What is philosophical practice? First of all, philosophical practice differs from academic philosophy. It does not attempt to defend a thesis or engage in abstract reasoning. Rather, it is a way of trying to understand our lives philosophically.
Since the 1980s, philosophical practice has emerged as a worldwide movement that is mainly based on Socrates’ question-based dialogue model, also known as maieutics. Philosophical practice is essentially a form of discussion, not of studying classical philosophers and their ideas, although we can be inspired by them. However, it is not a free discussion where we say whatever comes to mind. It is a controlled dialogue where the facilitator asks questions and the participants try to answer as rationally as possible.
The point of our discussions is an existential exploration of one’s own self, not necessarily to solve any problems or cure any ailments – we are neither coaches nor therapists – but to be able to discuss existential, ethical and similar questions with someone who is trained to hold such conversations.
Philosophical practice is conducted somewhat differently in different parts of the world and within different traditions. In the form in which I operate, we put a lot of emphasis on some basic philosophical skills such as argumentation, problematization, conceptualization, interpretation and questioning.
We believe that it is important to be able to question oneself (what is important to me?), to interpret and make assumptions about one’s own speech (what ideas might lie behind what I say?), to problematize one’s worldview (could it just as well be the other way around? Can what I perceive as bad from another perspective be good?), to conceptualize, to put into words a course of action (what can you call a person who behaves in this way?) and to give reasons for one’s opinions (why do I really think this way?).
What you gain from training in these abilities is better self-awareness, greater sensitivity to what others and yourself are saying, as well as a more developed ability to distinguish the essential from the unessential, for instance what I really want from what I only imagine I want.
In the audio clip below you can hear Oscar Brenifier, one of the leading philosophical practitioners, give his view on what the philosophical practice is all about.