The Utility of Jan Smuts’ Theory of Holism for Philosophical Counseling

International Journal of Philosophical Practice 8 (1):80-102 (2022)
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This article explores the potential utility of the theory of Holism as developed by South African philosopher, British Commonwealth statesman and military leader, Jan Smuts, for philosophical counselling or practice. Central to the philosophical counseling process is philosophical counsellors or practitioners applying the work of philosophers to inspire, educate and guide their counselees in dealing with life problems. For example, Logic-Based Therapy, a method of philosophical counselling developed by Elliot Cohen, provides a rational framework for confronting problems of living, where the counselor helps the counselee find an uplifting philosophy that promotes a guiding virtue that acts as an antidote to unrealistic and often self-defeating conclusions derived from irrational premises. We present the argument that Holism is one such uplifting philosophy which can be of utility to philosophical counselors or practitioners to help their counselees with confronting problems of living. Furthermore, we argue that Smuts’ articulation of freedom can act as a guiding virtue within this uplifting philosophy of Holism in accordance with the methodology of LBT. Smuts’ contribution to philosophy and psychology is arguably inadequately credited, and for this reason, and to the best of our knowledge, Smuts’ theory of Holism has yet to be discussed in the context of philosophical counseling or practice. Given these omissions, we begin this article with a discussion of his influence on 20th Century Anglo-American psychology. We then provide a brief historical context, and an introduction to the central argument of Smuts’ Holism, as well as a brief overview of the origins of Smut’s Holism and an introduction to his book Holism and Evolution. In the remainder of the article, we discuss several foundational concepts that underlie Smuts’ theory of Holism, as articulated and developed in his book Holism and Evolution, to substantiate our arguments. We conclude by highlighting the limitations of our article, limitations to Smuts’ model, and the challenges inherent in the use of a now largely antiquated theory, even by Smuts’ own admission nineteen years after its publication, for the purposes of contextualizing and substantiating the arguments and recommendations presented herein.

Author's Profile

Guy Pierre du Plessis
Utah State University


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