Anders Lindseth is a professor of Practical Knowledge at Bodø Regional University in northern Norway. One of his tasks is to supervise graduate students who are doing research based on their own professional experience. The point of departure is usually a narrative which the student writes in the beginning of the studies and which is then elaborated, expanded and changed on the way towards the dissertation. As a philosophical practitioner he also starts from narratives. For Anders Lindseth it is always a question of reflective journeys in the landscapes of experience.
Now he has published a book with reflections around his experiences as a philosophical practitioner: Zur Sache der Philosophischen Praxis. Philosophieren in Gesprächen mit ratsuchenden Menschen (237 pp., Freiburg/Munich 2005). All professional philosophers may be said to be philosophical practitioners, usually attached to universities or high schools. But Anders Lindseth uses this expression in a special sense. In 1981, the first philosophical practice, in this sense, was founded by Gerd Aschenbach in Bergisch Gladbach in Germany. Anders Lindseth went to see him a few years later, which led to a long and close cooperation between them. All the chapters in the book are based upon lectures given by Anders Lindseth at Aschenbach’s institute and at conferences and colloquia arrranged by the International Society for Philosophical Practice.
What is going on in a philosophical practice is different from what is happening when you consult, say, a psychologist or a psychiatrist. To emphasize the differences Lindseth avoids words like ‘client’ and ‘patient’. The persons who come to his practice in search of assistance are ‘visitors’ or ‘guests’. All the chapters in Lindseth’s new book have the same aim, viz. to shed light on what is going on in philosophical practices in the indicated sense. Perhaps the best place to start with is the chapter on Ethics as First Philosophy – Why Philosophising has to be Philosophical Practice (also in Swedish in Dialoger, 81-82, Stockholm 2007): “When married couples come to the philosophical practice, it is often a question of conflicts …” One type of conflict is when the woman feels that she is not taken seriously, whilst the man feels that his wife is too emotional and subjective … A good beginning of an illuminating chapter.
The aim is to reach a better understanding of the visitors’ narratives in discussions between the philosopher and his guests. One tries to get a better hold of the ways in which the narratives are expressed, e.g. by focussing on ambiguities and conceptual unclarity; one focusses on underlying assumptions; one may attempt to shift the perspective; and so on. In short, all the means of philosophy are used in order to make something for the persons in need of clarification of the situations in which they have landed.
What is new in this kind of philosophical practice is not the philosophical means; it is the ways in which the philosophical means are used. One could perhaps describe it as small size philosophy. In this way, Anders Lindseth also helps to clarify what is – or could be – the core of philosophy.
A philosophical practice in this sense is based on respect for the individual. In his reflections on this theme, Lindseth broadens the perspective to a critique of fundamental assumptions of the Western cultural tradition, which tends to overestimate the value of factual knowledge at the expense of understanding the individual. What is often lacking is a sense for the limits and preconditions of theoretical knowledge. The tacit assumptions also include the ethics which is included in all human encounters. In a certain sense, one could say that ethics comes before knowledge. That is the thesis which Anders Lindseth defends in Ethics as First Philosophy.