PHILOSOPHY AS A PRACTICE[*]

 

 

 

Oscar Brenifier

(Institute for Practical Philosophy, Paris, France)

 

 

Summary The concept of practice is generally foreign to the philosopher who is almost exclusively a theoretician. A practice can be defined as an activity which confronts a given theory to some kind of materiality, or otherness. The three forms of materiality encountered by philosophy is first the all encom­passing world, in the form of mythos or logos, secondly the «other», an indi­vidual with whom we can enter in a dialogue and a confrontation, thirdly the coherency, or presupposed unity of the given speech. In terms of its practice, philosophy can then be reduced to three basic functions: firstly, identify the presuppositions on which bases itself any given thinking; secondly, enter in a critical analysis of it; thirdly, formulate a concept capturing the global idea thus enriched. Given these two sets of premises, a number of exercises have been developed by the author who allows the participants to enter a practice of philosophy, rather than acquire a mere knowledge of philosophy. Mutual questioning, text interrogation, narration exercise, individual consultation are some of the activities that induce such a practice which will be described.

 

 

 

 

1. Theory

 

The concept of practice is generally foreign to the philosopher who is almost exclusively a theoretician. As a professor, his teaching bears princi­pally on a number of written texts, the knowledge and understanding of which he has to communicate to his students. If he does any writing, his main area of inquiry will be the history of ideas. A smaller minority of teachers will engage in some kind or other of philosophical speculations. In this con­text, over the recent period, somewhat in rupture with the tradition, a rela­tively new kind of occupation has appeared, called philosophical consulting, in general vividly contested by the philosophical institution. This situation poses the following two questions: what is philosophical and what is not? Is philosophy only a discourse, or does it have a practice?

A practice can be defined as an activity which confronts a given theory to some kind of materiality, or otherness. The most obvious materiality for philosophizing is first the all-encompassing world, inclusive of human exis­tence. A world we know in the form of the mythos, of the narration of daily events, or as a logos, in the scattered form of cultural, scientific and technical information and localized logics. Secondly, it is for each one of us the «other», the individual with whom we can enter in a dialogue and a confron­tation. Thirdly, it is coherency, or the presupposed unity of our own speech, whose flaws and incompleteness oblige us to confront and reach higher or more complete orders of mental architecture.

With those principles in mind, and much inspired by Plato, the author has developed a practice which consists in exercises challenging the individ­ual thinking, both in a private and group situation, inside or outside of school. The basic functioning of it consists broadly in a threefold action: first to identify the presuppositions on which functions our own thinking; secondly, enter in a critical analysis of it; thirdly imagine and formulate a concept cap­turing the global idea thus enriched. In this process, one has to become con­scious of his own apprehension of the world and of himself, deliberate on the possibility of other schemes, and engage in an anagogic path where he will trespass his own opinion, a trespassing which is the heart of philosophizing. Of course, in this practice, the knowledge of classical authors is very useful, but not an absolute prerequisite. Whatever the tools used, the overall and main challenge remains the constitutive activity of the singular mind.

 

 

2. Practice

 

Mutual questioning

 

Participants (students or adults) are asked to prepare in advance some short hypothesis in response to a given general philosophical question. A first participant will develop his hypothesis in front of the group, presentation followed by questions from other participants. These have to be real ques­tions (internal critic), helping the hypothesis-giver to develop his thinking and deal with his own inherent contradictions. After a few questions, another participant will do the same, with other questions on his own presentation. Little by little, a general construction will emerge, dialectizing the subject out of its initial self-evident sense.

 

Text interrogation

 

Participants are asked to work beforehand on a given short text. When coming to attend the session, a first person will be asked to give his reading of the text, including his liking or disliking, his agreeing or disagreeing, a general explanation which must justify itself by using excerpts from the text. Other participants are invited to question him. Then a second participant is invited to present his own reading, which he has to compare as well to the first one. Questions will follow, and other interpretations of the text, which globally should develop the general possibility of this text.

 

Narration exercise

 

In response to a general question, each participant has to come up with some short narration, real or fictitious, invented by him or not, which should capture the idea of the question. After a few narrations, a discussion will follow to determine which story is the most enlightening for the question discussed. Once a story is chosen, its narrator will be questioned on the fac­tual content of it. Then each participant will be invited to give an analysis of it. Each analysis will have to compare itself to the other analysis in order to draw out the stakes of the discussion. Questions will as well be taken in order to dig further any given interpretation. Here again, a dialectization of the story will have happened, helping the student to escape the immediate and evident meaning of the story, showing the different ways it can answer the initial question.

 

Individual consultation

 

This exercise remains basically a one to one discussion. On a given question, chosen by the interrogator or the participant, the participant will have to give an initial hypothesis. He will be then questioned by the interro­gator in order to oblige more precision in the meaning, thus revealing the blind spots and contradictions of the initial speech. As this process goes on, the basic presuppositions of the participant, its mode of thinking and its for­mal insufficiencies will emerge. The participant will be asked to analyze them and develop a further hypothesis, both on the initial subject and on the method he has been using.

 



[*] [*]L’étude publié ici, est une variante de l’étude paru dans ЧЕЛОВЕК  В  СОВРЕМЕННЫХ  ФИЛОСОФСКИХ  КОНЦЕПЦИЯХ  /  Human Being in Contemporary Philosophical Conceptions, Третью международную конференцию  /  3rd International Conference, 14-17 сентября 2004 года /  September 14-17 2004, ВОЛГОГРАДСКИЙ  ГОСУДАРСТВЕННЫЙ  УНИВЕРСИТЕТ   /   Volgograd State University, ООО  "ПРИНТ”, 2004  /   Editions  “OOO Print”, 2004