to the point of intoxication’ because this willwash away our cares (2004, p.105).Although there may not be any exhaustive, final list of the virtues that belongto wisdom, we should not assume that the virtues we need must be invented on acase-by-case basis. This would amount to forgetting that the worries and difficultiesof different people are often the same, and that very similar virtues apply to agreat number of individual cases. It would also amount to overlooking the factthat the human condition is in its main features much the same as it was twothousand years ago. The major world religions seem to get along throughcenturies with the same old virtues, and to a certain extent this is also true inphilosophy. The view that there is ‘nothing new under the sun’ with respect tovirtues is probably closer to truth than the idea that we should, or even could,invent something genuinely new.Different social environments and situations of life may of course require andhighlight different virtues (see Fleming, 2000). For example, military virtues likebeing prepared to kill are not relevant in the lives of the majority of contemporaryEuropeans, and neither do they appear to believe that silent submission topolitical authorities is a virtue.If virtues are the essence of wisdom, the core of philosophy is love of virtues.It is important to bear in mind in this connection that philosophy does not alwaysmean any kind of discussion—and still less lecturing or research. It is also a way oflife and an ‘existential attitude’ (Hadot, 1995 and 2004; Curnow 2006). Philosophersdo not necessarily write anything, and some of them do not even discuss ourconcepts and lives in way that could be characterised as philosophical (Hadot,2004, p.173). But they show their love and understanding of wisdom by their actsand manner of living.3 Cohen (2005) states that the eleven cardinal virtues he mentions ‘define the concept of happiness’ in the kindof philosophical counselling he practices (Logic-Based Therapy), and that an individual is happy to theextent that these virtues are attained. Happiness is clearly one of the traditional aims of philosophy. Thisarticle does not claim that virtues are sufficient for happiness, but only that they increase the likelihood of atolerable and even satisfactory life.Arto Tukiainen Philosophical Counselling as Fostering VirtuesPractical Philosophy, 10:1, (web edition, 2011; originally published July 2010) 51Philosophical Counselling as a Process of Fostering VirtuesCounselling is an invitation to a philosophical way of life with its inevitableemphasis on virtues. An attempt to separate philosophical practice from virtueswould lead to an impoverished and unnatural image of counselling. Impoverished,because without them philosophical thinking loses much of its power to reduceour sufferings and to guide our lives. Unnatural, because philosophy has alwaysbeen inspired by life-orienting ideals, and if philosophers are asked to remain asvirtue-neutral as possible, they are quite simply asked to be something else thanthey are. All, or at least most, forms of philosophical counselling subscribe tocognitive virtues like self-knowledge; but these are just a part of a much larger setof moral and non-moral virtues.The point of philosophical counselling is not so much to discuss virtues but tohelp the counsellee to modify her thoughts, feelings or behaviour through thepower of virtues. Philosophical counsellors ought to assume that all kinds ofpredicaments provide opportunities for virtues to show their force. Examplesinclude increasing the counsellee’s self-understanding and authenticity throughquestions; enabling the counsellee to see that her anxiety-producing beliefs aboutsome social facts are distorted; assistance in finding the best course of action in acomplicated family situation; mentioning the pleasures of disinterested contemplation; discussing the thoughtlessness of a companion and how to avoid gettingdisturbed about it; finding good reasons not to feel that a personal failure impliestotal worthlessness; helping the counsellee to see that a professional disastermight also offer opportunities; inducing the counsellee to assume a tolerant,accepting attitude towards her seemingly bad situation when there is little hope ofimproving it; indicating that acquiescence to negative emotions one cannot get ridof might be the best available option; showing how the counsellee can be lessdriven by social pressure and commercial influence. This is what manyphilosophical counsellors have been doing for decades. The concept of virtuegives coherence and historical depth to these activities.One good way of understanding philosophical counselling is this: we seek toclarify together what a wise person would think and do in the counsellee’ssituation. On the one hand, virtue-oriented counselling must of course take intoaccount the counsellee’s unique circumstances and way of thinking. We have tostart from the understanding we have and strive to find and foster what is goodwithin us. The idea that philosophical counsellors should suggest to theircounsellees notions that have no connection whatever—logical or associative—with their present way of seeing things, or views that they cannot adopt as theirown, is surely misguided (see Zinaich 2005). On the other hand, it seems that thecounsellor has an obligation to try and give voice to her own perception of what‘Lady Wisdom’ would counsel. This is what Seneca did in his letters, and this iswhat contemporary philosophical counsellors should do. Seneca’s letters wereprobably intended for large audiences despite seemingly being addressed to afriend, but philosophical counsellors can, and ought to, tailor their proposals toeach individual case. Counsellors cannot know in advance what kinds of innerpowers of virtue need to be examined and stimulated to grow.In some cases a virtue might be present in the counsellee’s mind and heart in ahidden or nascent form to be amplified and encouraged. It is my experience thatmost people have thoughts and attitudes that are not a part of their mainstreamArto Tukiainen Philosophical Counselling as Fostering VirtuesPractical Philosophy, 10:1, (web edition, 2011; originally published July 2010) 52self (see also Lahav, 2008d). For example, a person might not have given muchthought to virtues like flexibility, patience and disinterestedness, but this does notmean that she does not or cannot understand their meaning and importance. Ifshe begins to hope that these virtues could help her towards peace of mind, shemay want to accord them a larger role in her life.Philosophical Counselling Can Be TherapeuticVirtues can help us either to avoid or to accept many sources of anxiety andirritation. For instance, a capacity to take a distant, objective look at our livesenables us to see the smallness of our worries. Mercifulness with respect to ourown shortcomings and those of others soothes our feelings of anger anddisappointment, and an attitude of benign indifference towards external mattersmakes us readier to accept our circumstances even when they appear distressing.Forward-looking virtues like prudence protect us from many sorrows and causesof resentment, and a realistic appreciation of all the contingencies that can ruin uswill enable us to maintain our composure when we actually end up in disasters.4The fact that virtues enable us to cope with actual and potential problems of lifeentails that the distinction between philosophy and therapeutic alleviation ofsuffering is not sharp; and since philosophical counselling is a process of fosteringvirtues, it can often be regarded as therapy.Lahav (2006) has argued that philosophy should not be seen as therapy. He isright when he says that philosophers should avoid a pampering attitude thatcauses them to refrain from questioning their counsellees’ wishes, desires andviews (see also Fastvold, 2006; Tuedio, 2008). In particular, the consumer ideologyof‖trying‖to‖find‖the‖means‖of‖reaching‖the‖counsellee’s‖goals‖irrespective‖of‖their‖specific nature is unsuitable for philosophy. Lahav is also right when he writesthat philosophers should try to help their counsellees to escape from narrowconceptions of their lives, and encourage them to open their minds to new ways ofunderstanding themselves and the world. But these points do not justify acomplete break with the concept of therapy.5 Philosophy as love of wisdom istherapeutic in essence, not through a clever add-on for marketing purposes. Thisview accords with the age-old analogy between medicine and philosophy: whilemedicine treats our bodily ailments, philosophy heals our souls (see for exampleNussbaum, 1994, pp.13–47).4 Peter B. Raabe (2000, p.171) points out that philosophical thinking may enable us to prevent problems of lifefrom arising. This is true; but we should add to his view that some problems cannot be solved, eliminated oravoided but only tolerated and endured; and from the Stoic perspective we need philosophy precisely whenwe cannot solve our problems—when we run against something that will not yield and that cannot becircumvented. According to Epictetus (2005) the basic philosophical problem is our attitude towards thingsthat are not in our power: the starting point of philosophy is the awareness of our own weakness andhelplessness. As the example of Boethius shows, philosophical ideas may offer consolation and enable us to‘take a kindly view even of misfortunes’ (Seneca, 2004, p.98). Endurance and acceptance are virtues. AsNozick says (see above), wisdom includes knowing what limitations are unavoidable and how to acceptthem.5 Lahav (2006) says that wisdom means richness of understanding and non-egocentric openness to realitiesbeyond one’s world view. A wise person lets a great number of realities speak through her attitudes,emotions, views and actions. These are very abstract descriptions of wisdom. Awareness of a wide range ofvirtues enables us to adopt a more concrete and practical conception of philosophy and philosophicalcounselling. It also enables us to see more clearly how philosophy can be therapeutic.Arto Tukiainen Philosophical Counselling as Fostering VirtuesPractical Philosophy, 10:1, (web edition, 2011; originally published July 2010) 53Virtues do not seem to belong to the vocabulary of psychological theories andpsychotherapeutic techniques in any essential way, and this is an importantdifference between philosophy and these therapies. But the difference does notimply that philosophy is not therapeutic. Virtue is the distinctively philosophicalcontribution to therapeutic activities.However, if the central therapeutic aim is thought to be alleviation ofsuffering, regarding philosophy merely as therapy would be an error. Wisdom asthe goal of philosophy may necessitate many enquiries and actions that this aimneither requires nor justifies. For instance, understanding the place of mentalphenomena in a seemingly material universe may not offer any therapeutic gains,and even if some therapists might be interested in politics, the dominatingprofessional attitude appears to be one of exclusion; but politics and theontological status of mental events can be seen as philosophically importantissues. The philosophical emphasis on moral and cognitive virtues even whencultivating them does not heighten our sense of personal well-being appears to beforeign to the notion of philosophy as therapy. In sum, we have to avoid thesimplistic view according to which philosophy either is or is not therapy. In someways it is, in some others it is not.There is no simple way of dividing philosophical enquiries into those that canhave therapeutic value and those that cannot. Philosophy of mind in particularcan have a therapeutic dimension even if it may initially seem like a very abstractand theoretical pursuit. For example, the idea that our minds and selves are notseparate from what we usually think of as external reality can have a calmingeffect, because it leads us to let go of self-centred thoughts. If we do not standopposite to the world, we do not have to assert our will against it. The distinctionbetween the subject and the object of thought and perception can become eitherblurred or obliterated; and this is not always merely a theoretical insight but alsoan experience, an aspect of life. Wittgenstein has a concise description of thisexperience: ‘The world and life are one’ (2001, remark 5.621). Although Lahavmakes a strict distinction between philosophy and therapy, he has presentedsimilar statements that could be regarded as potentially therapeutic. For instance,he says that ‘you are in everything there is, and everything is in you’ (Lahav2008e).ConclusionThis article has suggested that virtues are essential to wisdom, and thatphilosophical counselling can find a sense of identity and direction by payingattention to them. Philosophical counselling should be seen as a process where thecounsellee’s inner and often neglected powers of virtue are unearthed and allowedto modify her thoughts, feelings and behaviour. While virtues can be therapeuticin the sense of alleviation of suffering, they might also necessitate enquiries andactions without any obvious connection to therapeutic aims.ReferencesAchenbach, G. (1998). On Wisdom in Philosophical Practice. 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Tillmanns (eds.), Essays onPhilosophical Counselling (Lanham, MD: University Press of America),pp.75–84.Schopenhauer, A. (1995). Counsels and Maxims. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.Seneca (2004). On the Shortness of Life. London: Penguin.Tuedio, J. (2008). Assessing the Promise of Philosophical Counseling: Questionsand Challenges for an Emerging Profession. Available from:[Accessed 10 August 2008].Tukiainen, A. (2000). Filosofia Terapiana? Alustavia huomioita filosofian ja psykoterapian suhteesta. Ajatus, 57.Wittgenstein, L. (2001). Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. London: Routledge.von Wright, G.H. (1963). The Varieties of Goodness. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Arto Tukiainen Philosophical Counselling as Fostering VirtuesPractical Philosophy, 10:1, (web edition, 2011; originally published July 2010) 56Zinaich, S. (2005). Elliot D. Cohen on the Metaphysics of Logic-Based Therapy.International Journal of Philosophical Practice, 3(1).About the AuthorArto Tukiainen earned his doctoral degree in 1999 from the Department of PracticalPhilosophy at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and now works as a systemdesigner at the IT department of the Finnish Board of Customs. He has writtenseveral articles on philosophy as a way of life rather than a theoretical, [email protected]


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