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Andre-Jean Voelke-Philosophy As A Therapeutic Tool

Perseus giving Medusa’s head to Athena, as imagined by an ancient Greek artist. Notice that Perseus is not looking directly at the head, but rather at the reflection of the head in his shield. Drawing  (c) 2014 Dan Harper.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA are two extracts from Andre-Jean Voelke’s’ ‘Philosophy as Soul Therapy’ (La Philosophie comme thérapie de l’âme), Fribourg University Press, 1993. First from pages 5 and 6 and then pages 9 and 10. HYGEIA’s English translation from the original French.


A few years earlier than Martha Nussbaum’s own research, the Swiss scholar, Andre-Jean Voelke, together with Pierre Hadot, plowed with great inspiration the topic of ‘Philosophy as a therapeutic tool‘, especially as expressed during the Hellenistic period. Here are a few selections translated from the original French:

‘In discovering, in the ‘Philosophical Investigations’, that Wittgenstein assign a therapeutic role to philosophy, the reader may be quite surprised because modern philosophy does not prepare him to tackle this idea. But a person living in the antic world would have not been surprised to be presented with the idea of philosophy as therapy. Was it not the conception defended by of the schools? To better understand, in its strength and originality, the signification of the texts where Wittgenstein assign philosophy in this manner, it would be interesting to start the antic tradition. This is what I intend to do, limiting myself to the ‘Skeptical’ tradition, as we can fathom it with Aenesidemus and especially in the works of Sextus Empiricus.

The dogmatists, according to Aenesidemus, ignore that they ‘wear out and waste themselves away in vain in continuous torments’ (Photius, Myriobiblon, 169 b 23). The philosophical difficulties, declares Wittgenstein, ‘as long that they are considered as problems, are torturing and seem unsolvable.’ (The blue and Brown Books, Oxford, 1958, page 46). In both cases the ailment we are ought to be cured from is then philosophy itself. -And also, in both cases, it is up to philosophy, moved by a persisting demand of intelligibility, to find the therapy and to apply it: ‘The Sceptic…want to heal by reasoning the presumption and the precipitation of the dogmatics…’ (Sextus Empiricus Pyrrhōneioi hypotypōseis III, 280). ‘The philosopher treats a question like an ailment’ (Wittgenstein Philosophische Untersuchungen, # 255). -Finally health that needs to be recovered is defined in similar terms: for the Sceptic, it is the ataraxia (Sextus Empiricus, Pyrrhōneioi hypotypōseis I, 26); for Wittgenstein rest, appeasement (Wittgenstein Philosophische Untersuchungen, # 133).’


‘…Can we characterize this therapy as a catharsis? The Sceptics not only suggest this question, but help to precise it by providing again another term: lusis, designating the action to unbind, to dissolve the Aporias* (See note below) in which we are involved’ (Sextus Empiricus Pros Physikous, II, 103). This term applies well to some fundamental aspects of the analysis of language practiced in the ‘Investigations’, and we are led to ask in which measure lusis or dissolution of philosophical problems it operates is at the same time a catharsis. I have started to think, with Jacques Bouveresse, that the later term can designate the philosophical work accomplished in the ‘Investigations’. To aim to a ‘complete clarity’, conceived as a ‘complete disappearance’ of the philosophical problems. (# 133), is it not here an undertaking that we could legitimately qualify as a purgation? But Jean-Pierre Leyvraz made me attentive to the fact that ‘clarity’ is not synonym of ‘purity’. And, in fact the description of the language games shows that the everyday language propositions don’t have to be purified due to the demands of an ideal language, it leads to step aside the ‘crystalline purity bias’ (# 108). Maybe we could be led to say that the dissolution of the philosophical problems, the lusis, is a catharsis in the measure where it shows that language, considered as life-form, does not include the impurities philosophy believes it is tainted…’

* Aporia: an aporia is a philosophical puzzle or a seemingly insoluble impasse in an inquiry, often arising as a result of equally plausible yet inconsistent premises (i.e. a paradox). It can also denote the state of being perplexed, or at a loss, at such a puzzle or impasse. The notion of an aporia is principally found in Greek philosophy, but it also plays a role in post-structuralist philosophy, as in the writings of Jacques Derrida and Luce Irigaray, and it has also served as an instrument of investigation in analytic philosophy. (Source Wikipedia)


Andre-Jean Voelke-Philosophy As A Therapeutic Tool

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