Principles and difficulties of the philosophical consultation

  1. Principles

Philosophical Naturalism

In recent years, a new wind seems to blow on philosophy. In various forms, it has as its constant aim to extirpate philosophy from its purely academic and scholarly framework, where historical perspective remains the main vector. Diversely received and appreciated, this tendency incarnates for some a necessary and vital oxygenation, for the others a vulgar and banal betrayal worthy of a mediocre epoch. Among these philosophical ‘novelties’ emerges the idea that philosophy is not confined to scholarship and discourse but that it is also a practice. Of course, this perspective does not really innovate, insofar as it represents a return to original concerns, to this quest for wisdom that articulated the very term of philosophy; although this dimension has been relatively obscured for several centuries by the ‘learned’ facet of philosophy.

However, despite the ‘already seen’ side of the case, the profound cultural, psychological, sociological and other such changes that separate our era, for example, from classical Greece, radically alter the data of the problem. The Philosophia Perennis is obliged to account for history, its immortality being hardly able to avoid the finiteness of the societies which formulated its problems and its stakes. Thus, the philosophical practice – like philosophical doctrines – must develop the articulations corresponding to its place and time, depending on the circumstances that generate this momentary matrix, even if at the end of the day it does not seem possible to avoid, to leave or to go beyond the limited number of major problems which since the dawn of time have constituted the matrix of all reflection of the philosophical type, whatever may be the external form taken by the articulations.

The philosophical naturalism that we are discussing here is at the center of the debate, in that it criticizes the specificity of philosophy on the historical and geographical level. It presupposes that the emergence of philosophy is not a particular event, but that its living substance nests in the heart of man and lines his soul, even if, like any science or knowledge, certain moments and certain places appear more determinant, more explicit, more favorable, more crucial than others. As human beings, we share a common world – in spite of the infinity of representations which makes this unit undergo a serious barrage – and a common condition or nature – again in spite of the cultural and individual relativism – and we should be able to find, at least in an embryonic way, a certain number of intellectual archetypes constituting the framework of ‘historical’ thought, at least some of its elements. After all, the strength of an idea being based on its operability and universality, every master idea should be found in each of us. Is it not, therein, expressed in other words and perceived from another angle, the very idea of Platonic reminiscence? Philosophical practice, then, becomes that activity which enables everyone to be awakened to the world of ideas that inhabit oneself, just as artistic practice awakens everyone to the world of forms that inhabit us, each according to its possibilities, without all being Kant or of the likes of Rembrandts.

The double requirement

Two specific and common prejudices are to be discarded in order to better understand the approach we are dealing with here. The first prejudice consists in believing that the practice of philosophy – and thus of philosophical discussion – being reserved for a learned elite, the same would apply to philosophical consultation. The second prejudice, unlike the first – its natural complement – consists in thinking that philosophy being, in fact, reserved for a scholarly elite, philosophical consultation cannot be philosophical since it is open to all. These two prejudices express a single fracture; it remains for us to attempt to demonstrate simultaneously that philosophical practice is open to all and that it implies a certain requirement distinguishing it from mere discussion. In addition, we will have to differentiate our activity from psychological or psychoanalytic practice with which we cannot fail to amalgamate it.

First steps

‘Why are you here?’ This inaugural question imposes itself as the first, the most natural, the one that one has to permanently ask to anyone except to oneself. It is unfortunate that any teacher in charge of an introductory course in philosophy does not start his academic year with such naive questions. Through this simple exercise, the pupil, accustomed for years to the routine school, would grasp from the outset the stake of this strange matter which interrogates to the most obvious evidences; the difficulty of actually answering such a question, as well as the wide range of possible answers, would quickly reveal the apparent banality of the question. Of course, for this purpose, one must not to be content with one of these empty responses dropped from the tip of the lips so as to avoid thinking.

During the consultations, many of the first answers are of the kind: “because I do not know much about philosophy”, “because I am interested in philosophy and want to know more”, or “because I would like to know what the philosopher says – or what philosophy says – about…” The questioning must continue without delay, in order to reveal the unacknowledged assumptions of these attempts at answering, not to say those non-responses. This process will not fail to reveal some ideas concerning the subject – the person engaged in the consultation – about philosophy or any other topic discussed, involving him in a position necessary for this practice. Not that it is necessary to know ‘the substance’ of his thought, unlike psychoanalysis, but because it is a question of venturing on a hypothesis in order to work on it.

This distancing is important, for two reasons intimately related to the basics of our work. The first is that truth does not necessarily advance under cover of sincerity or subjective ‘authenticity’, it may even be radically opposed to it; an opposition based on the principle that envy often thwarts reason. From this point of view, it does not matter whether the subject adheres to the idea or not. “I’m not sure what I’m saying (or will say)”, we often hear. But what would one want to be sure of? Is not this uncertainty precisely what will enable us to test our idea, while any certainty would inhibit such a process? The second reason, close to the first, is that a distanciation must be established, necessary for a reflective and posed work, an indispensable condition for the conceptualization which we want to induce. Two conditions which by no means prevent the subject from venturing on precise ideas, he will in fact do it more freely. The scientist will more easily discuss ideas on which he does not inextricably engage his ego, without forbidding that an idea pleases him or suits him more than others.

“Why are you here?” This also amounts to asking: “What is the problem?” “What is the question?” That is, what necessarily motivates the meeting, even if this motivation is not clear or is unconscious at first. It is therefore a matter of carrying out some identification work. Once the hypothesis is expressed and somewhat developed (directly or through questions) the interrogator will propose a reformulation of what he has heard. Generally, the subject will express a certain initial refusal – or a cold reception – of the proposed reformulation: “That is not what I said. That is not what I meant.” It will then be proposed to him to analyze what he does not like in the reformulation or to rectify his own speech. However, he must first clarify whether the reformulation has betrayed the discourse by changing the nature of its content (which must be stated to be possible, since the interrogator is not perfect…), or whether it has betrayed it by revealing, in open daylight, what he did not dare to see and admit in his own words. Here we see the enormous stake that a dialogue with the other poses on the philosophical level: insofar as one accepts the difficult exercise of ‘weighing’ words, the listener becomes a pitiless mirror that sends us hard back to ourselves. The emergence of the echo is always a risk whose scope we do not know.

When what has been initially expressed does not appear to be reformulable, out of confusion or by lack of clarity, the interrogator may without hesitation ask the subject to repeat what he has already said or to express it otherwise. If the explanation is too long or becomes a pretext for a ‘release word’ (associative and uncontrolled), the interrogator will not hesitate to interrupt: “I’m not sure I understand where you are going. I do not quite understand the meaning of your words.” He will then be able to suggest the following exercise: “Tell me in a single sentence what you think is essential. If you had only one sentence to tell me about it, what would it be?” The subject will not fail to express his difficulty with the exercise, especially since he has just demonstrated his disability to formulate a clear and concise word. But it is in the recognition of this difficulty that also begins the consciousness connected with philosophizing.

Anagogy and discrimination

Once the initial hypothesis has been somewhat clarified, as to the nature of the philosophizing which brings the subject to the interview, or on another subject that concerns him, it is now time to launch the process of ‘anagogical return’ described in the works of Plato. The essential elements are what we will call on the one hand ‘origin’ and on the other hand ‘discrimination’. We begin by asking the subject to account for his hypothesis by requiring him to justify his choice. Either by means of origin: “Why such a formulation? What is the point of such an idea?”. Either through discrimination: “What is the most important elements of the various expressed ones?” Or, again: “What is the keyword in your sentence?” This part of the interview is carried out by combining in turn these two means.

The subject will often try to escape from this stage of the discussion by taking refuge in circumstantial relativism or in undifferentiated multiplicity. “It depends […] There are many reasons… All words or ideas are important.” Choosing, forcing to ‘vectorize’ thought, makes it possible, first of all, to identify the anchorages, the ‘refrains’, the constants, the presuppositions, and then to put them to the test. For, after several stages of rise (origin and discrimination), a sort of frame appears, making visible the central foundations and articulations of a thought. At the same time, through the hierarchization assumed by the subject, a dramatization of terms and concepts takes place, which brings out the words of their undifferentiated totality, of the ‘mass’ effect that erases the singularities. By separating ideas from one another, the subject becomes conscious of the conceptual operators by which he discriminates.

Of course, the questioner here has a key role, which is to emphasize what has just been said, so that the choices and their implications do not go unnoticed. He may even insist by asking the subject whether he fully assumes the choices he has just made. However, he must avoid commenting, even if it means to ask some supplementary questions, if he sees problems or inconsistencies in what has just been articulated. The whole idea is to get the subject to freely evaluate the implications of his own positions, to glimpse what is concealed in his thought and thus in thought itself. This slowly extirpates him from the illusion entertained by the feelings of evidence and neutrality, a necessary propaedeutic for the elaboration of a critical perspective, that of opinion in general and that of his own in particular.

Thinking the unthinkable

Once a specific anchor, problem or concept has been identified, the time has come to take the opposite view. This is the exercise we will call ‘thinking the unthinkable’. Whatever the anchoring or the particular theme that the subject has identified as central to his reflection, we ask him to formulate and develop the opposite hypothesis: “If you had a criticism to formulate against your hypothesis, what would it be? What is the most consistent objection you know or you can imagine with regard to the thesis that is close to your heart? What are the limitations of your idea?” Whether love, freedom, happiness, body or anything else is the foundation or the privileged reference of the subject, in most cases he will feel incapable of making such an intellectual reversal. Thinking of such an ‘impossibility’ will have the effect on him of plunging into the abyss. Sometimes it will be the cry of the heart: “But I will not!” Or, again: “This is not possible!”

This moment of clenching serves above all to raise awareness of the psychological and conceptual conditioning of the subject. By inviting him to think the unthinkable, he is invited to analyze, to compare and especially to deliberate, rather than to take for granted and irrefutable this or that hypothesis of intellectual and existential functioning. He then realizes the rigidities that form his thought without his perceiving it. “But, then, one can no longer believe in anything!” He will lament. If, at least during the time of an exercise, for a very short time, wondering if the opposite hypothesis, if the opposite ‘belief’ does not hold the road equally well. Strangely enough, to the surprise of the subject, once he risks this inverse hypothesis, he realizes that it has a lot more meaning than he thought a priori and that in any case it illuminates his hypothesis of departure, from which he succeeded in better understanding the nature and the limits. This experience makes one see and touch the liberating dimension of thought insofar as it allows one to question the ideas on which one unconsciously tense oneself, to distance oneself from oneself, to analyze one’s thought patterns – concerning their form and substance – and to conceptualize one’s own existential stakes.

Switch to ‘First Floor’

By way of conclusion, the subject will be asked to summarize the important parts of the discussion in order to review and summarize the highlights or the significant ones. This will be done in the form of a feedback on the whole exercise. “What happened here?” This last part of the interview is also called ‘moving to the first floor’: a conceptual analysis in opposition to the experience of the ‘ground floor’. From this elevated perspective, the challenge is to act, to analyze the course of the exercise, to assess the stakes, to emerge from the hubbub of action and the thread of the narrative, to capture the essential elements of the consultation, the points of inflection of the dialogue. The subject engages in a metadiscourse about the groping of his thought. This moment is crucial because it is the locus of the sudden awareness of this double functioning (inside/outside) of the human spirit, intrinsically linked to the philosophical practice. It allows for the emergence of the infinite perspective which gives the subject access to a dialectical vision of his own being, to the autonomy of his thought.

Is it philosophical?

What are we trying to accomplish through these exercises? How are they philosophical? How is philosophical consultation different from psychoanalytic consultation? As has already been mentioned, three specific criteria specify the practice in question: identification, criticism and conceptualization. (Let us mention another important criterion: distancing, which, however, we shall not retain as the fourth element because it is implicitly contained in the other three.) In a way, this triple requirement captures quite well what is required in the writing of a ‘dissertation’. In the latter, on the basis of an imposed subject, the student must express some ideas, test them and formulate one or more general problems, with or without the help of the authors. The only important difference concerns the choice of the theme to be treated: here the subject chooses his own object of study – in fact he is the subject and the object of the study – which increases the existential outreach of the reflection, perhaps making the philosophical treatment of this subject even more delicate.

The objection to the ‘psychologizing’ side of the exercise is not to be dismissed too quickly. On the one hand, because the tendency is great in the subject – when faced with a single interlocutor who is dedicated to his listening – to unburden himself without any restraint on his feelings, especially if he has already taken part in interviews of the psychological type. He will also feel frustrated at being interrupted, having to make critical judgments about his own ideas, having to discriminate between his various propositions, and so on. So many obligations that are part of the ‘game’, its requirements and its tests. On the other hand, since, for various reasons, philosophy tends to ignore individual subjectivity, to devote itself especially to the abstract universal, to disembodied notions. A sort of extreme modesty, even puritanism, causes the professional of philosophy to fear public opinion to the point of wanting to ignore it, rather than to see in this opinion the inevitable starting point of philosophizing on everything; whether this opinion is that of the ordinary mortal or that of the specialist, the latter being no less a victim of this ‘sickly’ and fatal opinion.

Thus, our exercise consists firstly in identifying in the subject, through his opinions, the unacknowledged presuppositions from which he operates. This allows to define and to dig the starting point(s). Secondly, to take the opposite side of these presuppositions, in order to transform indisputable postulates into simple hypotheses. Thirdly, to articulate the problems thus generated through identified and formulated concepts. In this last step – or earlier if utility is felt earlier – the interrogator may use ‘classical’ problems, attributable to an author, in order to enhance or to better identify issues that arise during the course of the interview.

It is doubtful, of course, whether a single individual could recreate the whole history of philosophy by himself, just like that of mathematics or language. In addition, why should we ignore the past? We will always be dwarfs perched on the shoulders of giants. But should we not risk the gymnastics, just watching and admiring the athletes, on the pretext that we are short on legs, or even disabled? Should we just go to the Louvre and not put our hands into clay, on the pretext that our mental functions do not have the agility of those inspired beings? Would it be a matter of disrespect to the ‘great’ if we were to imitate them? Would it not be honoring them, at least as much as by admiring and quoting them? In the end, have they not for the most part enjoined us to think for ourselves?


  1. Difficulties

Our methodology is mainly inspired by the Socratic maieutic, where the philosopher questions his interlocutor, invites him to identify the stakes of his discourse, to conceptualize it by distinguishing key terms in order to implement them, to problematize it through a critical perspective, to universalize its implications. For the sake of comparison, this practice has the specificity of inviting the subject to move away from a mere sensation to allow him a rational analysis of his speech and of himself, a sine qua non condition for deliberating on the cognitive and existential stakes which must be made explicit at first. The removal from oneself that this unnatural activity presupposes, for which it requires the assistance of a specialist, poses a certain number of difficulties which we shall here attempt to analyze here.


The frustrations

Beyond the interest in philosophical practice, there is a regular predominance, at least temporarily, of a negative feeling in the subject, which is most frequently expressed – during the philosophical consultations as well as during the group reflection workshops – as an expression of frustration. First, the frustration of the interruption: since a philosophical conversation is not the place of release or of conviviality, a misunderstood and long speech, or one which ignores the interlocutor, must be interrupted; if it does not feed in the dialogue directly, it is of no use for the interview and has no place in the context of the exercise. Second, the frustration associated with harshness: it is more a matter of analyzing speech than pronouncing it, and everything we have said can be used ‘against us’. Thirdly, the frustration of slowness: it is no more a question of provoking accumulations and jostling of words, we must not be afraid of silences, nor of stopping on a given word in order to fully apprehend its substance, in the double meaning of the term apprehend: to capture and to dread. Fourth, the frustration of betrayal, again in the double meaning of this term: betrayal of our own word which reveals what we do not want to say or know and betray our word that does not say what we mean. Fifth, the frustration of being: not being what we want to be, not being what we believe to be, being dispossessed of the illusory truths that we maintain, consciously or not, sometimes for a very long time, about ourselves, our existence and our intellect.

This multiple frustration, sometimes painful, is not always clearly expressed by the subject. If he is somewhat emotional, susceptible or unwilling to analyze, he will not hesitate to lambaste censorship, or even oppression. “You prevent me from speaking”, while long unused silences, unoccupied by speech, periodically punctuate that same speech which has difficulty in finding itself. Or, “You want me to say what you want”, whereas at each question the subject can answer what suits him, only to the risk of engendering new questions. Initially, frustration often expresses itself as a reproach, however, by becoming verbalized, it makes it possible to become an object for itself; it allows the subject who expresses it to become conscious of himself as an external character. On the basis of this observation, he becomes able to reflect, to analyze his being through testing, to better understand his intellectual functioning, and he can then intervene on himself, both on his being and on his thought. Certainly, the passage through the moment, or through certain moments, imbued with psychological overtones, is difficult to avoid, without, however, dwelling upon it too long, for it is a matter of passing quickly to the subsequent philosophical stage, by means of the critical perspective and by attempting to define a problem and some issues at stake.

Our working hypothesis consists precisely in identifying certain elements of subjectivity, snippets that could be called opinions, intellectual opinions and emotional opinions, in order to take the opposite and to experience ‘other’ thought. Without it, how do we learn to voluntarily and consciously leave conditioning and predetermination? How to emerge from the pathological and the pure felt? Moreover, it may happen that the subject does not have the capacity to carry out this work or even the possibility of considering it, for lack of distance, lack of autonomy, insecurity or because of some strong anxiety, in which case we may not be able to work with him. Just as the practice of a sport requires some minimal physical dispositions, philosophical practice, with its difficulties and demands, requires some minimal psychological dispositions, below which we cannot work.

The exercise must be practiced in a minimum of serenity, with the various pre-conditions necessary for this serenity. Too much fragility or susceptibility would prevent the process from taking place. From the way our work is defined, the causality of a lack in this field is not within our purview, but that of a psychologist or a psychiatrist. By limiting ourselves to our function, we cannot go to the root of the problem, we could only notice and draw consequences. If the subject does not seem to be able to practice the exercise, even though he feels the need to reflect on himself, we will encourage him to move rather towards psychological consultations or at the very least towards some other types of philosophical practices, more ‘flowing’. To conclude, as far as we are concerned, as long as it remains limited, the psychological passage has no reason to be avoided, since subjectivity does not have to play the role of a scarecrow with sparrows, even if a certain philosophical approach, rather academic, considers this individual reality as an obstruction to philosophizing. The formal and chilly philosopher is afraid that, by rubbing against it, the distanciation necessary for philosophical activity is thus lost, whereas we take the option of making it emerge.

Speech as a pretext

One aspect of our practice which is problematic for the subject is the relationship to speech which we are trying to set up. Indeed, on the one hand, we ask the subject to sacralize speech, since we allow ourselves to carefully weigh together the least term used, since we allow ourselves to dig from within, together, the expressions used and the arguments put forward, to the point of making them sometimes unrecognizable for their author, which will cause him from time to time to scream to scandal on seeing his word thus manipulated. And, on the other hand, we ask him to desacralize speech, since the whole of this exercise is composed only of words and that whatever the sincerity or the truth of what it advances: it is simply a matter of playing with the ideas, without necessarily adhering to what is said. Only the coherence, the echoes that are reflected in words between each other, interest us, the mental silhouette that emerges slowly and imperceptibly. We simultaneously ask the subject to play a simple game, which implies a distancing from what is conceived as the real, and at the same time to play with words with the greatest seriousness, with the greatest application, with more efforts than he generally puts in constructing his discourse and in analyzing it.

Here, truth goes masked. It is no longer a truth of intention, it is no longer sincerity and authenticity, it is a requirement. This requirement obliges the subject to make choices, to assume the contradictions unveiled by working on the clutter of speech, even if to carry out radical frontal reversals, even if to move abruptly, even if refusing to see and to decide, even if one were to be silent before the many cracks which allow us to envisage the most serious abysses, the fractures of the self, the gaping of being. No other quality is necessary here in the interrogator and, little by little, in the subject, except that of a policeman, of a detective who tracks down the slightest failures of speech and behavior, which demands one to account for each act, for each place and every instant.

Of course, we may be mistaken in the fact that the discussion has changed, which remains the prerogative of the interrogator, the undeniable power that he has and must assume, including his indisputable lack of neutrality despite his efforts in that sense. The subject may also be ‘misled’ in the analysis and ideas he puts forward, influenced by the questions he is subjected to, blinded by the convictions he wishes to defend, guided by biases for which he has already opted-in and on which he would perhaps be incapable of deliberating: ‘over interpretations’, ‘misinterpretations’ or ‘sub-interpretations’ are flourishing. No matter these mistakes, apparent mistakes or alleged mistakes. What matters to the subject is to stay alert, to observe, to analyze and to become aware; his mode of reaction, his treatment of the problem, his way of reacting, his ideas that emerge, his relation to himself and to the exercise, everything must here become a pretext for analysis and conceptualization. In other words, making mistakes here does not make much sense. It’s all about playing the game, practicing gymnastics. What matters is only to see and not to see, consciousness and unconsciousness. There are no more good and bad answers, but there is ‘seeing the answers’, and if there is deception, it is only in the lack of fidelity of the word towards itself, not anymore in relation to some distant truth pre-written on the background of a starry sky or in some subconscious shallows. Nevertheless, this fidelity is doubtless a more terrible truth than the other, more implacable: it is no longer possible to disobey, with all the legitimacy of this disobedience. There can only be blinding.

Pain and epidural

The subject quickly becomes aware of the issues at stakes in the case. A sort of panic can thus set in. For this reason, it is important to install various types of ‘epidural’ for the ongoing delivery. First, the most important, the most difficult and the most delicate, remains the indispensable dexterity of the interrogator, who must be able to determine when it is appropriate to press an interrogation and when it is time to pass on, when it is time to say or to propose rather than to question, when it is time to alternate between the rough and the generous. It is a judgment not always easy to emit, because we easily allow ourselves to be carried away in the heat of action, by our own desires, those wanting to go to the end, to arrive at a certain place, those linked to fatigue, linked to despair, and many other such personal inclinations.

Second, the humor, the laughter, related to the playful dimension of the exercise. They induce a sort of ‘letting go’ which allows the individual to free himself from his existential drama and to observe without pain the derisory of certain positions to which he sometimes clings with a touch of ridicule, when it is not in the most blatant contradiction with himself. Laughter releases tensions that otherwise could completely inhibit the subject in this highly corrosive practice.

Third, the duplication, which allows the subject to come out of himself, to consider himself as a third person. When the analysis of one’s own discourse goes through a perilous moment, when the judgment encounters issues that are too heavy to bear, it is useful and interesting to transpose the case studied to a third person by inviting the subject to visualize a film, to imagine a fiction, to hear his story in the form of a fable. ‘Suppose you read a story where it is said that…’ ‘Suppose you meet someone, and all you know about him is that…’ This simple narrative effect allows the subject to forget or relativize his intentions, his desires, his wills, his illusions and disillusions, in order to deal solely with speech, as it arises during the discussion, allowing it to perform its own revelations without permanently erasing it by heavy suspicions or with patent accusations of insufficiency and betrayal.

Fourth, the conceptualization, the abstraction. By universalizing what tends to be perceived exclusively as a dilemma or as a purely personal issue, by problematizing it, by dialectizing it, the pain gradually diminishes as the intellectual activity begins. Philosophical activity itself is a sophrology, a ‘consolation’ of sort. It was considered as such by the Ancients, like Boethius, Seneca, Epicurus or more recently by Montaigne. It is a balm which allows us to better consider the suffering intrinsically linked to human existence, and ours in particular.


  1. Exercises

Establishing connections

Some additional exercises are very useful for the reflection process. For example, the exercise of the connection. It allows the discourse to emerge from its ‘flow of consciousness’ side which functions purely through free associations, by abandoning to the darkness of the unconscious the articulations and joints of thought. The link is a concept all the more fundamental because it deeply touches the being, since it links the different facets, the different registers. A ‘substantial link’, says Leibniz. ‘What is the connection between what you are saying here and what you are saying there?’ Apart from the contradictions which will be revealed by this interrogation, so will the ruptures and jumps which signal nodes, blind points, whose conscious articulation allows the discourse to work closely with the spirit of the subject. This exercise is one of the forms of the ‘anagogical’ approach, which makes it possible to go back to unity, to identify the anchoring, to update the point of emergence of the thought of the subject, even if only to later criticize this unity, even if it is necessary to modify this anchoring. It makes it possible to establish a sort of conceptual map defining a pattern of thought.

True Speech

Another exercise is that of ‘true speech’. It is practiced when a contradiction has been detected, insofar as the subject accepts the term ‘contradictory’ as an attribute of his thought, which is not always the case: certain subjects refuse to envisage it and deny, by principle, the mere possibility of a contradiction in their speech. By asking which one is the true discourse – even if, at the generally staggered moments in which they are spoken, they are expressed as sincerely as the other – the subject is invited to justify two different positions which are his, to evaluate their perspective, to compare their relative merits, to deliberate in order to finally decide in favor of the primacy of one of the two perspectives, a decision which will lead him to become aware of his own functioning and of the fracture which animates him. It is not absolutely necessary to decide, but it is advisable to encourage the subject to risk it, for it is very rare if not impossible to meet a real lack of preference between two distinct visions, with the epistemological consequences which are derived from it. The notions of ‘complementarity’ or of ‘simple difference’ commonly used in everyday language, although they hold their share of truth, often serve to erase the real, somewhat conflicting and tragic, stakes of any singular thought. The subject may also try to explain the reason of the discourse which is not the ‘true’ one. Often, it will correspond to the expectations, moral or intellectual, which he believes to be perceiving in society, or even to a desire which he considers illegitimate; a discourse revealing of a perception of the world and of a relation to authority or to reason.


Another exercise, that of ‘order’. When the subject is asked to give reasons, explanations, or examples of any of his words, he will be asked to assume the order in which he enumerated them. Especially the first element of the list, which will be related to the subsequent elements. Using the idea that the first element is the most obvious, the clearest, the safest and therefore the most important in his mind, he will be asked to assume this choice, usually unconscious. Often, the subject will rebel to this exercise, refusing to assume the choice in question, denying this offspring born in spite of himself. By agreeing to assume this exercise, he will have to account for the presuppositions contained in a particular choice, whether he adheres to it explicitly, implicitly or not at all. At worst, as with most consultation exercises, it will accustom him to decode any advanced proposition, in order to grasp its epistemological content and to glimpse the concepts conveyed, even if would dissociates himself from the idea somehow.

Universal and singular

On the whole, what do we ask of the subject who wishes to question himself, the one who wishes to philosophize from and about his own existence and to think about himself? He must learn to read, to read himself, to learn to transpose his thoughts and to learn to transpose himself through himself; a duplication and alienation which require the loss of self through a passage to infinity, by a leap into pure possibility. The difficulty of this exercise is that it will always be a matter of erasing something, of forgetting, of momentarily blinding the body or the mind, the reason or will, desire or morality, pride or placidity. In order to do this, the speech of occasion, the speech of circumstance, the speech of space-filling or of appearance must be silenced: either the word assumes its charge, its implications or its content, or it learns to be silent. A word that is not ready to assume its own being, in all its scope, a word that is not eager to become conscious of itself, no longer has to present itself to the light, a game in which only the conscious has the right of city, theoretically and tentatively at least. Obviously, some will not want to play the game, considered too painful, the word here being too heavily charged with meaningful stakes.

By forcing the subject to select his speech, by referring him back to the image he deploys, through the reformulation tool, it is a question of installing a procedure in which the speech will be the most revealing possible. This is what happens through the process of universalization of the particular idea. Of course it is possible and sometimes useful to follow the paths already traced, for example by quoting authors, but it is then the rule to assume the content as if it were exclusively ours. Although the authors can serve to legitimize a fearful position or to trivialize a painful position. Moreover, what are we trying to do, if not to find in each singular discourse, as unpopular as it may be, the great problems, stamped and codified by illustrious predecessors? How is articulated, in everyone, the absolute and the relative, monism and dualism, body and soul, analytic and poetic, finite and infinite, etc. This happens at the risk of creating a feeling of treason, for one can hardly bear to see his cherished word treated thus, even by oneself. It creates a feeling of pain and of dispossession, like the one who would see his body being operated upon even though all physical pain would have been annihilated. Sometimes, sensing the consequences of an interrogation, the subject will try by all means to avoid answering. If the interrogator persists in a roundabout way, a sort of answer will doubtless emerge, but only at the moment when the stake has disappeared behind the horizon, so much so that the subject, reassured by this disappearance, will not know how to establish a link with the initial problem. If the interrogator recapitulates the steps in order to re-establish the thread of the discussion, the subject can then accept or not to see, as the case may be. It is a crucial moment, although the refusal to see can sometimes be only verbal: the path cannot have failed to trace some kind of imprint in the mind of the subject. By a purely defensive mechanism, the latter will sometimes try to verbally make any work of clarification or explanation impossible. But he will not be less affected during his reflections later on.

Accepting the pathology

As a conclusion on the difficulties of philosophical consultation, let us say that the main test lies in the acceptance of the idea of ​​pathology taken in the philosophical sense. Indeed, any singular existential posture, a choice that is more or less consciously made over the years, for many reasons makes the impasse on a certain number of logics and ideas. Basically, these pathologies are not infinite in number, although their specific articulations vary enormously. But, for those who experience them, it is difficult to conceive that the ideas on which they center their existence are reduced to the simple, almost predictable, consequences of a chronic weakness in their capacity for reflection and deliberation. Yet, is not the ‘thinking by oneself’ advocated by many philosophers an art that is worked and acquired, rather than an innate talent, a given, which would no longer have to reflect back unto itself? It is simply a matter of accepting that human existence is in itself a problem, burdened with dysfunctions which nevertheless constitute its substance and dynamics.

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