Rationally speaking, is a presentation of New York City skeptics dedicated to promoting critical thinking, skeptical inquiry and science education. For more information, please visit us at NYC Skeptic's Doug. Welcome to Rationalise, speaking the podcast where we explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense. I'm your host, Massimo Luchi, and with me, as always, is my co-host, Julia Gillard. Julia, what are we going to talk about today?
Today, we are lucky enough to have a special guest with us in studio. Lou Aronoff is professor and chair of philosophy at the City College of New York. He is the founding president of the American Philosophical Practitioners Association and also editor of their scholarly journal Philosophical Practice. Lou has authored two international bestsellers, Plato, not Prozac and Therapy for the scene, both of which apply philosophy, Asian and Western schools alike to the resolution of everyday problems.
Most recently, he's published The Middle Way, which applies virtue, ethics of Aristotle, Buddha and Confucius to moderating extremes of many kinds. And in 2004, the New York Times Weekend magazine called him, quote, the world's most successful marketer of philosophical counseling.
We welcome. It's a pleasure to have you.
Thank you very much, Julia and Massimo. It's great to be here. And of course, we should disclose that actually, Lou and our colleagues at CUNY, I mean, he's a city college and I'm at Lehman College.
So the entire show is fixed and is pretty much fixed. Yes. Okay.
So I actually read a number of years ago and now the Paternot, not Prozac. And I still remember very clearly. I hope I remember very clearly that writing the introduction, you actually say, well, it's not really Plato and no Prozac. It's something more along the lines. If you need Prozac, take it, but then you still need Plato.
Is that guy I remember correctly. Your memory is working very well, Masimo. And I think that, you know, Plato, not Prozac, is very provocative. It should be for a book titled People Love the title.
It worked out really well and in many languages it translates extremely well. You know, Pattani, most Prozac, it's bad.
No, seriously works is one of these nice, catchy things. But the truth is, of course, more nuanced than that.
It's not black and white. The world is not black and white. And so there are people who can benefit probably from both on a given day. But what we're emphasizing as philosophic practitioners is neglected to mention of the inner human capacities, our resources, our will, our belief, our intentionality, these things which have been severely neglected by the medicalization of the human being. And that's what we are obviously reemphasizing in our work.
Now, in some sense, isn't that going back to the very beginning of philosophy, at least of ancient Greek philosophy, where people can we're actually talking philosophy meant not not speculation about highly esoteric and very technical things, but it meant actually trying to figure out how to live your life. It meant both. I think Aristotle recognized love of wisdom, which could become extremely speculative and abstract, but also recognized for Anissa's, which is practical wisdom, which we need for everyday life and not only Hellenic civilization, but also the Dallasites of ancient China and the Buddhists.
We're doing, in my view, exactly the same thing, that we're applying philosophy to life as a guide to the art of living.
So what would be an example of the kind of problem that someone might come to a philosophical counselor with? But, you know, my books are full, chock full of case studies.
Would you want a couple of thumbnail looking? Sure. And I'll give you you know, I'll give you some examples using both Western and Eastern, if you like. Great. And so you can get.
OK, here's here's a guy who let's say he was a lawyer, changing his profession to protect his identity.
And he wants his problem was that he wanted to take his son to Disney World. And what is the problem here? He himself had, you know, severe issues with spending a lot of money and over indulging his children and so forth. But he belonged to a peer group in which it was pretty much expected that they could go to Orlando. And his son was actually encountering peer pressure, you know, from his friends, like, why haven't you been to Disney World?
You know, for a 10 year old, this could be an issue. Right. But this guy was struggling and he was really looking for a reasonable justification to do it. Yes. And he'd also grown up, if you want a psychological, you know, take on the guy's history. He'd grown up in a family which had been, you know, immersed in austerity and which had taught him that poverty was a virtuoso. He was struggling with a very old, you know, kind of piece of baggage.
So Aristotle helped him a lot as I as I spoke to me, seemed very rational. And he he seemed quite amenable to to some kind of Western idea. So I suggested to him that we could talk about the golden mean where virtue lies. You know, for Aristotle in the middle, the golden mean is there is a balance between the excess, on the one hand, a vice of excess, and on the other hand, a vice, you know, of deficiency.
And obviously, if you spoil your children, you do everything for them and give them everything, then then that becomes a vice in our septillion terms. If you do nothing for them and totally deprive them, that's another kind of vice in our Chatila in terms of middle way.
You know, the golden mean is to find something reasonable to do for them and then moreover, to compensate for his other problem, which is, you know, what am I going to do? I feel so guilty about spending so much money on my kids. Well, you know, there are a lot of needy children in the world, and a man in his position could afford to give an equal amount to charity.
He could afford both to take his child to Disney World and to be a philanthropist and spend an equal amount of money benefiting those who are in more dire need. And that's what he did. And this required one session.
Oh, that was that was pretty effective then.
Well, you can be a good day, you know, like like like like any scientific expert when scientists say, oh, you know, typical data usually mean the best experiment, but we have the capacity to resolve some issues in one session.
I prefer short term work myself, although sometimes, of course, it's going to take a few months.
Yes, it probably is a little bit easier to resolve issues when the patient is the sort who's sort of looking for a justification for what they already want to do or want to conclude.
Well, precisely. And let me jump in there. And I'm obviously not going to give somebody justification to do something violent or harmful or legal or, you know, I mean, obviously, we're operating within a framework of civil law and moral, you know, moral codes. So I disagree.
Actually, I don't think that was necessarily a case of of providing somebody with a justification for something that he wanted to do already. Yes, he did end up bringing the kid to, you know, Disney World, but he also ended up doing other things in the meantime, like providing for, for instance, giving to charity, which was probably not in the original plan, not at all, but it was a win win win situation.
You see, we can turn this liability in his case, which is kind of paralysis. The guy can't, you know, do anything because he doesn't have a rationale.
But we're giving him a very good idea.
And because I happen to connect him with, if you like, the most appropriate philosopher for that time and place in his life, being a rational guy said, gee, this was really helpful. What more can I get from Aristotle? So then I was able to refer him to a few chapters in the next MacKean ethics. He was able to read more deeply and enrich his experience of Aristotle's conception of virtue. But this is an educational process and this is one of the things that distinguishes us from psychotherapeutic and psychoanalytic models.
We'll get to that in a minute. But I wanted to give it. You mentioned a minute ago that, of course, this this has worked because that particular person was sort of responsive to that sort of rational approach. I assume there are other examples of individuals that actually do respond to a different kind of philosophy.
Absolutely. And I'll give you a quick follow if you like. A quick sketch. A woman of very successful professional woman. I must say, we don't always work with successful professionals. We I work with artists, you know, with with with all with teachers, with with with ordinary, you know, with laypersons of all sorts and CEOs, too. But here was a woman who had a very successful career in the financial sector, but was unfulfilled and unhappy in it.
And she always wanted to go to medical school. This was in the back of her mind for many years. And now she was approaching an age where she really had to be decisive and either do it or not do it. She also wanted a family and she wasn't meeting the right kind of people in her financial sector. She was extremely rational, but her own exercise of reason was was not sufficient to cut this Gordian knot of her dilemma. So I suggested to her after we had a couple of sessions and I said, listen, would you like to try something a little bit different to help to guide you?
She said, sure.
So we went to the eating I used I used traditional Daoist wisdom with her, the eating functions. And I'm talking only a. The Wilhelm Bane's, you know, the Princeton University Press edition of the evening, there are a million translations out there. Some of them look unrecognizable, you know, comparatively, because they're so, so vastly different in the substance. But the William Baines is really a brilliant translation and it functions like a philosophical Rorschach test. Basically, it's a kind of mirror in which the book is not telling you something.
It's revealing to you the inner workings of your mind and heart. And so something in the text will jump out and be meaningful. And sure enough to her, you know, the hexagram she obtained had in it some chunk of text which spoke directly to her at a very deep level. And she said it was like an illumination, said, now I know what I want to do. And she decided to go to medical school. And she did.
She was successful. I mean, she'd already been accepted, but she had to decide, you know, the she was within three weeks. Do I take this plunge, you know, drop my and come down to, you know, student levels and, you know, renounce, you know, what I have and then follow my bliss, what I thought was my bliss. And I asked a very important question, you know, do you really did you just want to prove that you could get into medical school?
Was that the whole thing driving this?
Or do you really have a calling to be a physician? And it turned out that, you know, consulting, teaching showed her her calling was deep enough to take the plunge. And she did. And I'm assuming that it worked out very well for her.
That's clearly a very different way of responding to to sort of a philosophical input, if you if you will. Right.
There's really you just described it as reading a text and something jumps out at you, but in fact, it's already inside you as opposed to, say, the example, the first example you gave where there's a very rational sort of theory about how to conduct one's life coming from Aristotle.
Do you you know, to what extent do you think those two approaches should or could be both, in fact, called philosophy because they look very different from the outside?
Well, they should be. I mean, let it let. How many flowers is it? One hundred thousand. Let them all bloom. Philosophically, philosophically, we want to have variety. Do we know what we're supposed to be celebrating? Diversity in universities? Too often this means some politically correct formula for, you know, Rainbow Coalition. But what's important is the contents of our characters. And people can be motivated to make excellent contributions and we contribute of lives and be fulfilled as Aristotelian as Platonists as DOWER'S.
Why not? Why not? Temperaments are different. An orchestra needs a lot of different voices, you know, to give us beautiful music, have different voices.
I'm curious if you have an example of the top of you had when you used, on the other hand, the third way of doing philosophy, if you will, which sort of closer to the continental philosophical tradition as opposed to say, you know, I stand a classical Aristotelian or Greek philosophy or something like that.
Well, I personally am not so enmeshed in the Continental. OK, I'm going to disappoint you. You know, I'm I'm trained as a British empiricists.
You're OK with me because I've got the same connections.
My continental philosophy would would work really well as a Rorschach test because it's so incomprehensible that you can really look into it and just sort of well, that's why I brought it up, that I know that it's actually closer, if you will, to that sort of well, let's be very secular.
Let's be very clear.
I'm speaking now. This is the movement is much bigger than me. I'm just one pioneer. But there are some brilliant practitioners in the world. Some of them are European. Some of them advanced this thing really greatly and many of them Heideggerian. I mean, there's a German school of design, Analise.
I mean, they're using Heidegger as basically, you know, an anvil on which to on which to pound people into some kind of philosophical sensibility.
You need it. And they do a very good job of it.
There are, of course, much more famously existential philosophers who can help us very greatly. I mean, that's more or less the continental tradition.
This is the first use of Heidegger that actually hurt. Now, I'm just kidding.
We could mind listen, that the challenge is to find something useful. You know, in any philosophical text or tradition, all of them can be mined for nuggets of practical ways.
Right. In some cases, the challenge is a little harder than other solutions.
So I'm curious how you choose the branch of philosophy or the philosopher that you end up using to help someone, because it's I mean, there's so many different kinds of contradictory, like mutually contradictory philosophical viewpoints.
So, for example, with the lawyer that you were telling us about earlier, you quoted Aristotle talking about a golden mean, but you could also have quoted the Stoics talking about how you should have as few worldly desires and possessions as possible. Or you could have instead of advising him to give to charity, you could have quoted Nietzsche, who wasn't really all that big on helping out the weak and less fortunate.
And so do you just sort of take your own personal opinion about what the person should do and then look for philosophy that that says that?
I hope not. I mean, the way you you've just cast it would would put us in a very a very contentious light.
I think I would prefer to say it this way.
Let me reframe what you've just proposed to me. I think that there's something, you know, very platonic at work here.
Actually, if we think about the theaters and we think about Plato's idea that people are pregnant with wisdom. And the philosopher functions as a kind of midwife to induce the birth of the inner wisdom of the client, yes or not patient in our case, the client.
This is no, but this is this is more than a metaphor. I think this is the vehicle in which a lot of philosophical counseling takes place. It's really a kind of Socratic midwifery. And in fact, there's a specialty in that. Pilgrims on the West Coast wrote a beautiful book about it. It's called Philosophical Midwife for Your Socratic Midwifery. And there is a technique and I'll give you a case which uses it if you like. But for those of you who if you're a little rusty on the that is the essence of it is some of our listeners.
But but some not me, of course, others present company excepted, but some.
But there is this beautiful idea that Plato advances and we don't know empirically, you know, whether whether it's true or not, Plato's ontology is just as much up for grabs as the as the Drake Equation. We don't know yet. I hope it's true.
That's a reference to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Another episode. Yes, but but the thing is that Plato is asserting, you know, that people carry around with them false self conceptions, all of us, and especially when we're young and vulnerable, you know, we're very susceptible to having other people's ideas impressed upon us for why you looked at me when you said you're vulnerable.
I'm just looking around the room. You know, a few people here tonight. He's got only a couple of choices. So don't take it personally.
It's nothing personal here, just my oratory. Sometimes it's not that.
But OK, so I'll look at Masimo for a while and I say this and these these ideas can be foisted on us by our parents or by our peers or, you know, by some random source. And sometimes we internalize them and we and we start to believe that they are really true of us and that they are our friends, as Plato would say, are these ideas are our friends, but they're are really our enemies because they're they're imposing limitations on us, their full self conceptions.
They're called pathologies. And the goal of the philosopher through dialogue is to help the person reveal to themselves what is true of them and what is not true of them, and to dispossess themselves of those ideas which are actually limiting their progress and their fulfillment in life or preventing their happiness in life.
So this is a kind of project that works very often.
And what I'm trying to say is if Plato was right, then many people, if not most people, are carrying around inside them a dormant philosopher.
And our job is, yeah, to awaken that philosopher, you know, our clients empirically, we find they reinvent.
Thoughtful people will do this without any assistance. They'll reinvent significant fragments of a given philosophical school system or thinker. And when they come to a philosopher, they can get this contextualised and so they can walk away with what amounts to the rudiments of a philosophical identity.
They can awaken that dormant inner philosopher and that one can help to guide them to, you know, more desirable ends in life.
So that's our work. There's another way also to look at it and the promise that Julia was hinting at, which is, you know, if you have an infinite number of choices or essentially infinite number of choices of philosophies to pick, and then you just, you know, try to match whatever philosopher happens to work with whatever client you clearly the whole exercise becomes an exercise in arbitrariness.
But we've talked about this in a different context in the past on the podcast, which is one of the major differences between, say, philosophy and obviously science is the way in which philosophy does make progress. I've argued on the podcast that philosophy does make progress, but in a very different way. Obviously, philosophers don't do and they're not in the business of empirical discovery. So so you cannot make the parallel directly with science.
But what they can do is, you know, it is true that there are several different philosophical ways of looking at a particular problem.
Julia pointed out earlier, you know, there's one one way would be the Aristotelian way or the other one would be just like wine. But what philosophers are in, at least in part in the business of doing a thing is to eliminate the many, many, many more ways of looking at things that are clearly wrong. They don't work, they're incoherent, they are, etc. said they have a bunch of problems.
So the fact that you have more than one possible way of looking at a problem, more than one way to solve a particular situation doesn't bother me as much because it doesn't hint to me, hint to me at arbitrariness, because I see that as a small number of peaks emerging from these other from these underlying sea of stuff that we have actually eliminated. And that's, again, I think it's one coherent way in which you can say the philosophers make progress.
And that's one important notion. So let me say, in other words, we're documenting the process by eliminating needless, you know, possibilities that may occur to the client. But let me emphasize that we're not imposing you know, I'm not imposing my views on the client at all. And in fact, au contraire, what I'm trying to do is help the client conduct an exploration of his or her mindscape. That's what we are. We're not we're not taking them on a guided tour of our view of philosophy.
We are guides accompanying them on their inner journey, helping them to recognize.
The salient features of what they believe and if necessary, helping them to make constructive adjustments to what they believe now, in some sense, that is not that different from standard talk therapy, right? I mean, the talk that I want your take, obviously, but the relationship between between the two. But for instance, the reason I'm proposing this is this because very recently I ran into a couple of articles that pointed out that of the many, many, many different schools of psychotherapy, talk therapy that are available today, empirically speaking, there is only a very small subset that actually makes any difference and then tends to be to fall into the category of behavioral modification.
I would say cognitive. Yeah, that's right. Don't, don't, don't. You're right. Not go there.
Now, the other cognitive behavioral therapy meetings are being backed by governments now because there are demonstrable efficacy. That is true.
And one of these others at the moment, I forgot his name, but I find the article will put in a link on the website was actually drawing a direct but more or less direct link with Aristotle.
Is it right, Massimo Masimo? This is also not news. Let's let's, you know, put things in historical perspective. OK, so most of the cognitive therapies do have very good efficacy rates compared to others.
And there are three or 400 schools, you know, of of psychology, you know, that are doing counseling. And there are many schools of philosophy, too. It's a comparable matter. But why are the cognitive people so successful empirically? One reason I'd like to suggest is that most of them are directly trading on philosophical roots, most famously Albert Ellis and his Auret stoicism. It was a very sort of quick and dirty version of stoicism, but extreme security.
Auret what rational emotive therapy.
Albert Ellis was an icon in New York. Are you too young? That's a no no, I.
I just want to make sure the old timers out there will know who he is and rational emotive therapy. And now are MBT rational motive, behavioral.
You know, they introduce that component for certain problems. It's very effective. But but Auret, you know, and Ellis was a psychologist and he was doing a very, you know, strong form of kind of a shock, you know, kind of shock psychotherapy. But it was it was grounded in stoicism. And similarly, you could look at other so many other models, you know, the economy, the rogering thing with the autonomy of the patient and the you know, this is Quantium.
This is this is this is basically a Kantian position regarding the individual as being an autonomous, rational being and so forth. So, you know, the second version of the categorical imperative.
So basically what you see, what the cognitive people is that they have very strong philosophical roots. And I would argue this is partly rather successful.
I actually used as my one of my picks in a recent episode, sort of popular guide to cognitive behavioral therapy called Feeling Good.
And and the reason that I thought it was worth highlighting on this program was that there are a lot of the cognitive approaches in cognitive behavioral therapy involve pointing out irrationalities in people's thinking that are leading them to feel bad or leading them to behave irrationally in ways that are counterproductive and so on.
So I actually I thought it was really a good way of doing what you were describing, Masmoudi, like eliminating the incoherent stuff that doesn't make sense.
And we call this critical thinking. Excuse me. We call this critical thinking.
And also you mentioned the Stoics, Julia, and you're right. But this is what the Stoics were so brilliant at doing.
They had already figured out that pure reason does not hold sway over our passions or emotions are too strong most of the time, or at least when strong emotions surface, reasoning is temporarily powerless, unfortunately. So how do you how do you finesse this? The Stoics were brilliant, said, look, we cannot win this war of reason versus passion, as you would later understand and halves later understand.
But they said what we can do is change our judgments with reason. And our emotional response to circumstances arises from judgments we're making about the circumstances. Judgments are amenable to modification through reason, and if we modify our judgments, we modify your feelings. So the stoic route is exactly this and it's really powerful.
And that really is, in fact the basic idea about cognitive behavioral therapy. Now, what about the relationship between your approaches and, you know, sort of the general version of talk therapy, psychotherapy? I got the impression there's some tension there.
You got an impression from a 10 year old media. You know, when we first surfaced in this city was around 97. We started to get some serious press in New York and then it went around the world and so forth. But the media here, do I have to tell you this, that they make a big living on controversy? Yeah, I noticed this news.
OK, so basically they will turn anything into controversy and they were able to elicit some very controversial and possibly ill-advised soundbites when they got a former president of the American Psychiatric Association to say, well, philosophers who were talking about, you know, helping people resolve moral dilemmas or practicing medicine without a license. Give me a break. OK, that that was probably not what he said. They may have taken him out of context or they may have given him of, you know, a very slanted sort of picture on which to commentate.
So I think that the media did us a big favor, in essence. By bringing us to public attention, but in the process, the transaction cost of that or one transaction cost was really to skew public opinion and especially in the U.S. And let's talk about this before the show is over. This nation is the most psychologizing in the world. Oh, yeah, I do this. I render philosophical services all over Europe, South America, you know, the Asia, you name it.
I have never seen a country in my life from cradle to grave. Everything that goes wrong in life immediately becomes by default some kind of psychological problems or psychiatric or worse.
That's right, Patrick. And in the 80s, one in 10 Americans was diagnosed as mentally ill, quote unquote, mentally ill. Why are they still using this mental to what happened to OK, and then it go it went from, you know, to one in five and now it's one in two because they've been colonized by Big Pharma. Let's be very clear. The insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industries are running the show and it's in their interest to make everybody diagnosable and prescribable.
And they don't really care about, you know, your health. They care about your drug consumption. If you look at late night TV and and the catalogue of side effects that are being recited to people, yeah, this drug is great for you if you're depressed. But it may affect possibly make you more depressed, you know, for a time.
And if you wake up dead, call your physician, you know, your kidneys shut down, you know, stop taking you hear this stuff. Absolutely. It's unbelievable.
As a European myself, actually, when I came to the United States, I've been in this country now for a little more than 20 years. But when I came in initially, especially the first few years, that was exactly the sort of thing that I was paying particular attention to. And I said, holy cow, this is the sort of stuff that I never actually heard in Europe.
And most Americans are never exposed to philosophy. Most Europeans are exposed to philosophy. And that is true. That's right. And so they're accustomed to looking at things.
They understand that this is an acceptable way and sometimes a preferable way of interpreting what's going on in Asia is, of course, they're steeped in virtue ethics, thanks to the Confucian tradition, the tradition so and the Buddhist tradition. So very comfortable with philosophy, too.
But Americans seem to think most of them are just untutored and they seem to think, you know, in the Garden of Eden there with Adam, even Adam, Eve, a serpent and a psychologist.
Getting back quickly to cognitive behavioral therapy. We were mentioning how you were talking about how it's like the one really solidly empirically tested and empirically supported form of therapy.
Do you have any kind of similar testing process for philosophical counseling? Like do you ever measure sort of success rate or anything? Well, I can tell you that we're not big enough yet.
OK, how big are you going to be around the world now? I would guess of about a thousand or so practitioners and in the U.S. has grown a lot in the last decade. In the U.S., the EPA has certified about 300 practitioners and I'm guessing they're another 300 or so who are practicing, you know, on their own, which is fine. There's no legislation for or against this. So there are a lot of independence in practice.
You know, the movement is growing, but we have nothing like a sufficient body of statistics in order to demonstrate, you know, causal efficacy, although that's growing. We recently completed a three year project in Sweden with the Spinless Foundation and rehab station, state of the art medical facility, clinical medicine, whose populations are newly spinal injured patients who are suddenly paralyzed for life, and newly diagnosed MS patients, mostly women, genetic thing. It shows up in its early 20s.
So these people whom they're treating these patients, they can stabilize them medically.
They can do they have wonderful ways. But they doctors there are a couple of very brilliant Swedish doctors, in my view, anyway, recognized these people needed something else that they weren't offering. They could do everything for their bodies. They needed to do something more for their minds. And they were not mentally ill, OK?
They didn't have post-traumatic stress disorder. Yes, something bad happened to them. And now they have to reinvent themselves. And the best way for them to do that in many cases is with a philosopher. So they've integrated philosophical counseling into their menu of services. And this is really the tip of the iceberg of what we're capable of doing in Korea.
The Ministry of Defense has actually contracted and funded the newly, relatively newly founded Korean National Association for Philosophical Practice to deliver services. They're doing philosophical counseling with frontline troops. Korea is a very if you've been to Seoul, it is the front line, you know.
Well, the American military actually interesting recently I read does do some philosophical training for their soldiers in terms of virtue, ethics.
Well, they do virtue ethics because that would be a very typical Western thing to be doing. They also ought to be doing a little bit of Sun Tzu, too. I think the art of war would help them.
But the real telling statistic, if you love since you like statistics, the U.S. Army recently completed a survey that showed alarmingly 75 percent of our young men are unfit for military, 75 percent unfit because of physical and or psychological problems.
So this whole mental health industry pretty high for junk food, this industry of paint by number diagnosis and mass drugging of children and so forth. Is it making people better or is it making people worse?
Well, the thing about statistics, you know, again, going back to to Stenders psychotherapy, what I mentioned earlier on. That research now pretty convincingly, I think, shows that the cognitive behavioral therapy is pretty much the only one that works or that actually demonstrated statistically demonstrated effects. The thing that really caught my attention is that after one of these studies was published, the authors went back to a lot of the practitioners and said, OK, so here's the results.
Clearly, what you're doing is not working. Would you consider switching to, you know, some kind of cognitive therapy? And the overwhelming majority of the responses they got is, well, no, I know it works. It's my experience and I don't really care what the statistics actually say, which is not exactly the most sort of scientific and rational response to this.
Let me try to focus this really on the president now and this whole issue that we began with controversy and so forth. I think firstly, there's a tremendous potential for engagement with psychology. I don't want to get into professional turf wars with the two big, the two powerful anyway. But there's a tremendously interesting question here that arises. And it's really a peppery and demarkation problem. Where does philosophy begin? Where does psychology begin? You know, the historically psychology is the trial, the philosophy.
If you if you were studying, you know, Plato, if you were if you were a philosopher in any ancient world looking at the human being and trying to understand the human being, you were inevitably doing some kind of psychology as well.
Yes. As philosophy. I was listening to it more recently than people know. William James from the chair of Philosophy and Psychology at Harvard. And up to 1995 and in England, it went on longer. Several Joe to much neglected philosophers. CMG held the chair of philosophy and Psychology at the University of London until the 1940s, when it was abolished and government started to pump billions and billions of dollars into psychology as a science, you know. But interestingly enough, when the people started counseling psychologically, the research psychologist looked at them and said, this is in psychology.
And now the counselors outnumber the researchers, you know, ten to one.
And it's a pretty accepted field. It's still very new. Relatively speaking, philosophy is ancient. We're also not trying to be scientific. We're not competing in this way. We are I would prefer to say an art form. And what we do is hermeneutics, music. We're not trying to, you know, to do anything that's rigorously scientific, but it is an art that is powerful. We also have a very natural alliance with medicine. And I've come now to be friends and to have been befriended by some leading psychiatrists who at the beginning mounted very good skeptical challenges.
Listen, Massimo, you're all over the map with science and philosophy. You know that any in any innovation has to be tested. There's a there's a there's an allegory to synthetic to natural selection. It's not Darwinian, but it's a cultural product that's synthetic. I call it synthetic selection as opposed to natural selection.
It's the way we have of of testing new ideas.
We don't want to just admit anything into the mainstream culture could be terrible. So we have to test. So anything new that comes along has to be tested. I think it's a good thing. Psychiatrist mounted excellent criticisms. We were able to answer them and through dialogue, develop a mutual understanding. And now we're working with them and some psychiatrists, you know, extraordinarily philosophical beings, people like Irvin Yalom, people like Ron Pye's at Tufts. You wrote a book called Everything Has to Handle's.
That's straight out of Epictetus. He doesn't just diagnose and drug. He doesn't just do psychotherapy. He's a very philosophical guy, Ron Pies.
And he will work with stoicism and with Buddhism when it's appropriate with his own psychiatric patients. Excuse me, he's practicing philosophy again.
The relationship between the two is has been controversial for the last century or so. For instance, very recently, as you were mentioning earlier, William James. But but, of course, Freud comes to mind. And in this particular sense, just very recently, a few days ago, Gordon Marino published this article in The New York Times entitled Freud as a Philosopher. What he pointed out that Freud was actually scornful of philosophy there.
Are there some quotes in the article about Freud sort of disregarding philosophy as a serious exercise useful to human beings?
But then, in fact, Freud himself wrote Civilisation and its discontents, which is an incredibly philosophical take on things. Now, one may or may not agree on his particular take on it, but it certainly is a philosophical, philosophical book.
So the relationship between the two, between the sort of psychology and philosophy as being fed fairly complex, shall we say, over over the last 100, definitely.
And well worth exploring in greater depth. So just let me give you a further piece of news about this, that civilisation and its discontents. Freud yes. It is a philosophical work and it's based squarely on something that Freud never read, namely Hobbes Leviathan.
If Freud had troubles to the Hobbs's the most consistent materialist, you know, in the in the last five hundred years. And Freud never read him. And in the Leviathan and I can give you chapter and verse for your website later, Hobs anticipates three three things that were very critical to the development of psychoanalysis. First, Hobs talks about word association and how one thought will lead to another through this this process that Freud would later make great hay with. Hobs also talks about the significance of dreams, the significance of dreams, and how importantly.
Meaningful, they are difficult to understand, and Holmes also talked about madness. There are so many forms of madness out there that he said he who would, you know, want to catalogue them, he said, would have to employ a legion, basically.
So he anticipates, which we do.
He anticipates Hobbs was a great visionary, OK, and recognized, you know, just as the founder of two of two fields, you know, modern political science, but also something called empirical psychology, of which Freud was the greatest modern exponent.
I'm curious about your process of certification, because as you're saying, you don't want to you don't want to put them out in the public without being confident that it's, you know, tested enough, verified enough that you are comfortable putting it out there.
So how do you actually decide who to certify? What does the training process involve? OK, great.
Let me preface my answer by saying that certification has proved, you know, very, very good for a couple of reasons. Most of our clients are self-selecting at this point. In other words, there are people in the general public who hear about this or read, you know, read about it and say, hey, I want to try this, or this is what I've been looking for. And a lot of people are chary of seeing psychotherapists or psychiatrists, not because they can't be benefited, but because there's still a stigma attached to it, especially if you're diagnosed and it goes on your record.
You know, now I believe there are mental illnesses and people who have and should be treated. So we have a scope of practice. And the certification program teaches people not philosophy. We're accepting, you know, philosophers. They have a minimum of an M.A. We also do now a new thing called certified affiliates, where we accept psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, lawyers, people who are already helpers, who are licensed by states and want to acquire some familiarity with with philosophical techniques or indeed expertise with them.
So we admit both populations and we mix them now to great effect because the philosophers no way too much philosophy and not enough about how to work with people. You know, the ones who are analytically trained are brilliant, but they have no idea how to work with people or do they want to. They have this vocation, some of them. And the theoretical philosophy, which, you know, which dominates in the academy has simply forbid applications. You know, there are many who are still even looking askance at applied ethics, which is a huge growth industry.
So what we do is we're not purporting to do something like 1500 hours of supervision, you know, in the things that psychologists need to be licensed nowadays. What we're doing is we're giving philosophers tools, the necessary tools with which they can build a practice when they go back to their hometown or back to the university and practice. And this works. It's worked all over the world. So they're coming to us because they already want to do this. People read a book like Plato, not Prozac.
It's in 30 languages, for heaven's sake. It's become really surprising. The bestseller in many, many countries, most recently Romania. I mean, they're a little behind, but now they're there.
And wherever they're getting Prozac, they could be getting Plato right.
So what happens is typically this citizens read this reader's read. They say, wait a second, I want to talk to a philosopher and philosophers, read this and say, wait a minute, I want to be a counselor.
So then they self identify. And on the patient side of the client side, about 19 of 20, 95 percent of the people who come to me are acceptable. Their problem fits in the scope of practice that, you know, we've crafted for ourselves as a profession. Those who don't fit the scope of practice, they're not rational, they're not functional. What they're presenting with is not a philosophical issue. We refer them for appropriate help. We give them, you know, send them to a doctor, send them to a psychologist, send them to a psychiatrist, send them to a priest, send them to a Zen Roshi, for that matter.
But if they have genuinely philosophical problem, we work with them.
The three day program gives philosophers the tools to build a practice for themselves, and that's what they're part of.
The idea is to phone, for instance, to recognize when somebody fits the profile or doesn't when when you should be, in fact, referring somebody to, say, a psychiatrist or or a facility for mental problems.
It's absolutely critical because we're not trained to diagnose. We're not trying to be trained to diagnose. But we can still ask, of course, about the ontological status of some of the illnesses in the DSM. I mean, if we put on a philosophy of science hats, you know, we can ask some very interesting and critical questions about the DSM, what is reified, what isn't. But on the other side of the ledger, we have to practice as credible professionals in our code of ethics as first do no harm.
So we must, when in doubt, refer out. And as I'm saying empirically, it's about five percent of my cases are not appropriate.
So I do refer them and, you know, watch this in gender's better relations with the other professions. I get referrals from doctors.
I get referrals from psychiatrists who because they also recognize it's quid pro quo, they now being more aware of what we're doing.
Say, wait a second, maybe this is a philosophical problem. I'll refer you to a philosophical counselor.
I'm curious, do you ever get any patients coming in whose malaise stems from religious questioning and they want to come to a philosopher to get philosophical wisdom about the existence of God or heaven or hell all the time.
So how do you deal with cases like this? These are some of the most interesting cases I've had rabbis, I've had priests. I've had, you know, people with strongly.
Religious orientations who have ethical questions or questions within their canon, which they want to have looked at from an outside more objective perspective in order to enrich their own ways of inquiry and understanding, it's really fascinating working with these people. What about what about questions about the existence of God or about let me let me let me answer this in an elliptical way, OK?
You know what what we could have sent into, you know, if you want to get involved with with, let us say, religious extremists to try to temper them a little bit, there was this circulated on the Internet a few years ago. And let me just tell you what it is.
You know, we could have instead of sending in the Marines or sending in, you know, whoever we send in Afghanistan, we could have parachuted in a crack brigade of French existentialists with black berets, you know, cheap cigarettes, you know, some Gaulois cigarettes and some house wine.
And they could have set up shop in the local cafe or I and said, you know, so Ahmed, maybe what if our doesn't exist?
OK, now, of course, they're going to kill them. I mean, the first few.
But then eventually they're going to plant the seed of doubt. Right. Wait a minute. So then if Allah doesn't exist, then our universe is different and we have to reconfigure our belief system.
So this kind of thing, I mean, this is partly, you know, funny and tongue in cheek, but there's a very serious underside to it. What philosophers are really good at. I've discovered most of us are subverting people's beliefs. Now, this could be for better or for worse, but students time and again come into our classroom with a very rigid, you know, any day fix and we're able to loosen up, you know, their cognitive apparatus a little bit and get them wide and broaden their perspective.
Yes, that is that's the major idea, I would think, behind any class in critical thinking. I mean, I teach critical thinking and Leamon almost every semester, and that's the idea. You don't come in to the class, you know, imposing your your views of his own people. Although I tell my students that I will not pretend that I don't have views about all sorts of things for the simple reason that, of course, most of my views on pretty much everything are available on the blog.
And they can they can easily look it up so they know exactly what I think about God. They know what my political opinions are. They know everything that I think about, all sorts of issues that we discuss in class. But they also know that my job there, at least I try to make them aware of the fact that my job there is simply to bring up a variety of points of view into question why people hold to one point of view or another and then they have to make up their mind.
That's the whole idea about critical thinking. You don't impose your thinking. You, as you were saying, loosen up people's beliefs and shake them up a little bit.
And this is a good thing because it broadens the scope of inquiry. It's back to the Socratic way. So further, Julia, to this and in brief, so here are some examples of what's happened from our certification program. We've had a couple of chairs of departments. We've gone back and instituted, you know, IRB approved research protocols, institutional review board protocols and philosophical counselling. Cathy Russell and Andrew Fitzgibbon did this at SUNY Cortland and they ran, you know, a research program and philosophical counselling sanctioned by the University of Cape Miron, professor and chair of the department at Eastern Michigan University.
She did the same thing. I pioneered this with a research protocol at City College. Some of our most interesting clients have come in pro bono to these protocols. And this is the kind of work that we've been doing. And you see, we're growing this in the American way from the inside out. The certification programs are really stopgap for philosophers already, you know, credentialled in philosophy. We are in the process now, if I may say, of working through implementation of a proposed M.A. in applied philosophy at City College, and that would actually graduate people who could call themselves philosophical practitioners, among other streams.
So we're going to wrap up this section of the podcast.
We're going to put a link to lose books so you can check out Plato, not Prozac and his other books on our website. But as we move on to the Russian speaking Picts, we'll see what other books, movies or websites we wants to recommend to our listeners.
Welcome back. Every episode, we pick a suggestion for our listeners that has tickled our irrational fancy. This time we ask our guest, Lou Maryna, for his suggestion Lou.
Well, there's a wealth of books out there on philosophical practice, mostly by very serious practitioners. But I'm going to give you something new and different that just landed on my desk a couple of weeks ago. It's a novel. It's called The Philosophical Practitioner. It's what a coincidence. What a coincidence.
It's by. And, you know, I'm this is. No, he's not paying me to say this. It's I just loved it. It's by a guy named Larry Abrams, who's a former New Yorker now living, I think, in Texas. And I don't know the publisher because I'm a scholar of duty tonight to do your show somewhat.
We'll find that book. You'll find it. And the really interesting thing to two things, if I may say.
First of all, Larry attended quite regularly a philosophers forum that I ran for seven years and Chelsea at Barnes and Noble, if I'm allowed to say that. I mean, it was it was an informal group. And I ran it, you know, quite successfully for a number of years. And we had all kinds of wide ranging and interesting public discussions. It was, you know, what philosophers are supposed to do, get back into the agora.
So now I have a similar experience. You know, once a month I have these dinners, philosophy dinners and, you know, how much fun and and how interesting they are for people to to get philosophy out of the ivory tower a little bit.
So Larry was there and he he obviously imbibed a great deal of what was going on more than I ever would have suspected. And suddenly he sends me this incredible novel about a philosopher who's, you know, he's a councillor and he's practising in Manhattan and he's such an ethical guy. I'm not going to ruin the plot for you.
But he makes he puts his own life at risk at a certain point in order not to violate our code of ethics. So, Larry, kudos for putting us in such great light.
I hope we all would measure up, you know, but I must say, it's a it's a very interesting read it. He does have insight into the kinds of clients we attract and how we work. He's done some really good homework on this, and it's a very readable novel so that we be my pick.
And also, I must say, we really now arrive.
If we're being fictionalized, I'd say, you know you know, you're right.
If there is a book, a fictional book. Exactly. A fiction for a movie or them, then we know we've arrived in this culture. So the philosophical practitioner by Larry Abrams is my pick.
Yeah. Once you have via the network TV sitcom starring or, you know, crime drama starring the outside, it's even better than you've really, really arrived.
Well, thank you so much. It was it was a pleasure having you on our show tonight. This concludes another episode of Rationally Speaking. Join us next time for more explorations on the borderlands between reason and nonsense. The rationally speaking podcast is presented by New York City skeptics for program notes, links, and to get involved in an online conversation about this and other episodes, please visit rationally speaking podcast Dog. This podcast is produced by Benny Pollack and recorded in the heart of Greenwich Village, New York.
Our theme, Truth by Todd Rundgren, is used by permission. Thank you for listening.