What exactly is a consulting philosopher? How might one benefit you?
The idea of a consultant goes back to 19th century British medical practice. When physicians encountered difficult, perplexing cases they couldn’t solve, they began to go to consulting physicians who specialized in such cases. It’s become common for people with serious personal problems to consult with either psychiatrists, who are physicians who specialize in “mental illness,” or with clinical psychologists, who are trained to help people with difficult personal problems get back to normal. It’s a good idea for people with, say, major depression or low self-esteem or who are suicidal to seek help from psychiatrists or clinical psychologists or other trained professionals like social workers to receive help getting back to normal.
The difficulty, however, is this: although being normal is better than being subnormal, being normal itself is not good. In particular, there's no such thing as a healthy ego! All egos are dysfunctional. Frankly, normal people are mad (insane, nuts). If you doubt that, study history or just watch the news.
As I have argued (see Chapter 2 of Mastery in 7 Steps), it is normal to be lazy, greedy, ambitious, impatient, selfish, vain, and ignorant. Expediency is normal.
That’s an accurate but unsatisfactory account of the nature of normal human beings. Normal isn't good. For example, genuine love cannot flourish among people with those characteristics (see my Love and Respect).
If you are subnormal, please get some help getting back to normal.
If you are normal, here’s the question to ask yourself: "How can I evolve from living normally to living well?"
The only help you are likely to be able to find with respect to answering that question will come from a consulting philosopher (or someone who functions like a consulting philosopher such as a priest, rabbi, or minister).
Very, very few psychiatrists or clinical psychologists concern themselves with optimal living. By way of contrast, living well (wisely, optimally) is the heart of philosophy.
The word ‘philosopher’ means ‘lover of wisdom.’ Philosophers are simply people who are seriously seeking to become wise, to live well. Sages (saints) are successful philosophers, in other words, those who live well.
A consulting philosopher is a philosopher who directly tries to help others live better. If you are normal and want to eliminate dysfunction from your life in order to live better, you may be able to get help from a consulting philosopher.
All consultants should have empathy as well as excellent conceptual understanding. Their clients should be able to relate easily and well to them and receive more in valuable solutions than the cost, if any, of the consultation.
I used ‘if any’ in the previous sentence because there may be no direct financial cost at all for learning from a consulting philosopher. The good news is that many consulting philosophers write articles and books that you can read for yourself and, sometimes, glean useful ideas from them to apply to your own situation. Articles are almost always free and, even if you purchase a book, many are very inexpensive for the wisdom they contain or when compared to the cost for a personal consultation.
For example, I have websites that are free to use and may be exactly what you are looking for. One such site is my blog: dennis-bradford.com. Its posts on well-being are categorized into six categories: emotional, financial, intellectual, moral (inter-personal relationships), physical, and spiritual.
In fact, there are some interesting articles right on this site: just use the drop-down menu under the “resources” tab at the top of this page.
Also, if you might be interested in some of my books (and the relevant ones are all available inexpensively in either Kindle or paperback editions), just go to Amazon.com and do an author search for ‘Dennis E. Bradford.’
If you would like a personal consultation, you can purchase it from this website or from other consulting philosophers.
What should you expect from conversing with a consulting philosopher?
What you should not expect is to be told what to do. That’s because it is impossible to know what to do. (I have given the argument for this many times.)
What you should expect is help from an excellent thinker on how better to think about what is bothering you. In practice, this happens in one of two ways.
First, if you have a specific problem, it will fall into one of five categories (see John Lemmon, “Moral Dilemmas,” The Philosophical Review, LXXI). Clarifying the nature of the problem can sometimes be a significant aid in its solution.
Very briefly, sometimes the problem in your situation is one in which you know what your duty is and you actually do it, but there are issues around your obligation or status.
Sometimes, you know what your duty is but you don’t do what you should do, which is a case of acrasia.
Sometimes, you both ought to do something and also ought not to do it, which is a straightforward moral dilemma. This requires a reordering of moral principles or duties or obligations.
Sometimes, there is some inconclusive evidence that you ought to do something but there is also some inconclusive evidence that you ought not to do it.
Finally, you are in a recognizably moral situation but your moral outlook has left you completely unprepared to handle it.
Second, you are deeply concerned about a much less specific problem.
Upon examination, many of the fundamental problems people have come from the fact that they fail to understand themselves. They may need to wonder much more seriously about questions relating to identity such as: Who am I? What should I do with my life? How should I arrange it? What will become of me? What may I hope for?
While a specific consulting philosopher may be very helpful with one of these two fundamental kinds of problems, he or she may be much less helpful with problems of the other kind.
If a consulting philosopher has a background in academic philosophy, my experience is that he or she is less likely to be helpful with the second kind of problem than with the first kind of problem.
This is unfortunate for the following reason: problems of the first kind typically depend for their solution on having good answers to questions of the second kind.
One way to explain this is to state that the spiritual development of the consultant is the most important single factor in a successful consultation. This is about much more than rapport: what really counts is doing what few people are able to do, namely, using my terminology, apprehending Becoming from BEING.
Although I am an academically trained philosopher, I am very unusual in that it is problems of the second kind that most interest me.
The reason is because I have discovered in my own life that it is much more important to solve problems of the second kind than to solve problems of the first kind. In fact, the solutions to problems of the second kind often automatically provide solutions to problems of the first kind.
This is why, in the last twenty years or so, I’ve become much more interested in problems of the second kind. For some concrete examples of what I’m talking about, I encourage you to read a dozen or two of the posts from my blog in the category of spiritual well-being.
In fact, although it may not seem so at first, many problems have a core that is based on confusion about the nature of the self. In other words, most people misunderstand themselves. They don't understand what they are, which leads to all kinds of particular problems.
For example, being too fat seems to be a purely physical problem. However, emotional overeating is often as important a factor in being overweight or obese as confusion about how to eat well. In this case, the emotional suffering can be ameliorated by a spiritual or breathing practice and the confusion about what to eat to gain and maintain a healthful percentage of body fat can be eliminated.
If any of these resonate with you and you have the money, you may want to consider booking a consultation with me.
If they don’t resonate with you, your problems and my solutions may be mismatched.
In any event, you now understand what a consulting philosopher does and how a consultation with one might benefit you.
Best wishes! May you realize your true nature.