Philosophy as Therapy - A Review of Konrad Banicki's Conceptual Model


In his article Banicki proposes a universal model for all forms of philosophical therapy. He is guided by works of Martha Nussbaum, who in turn makes recourse to Aristotle. As compared to Nussbaum’s approach, Banicki’s model is more medical and less based on ethical argument. He mentions Foucault’s vision to apply the same theoretical analysis for the ailments of the body and the soul and to use the same kind of approach in treating and curing them. In his interpretation of philosophical therapy, there are, however, some controversial issues, to which we would like to call attention: Is restoring health by a philosophical method of treatment – health understood as a person’s ability to reach his/her vital goals – a convincing explication of philosophical therapy in general? In order to answer this question, it may be useful to look at Plato. It is not only Platonism (and especially Neo-platonism since Plotinus) that questions the idea that therapy is necessarily connected with „vital goals“. Buddhist and Gnostic philosophies are questioning „the vital“ in general. The immense effort in the history of philosophy to liberate the mind from the body casts doubt on the project to explain philosophical therapy solely in analogy to medical therapy. According to Banicki a therapeutic philosophy has to identify the diseases it attempts at curing. There are, however, reasons for associating the term therapy with suffering/risk rather than disease. If a therapy aims at reducing the fear of death, as for example many classical philosophical therapies do, then there is no disease to be cured. A model based on chances and risks also has the advantage that the Buddhist and Stoic reinterpretation of desires/emotions as “diseases” can be dropped in contemporary philosophical therapy. Banicki mentions the comparison of therapies as one of the primary goals of modelling. Methods should be verified by a statistical correlation between method and therapeutic success and/or by a theory which justifies the method. Some forms of therapies, however, avoid theory-specific terms and concepts in favor of an unprejudiced interpretation of the patient’s statements. Others share the (Nietzschean) aspiration to explore and change measures of value. If the therapeutic process is seen as a unique phenomenon, then there can be no theory and no statistics with co-occurrences. According to Banicki philosophical therapy has to describe techniques which qualify as genuinely philosophical. Techniques like maieutics and hermeneutics, however, are antique philosophical “inventions”, which were later adopted by psychotherapy. If meditation is accepted as a therapeutic tool – as it was in ancient times – then there is not only a methodical but also an emotional relation to religion. If finally, the Socratic search for a good life is seen as one of the characteristics of philosophical therapy, then delimitation even turns into a criterion for non-philosophical therapies. The search for a good life requires an interdisciplinary approach. For the concretization of the formal structure, we suggest a typology of therapies, which is based on chances and risks. Such a typology has the advantage, that it can model conflicting (and even opposing) forms of therapies. The variety of therapeutic goals and methods is a consequence of the historical development towards conceptual freedom.

Author Profiles

Michael Hampe
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich


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