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RS48 - Philosophical Counseling

Release date: November 20, 2011

Our guest Lou Marinoff joins us to discuss philosophical counseling, a recent trend to use philosophy as a type of talk therapy. Now, despite the provocative title of his best-selling book, “Plato, Not Prozac!: Applying Eternal Wisdom to Everyday Problems,” the idea is actually not to replace psychiatric medications with chats about the ancient Greeks. Rather, as he puts it in the introduction to the volume, you should take your medications if you really need them, but once your brain is back to a normal functionality you will likely still be faced with the same existential problems that plague most human beings. And that’s where philosophy might help.

Lou Marinoff is the Chair of the Department of Philosophy at The City College of New York and a founder of the American Philosophical Practitioners Association. His other books include "The Middle Way: Finding Happiness in a World of Extremes" and "Therapy for the Sane."

Lou's pick: "The Philosophical Practitioner"


 In this episode our guest claims that Thomas Hobbes anticipate key Freudian concepts. Here are some examples, drawn from Leviathan (1651):

  1. Freud insisted that there are no "mental accidents": each thought follows from another, determinstically.

  2. "When a man thinketh on anything whatsoever, his next thought after is not altogether so casual as it seems to be. Not every thought to every thought succeeds indifferently." -- Leviathan, chapter 3.

  3. Freud insisted on the meaningfulness of dreams, as the "royal road to the unconscious."

    "... the thoughts are said to wander, and seem impertinent to one another, as in a Dream ... And yet in this wild ranging of the mind, a man may oft-times perceive the way of it, and the dependence of one thought upon another." -- Leviathan, chapter 3.

  4. Freud made much hay with "free association" of words and thoughts.

    "For in a discourse of our present civil war, what could seem more impertinent than to ask, as one did, what was the value of a Roman penny? Yet the coherence to me was manifest enough. For the thought of the war introduced the thought of the delivering up the King to his enemies; the thought of that brought in the thought of the delivering up of Christ; and that again the thought of the 30 pence, which was the price of that treason: and thence easily followed that malicious question; and all this in a moment of time, for thought is quick." -- Leviathan, chapter 3

  5. Freud insisted that human will is not free; rather, is a plaything of our affects and desires.

    "And therefore if a man should talk to me of ... a free will; or any free but free from being hindered by opposition; I should not say he were in an error, but that his words were without meaning; that is to say, absurd." -- Leviathan, chapter 5. "In deliberation, the last appetite, or aversion, immediately adhering to the action, or to the omission thereof, is that we call the will; the act, not the faculty, of willing. And beasts that have deliberation must necessarily also have will. The definition of the will, given commonly by the Schools, that it is a rational appetite, is not good. For if it were, then could there be no voluntary act against reason. For a voluntary act is that which proceedeth from the will, and no other. But if instead of a rational appetite, we shall say an appetite resulting from a precedent deliberation, then the definition is the same that I have given here. Will, therefore, is the last appetite in deliberating. " -- Leviathan, chapter 6.

  6. Hobbes also anticipated the DSM:  "In sum, all passions that produce strange and unusual behaviour are called by the general name of madness. But of the several kinds of madness, he that would take the pains might enrol a legion." --Leviathan, chapter 8.


Reader Comments (8)

I'm working my way from the most recent podcast back through all these excellent philosophical discussions. I've listened to 9 episodes so far and find that I'm learning more about philosophy in each episode than I learned in my entire first year philosophy class in 1966 at the University of Saskatoon. I find the fast paced verbal jousting between Julia and Massimo keeps me intellectually involved and interested, whereas reading Hume and others as part of that philosophy class was a much more powerful soporific than mass quantities of ethanol or ambien. Keep up the great work, guys, and thank you.

November 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterufo

Thanks so much, ufo! That's a pleasure to hear.

November 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulia Galef

Interesting talk and presentation. As a clinical psychologist, I would have appreciated more on the distinction between philosophical counseling, counseling psychology (which is aimed at many of the same concerns), and clinical psychology. When Dr. Marinoff spoke of when he would refer, I listened carefully but did not hear him state when he would refer to a psychologist.
As a psychologist in a rehabilitation program, I want to emphasize that a major focus is helping those with sudden changes in life, such as a spinal cord injury, stroke, brain injury, or amputation. Approaches such as existential psychotherapy to address the meaning someone attributes to their life, injury and relationships, as well as cognitive-behavioral techniques to make desired changes, are an important part of our work. Dr. Marinoff's presentation, which is naturally aimed at stressing the distinctiveness and uniqueness of his approach, omitted mention of the similarities and overlap, and could leave listeners with the impression that these issues are not dealt with in North American settings.

December 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterstewart

I read your whole article related to your iphone missing. At last you have a peace of mind it will surprise me how can you forget about your iphone. Have you consult with any psychologist?

I've always shied away from the idea of psychological counselling, partly because of the negative stereotypes in movies. Philosophical counselling, though, sounds much more plausible for me, personally. I could imagine myself going in for some of that, to help me through difficult times.

July 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter5ecular
July 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterChicky
Since people have neurological problems, and psychological problems, it makes sense that they would also have philosophical problems. Instead of organic brain disease or a personality disorder, a person may simply suffer from an irrational life view.
January 27, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson
Come on? They critizice irrational ideas and they have criticized conspiracies but when a speaker talks about a big pharma conspiracy they stay silent. I am a bit disappointed about this. But that is probably one of the few problems I have since I started listening to this podcasts. I still love this podcast because it is about science, skepticism and philosophy of science. It is a learning path that they offer.
February 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEmiel de Jonge

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