Philosophers have good reason to be wary of prognostication and prophecy. The problem of naturalistic induction–why the future should resemble the past–remains unsolved, while the hypothesis of historicism–that the future can be extrapolated from the past—appears discredited. Philosophers may anticipate the imminent with Hobbesian prudence, and can occasionally indulge in Nietzschean or Bergsonian revelation, but should avoid being confounded with oracles. How possible futures become actual ones remains a mystery. Thus I pen this invited piece with an admixture of cautious optimism and ineluctable trepidation. I may get some of it right, but am bound to get much of it wrong.
The Constitution of the American Philosophical Practitioners Association (APPA) recognises three components of philosophical practice: client counselling, group facilitation and organisational consulting. A practitioner may specialise in any of these areas, or may engage generally in them all. For American specialists and generalists alike, the future appears bright indeed. I shall briefly characterise its albedo in four interacting spheres of influence: the professional, the political, the academic and the cultural.
The professionalisation of philosophy in America is being extraordinarily well-received by the media, by the public, and by other established professionals. A constellation of powerful forces mostly outside the control of philosophical practitioners has enlisted itself unwittingly but emphatically in our cause. A moral majority in America has become increasingly disenchanted with amoral vicissitudes of laissez- faire economics, chief among which is the desperately unsound proposition that the affluent life entails the examined one. Americans are delighted to discover that philosophers have rediscovered, and are practising with clients, the art of leading the examined life. I meet many Americans these days who once took philosophy courses but were disappointed that the material proved inapplicable to their quotidian concerns, and moreover who thought things should have been otherwise. People experience daily problems involving morality, justice, happiness, meaning, purpose, value, identity, relationships, sex, death, and so forth– issues about which significant philosophers and rich philosophical traditions speak volumes. That people have such problems does not make them mentally ill. A professor of psychology recently estimated in the New York Times (March 8, 1998, Section 4) that philosophical counsellors could handle eighty percent of the cases currently encountered by psychological and psychiatric counsellors. If that estimate is even remotely accurate, then philosophical counsellors will not want for clients.
The potentials for group facilitation and organisational consulting loom equally large. Formal group facilitation, exemplified by the refined method of Socratic dialogue, should eventually become part of mainstream higher education, and a required component of an undergraduate philosophy degree. As the substantial generation of baby-boomers progresses from middle to old age, enjoying ever increasing life expectancy and leisure time, Socratic dialogue affords ideal opportunities to enlist experience and reason in stimulating group activity that is cooperative as opposed to competitive. A group or institution can engage a trained facilitator of Socratic dialogue for a very reasonable price, and derive considerable benefit therefrom.
American corporations are ripe for philosophical consultants, for at least two overarching reasons. First, the Federal government has passed sentencing guidelines which grant judges considerable leeway to reduce liability claims when verdicts go against corporations that have implemented ethics compliance programs. Similarly, judges can increase damages in the absence of ethics compliance. As there are no standards for ethics compliance itself, cynics have observed that corporations can hire consulting firms to issue “certificates” of ethicity, which repose on little or no ethical training and amount to nothing more than cheap insurance policies. Even so, the sentencing guidelines potentiate a windfall for philosophical practitioners, many of whom do know something about ethics. Corporate philosophers can offer the genuine article in terms of ethics compliance, at competitive prices, which corporations of quality will find hard to resist. After all, solid gold ethicity is more valuable than mere gold-plated ethical pretence.
Second, the day of the American corporate philosopher is dawning irrespective of liability issues. The twentieth century witnessed a fortuitous marriage between behavioural psychology and manufacturing industry, whose progeny–the industrial psychologist–motivated the mechanisation of human interaction with tangible structures. The twenty-first century will witness a new marriage, between applied philosophy and business organisation, whose progeny–the corporate philosopher–will facilitate the systematisation of human interaction with intangible structures. The in- house corporate philosopher, and firms of corporate philosophers on retainer, will deliver a range of beneficial services to corporate clients, including counseling individual employees, facilitating goal-oriented teams or work-groups, and consulting with managers and directors on policy formulation and decision.
In sum, the professionalisation of philosophy in America is well underway.
American political spheres are obviously responsive to initiatives that have widespread, grass-roots and business appeal. Moreover, they cannot afford to be unresponsive to philosophical practice in today’s climate: our profession’s nascence coincides with psychiatry in crisis, psychology in senescence, and inability of the American managed care industry to deliver affordable medical services for medical problems– while delivering unaffordable medical services for non-medical problems. Enter the philosophical practitioner, who provides relief to both politicians and managed care organisations alike, by allowing them to re-interpret pseudo-medical problems as philosophical ones. People experiencing crises over morality or meaning or purpose are not mentally ill, and do not require medical intervention. Hence governments and managed care providers alike will enthusiastically embrace philosophical practice, because it is a more appropriate and less expensive way to manage certain kinds of prevalent problems.
Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr. is sponsoring landmark legislation to license philosophical practitioners in New York State. His Bill A9841, recently reported in the New York Times (March 8, 1998, Section 4), will be closely watched by other State Assemblies. Political recognition of philosophical practice, whether by licensing or certification by a State, serves an important two-fold purpose: it helps protect the public from harms wrought by charlatans, and enhances the reputability of the profession. Political recognition of philosophical practice will occur sooner or later, in one state or another, and should precipitate a domino effect. Meanwhile, politicians will also take note as HMOs (Health Maintenance Organisations) and other managed care providers begin to engage reputable philosophical practitioners–licensed or not–as a matter of good business.
Such free-market capitalism will also serve to undermine entrenched lobbies by psychologists, who may seek to protect their state- sanctioned monopolies on talk-therapy. Note that while psychological counsellors are not doctors, their services are nonetheless covered by medical insurance. The vista of philosophical counselling suddenly reminds people of the distinction between medical science on the one hand, and psychological and psychiatric pseudo-science on the other. Philosophical counsellors are receiving media attention in America far out of proportion to our actual numbers, and thus far we are media darlings. The thoughtful public adores us too. As a result, pseudo-medical counsellors are hoist with their own petard: if tens of thousands of them complain about merely dozens of us, they cast us as David to their Goliath, which reinforces our popularity. If Americans love anything, they love an underdog. But if pseudo-medical counsellors support us (as many in fact do), then they undercut their own monopoly, which reinforces our position. Either way our movement gathers strength. I believe that we will achieve symbiosis with other counselings professions, and even practice side-by-side, perhaps under a common shingle offering different kinds of approaches. Philosophical practitioners are not yet very numerous (that is British understatement), but we find ourselves in a tenable political position (that too is British understatement).
With respect to the academic sphere, Americans harbour few Old World pedagogic prejudices. We rather assume that whatever can be done, can be taught. The American academy is as entrepreneurial as can be. I have already been approached by a number of institutions, which have made serious inquiries about establishing M.A. and Ph.D. programs in philosophical practice. I am currently teaching what, to my knowledge, is the first-ever American graduate seminar in philosophical practice, at Felician College in New Jersey. A colleague of mine on the west coast will do something similar at Berkeley this autumn. Indeed, one of my primary concerns as President of the APPA is supplying the coming demand for qualified practitioners. While the first generation of any pioneering movement is necessarily self-trained, subsequent generations require training. The academy is the appropriate venue for this, and is responding accordingly. Given the revolutions, deconstructions and dumbings-down that have beset American university curricula during the past generation, the prospect of a graduate program in philosophical practice engenders admiration, excitement and relief. We should start graduating the next generation of philosophical practitioners within a few years.
Ruben Diaz’s Bill A9841 has been solicited for the holdings of the National Research Center for Bioethics Literature, at the Joseph and Rose Kennedy Institute of Ethics (Georgetown University). That this prestigious Institute solicited a copy of his proposed legislation marks its entry into the highest echelons of applied ethics and public policy studies.
The recrudescence of philosophical practice is underdetermined by cultural evolutionary theory; that is, one can formulate many hypotheses that account for its re-emergence without knowing which ones are true, or partially true, or false. It might be that the celebrity of philosophical practice in America is the Spenglerian death rattle of a profoundly anti-cultural culture, a last noetic feast before the intelligentsia succumbs wholesale to tabloids, television, and other fast-food for thoughtlessness. It might be that philosophical practice in America marks the inception of a humanistic-capitalistic renaissance–a long-awaited reply to Thrasymachus–in which virtue will prove more profitable than vice. It might also be the case that these two hypotheses are one: that philosophical practice is a kind of Trojan horse wheeled into the American military-industrial-scientific-postcultural complex, to be debased and distorted, trivialised and oversimplified, banalised and sloganeered, glitzily packaged and slickly hawked, advertised with subliminal sex and sold by talking “headpieces filled with straw.” Then will come our sternest challenge: to remain philosophers in the face of all that sound and fury, to practice our art uncorrupted by it, and ultimately to improve the vision of a culture that has all but blinded itself by imbibing the unexamined life to prodigious and oft-times orgiastic excess.
America is Rome reincarnate. Like the Roman empire, the American empire is vastly powerful and unfathomably corrupt. Like Rome, America imposes her civilisation upon an ungrateful world. Like Rome, America needs bread, circuses and philosopher-statesmen to forestall and yet to hasten her demise. In Rome, temporalism metamorphosed to spiritualism: Pax Romana became Pax Vobiscem. In America, temporalism is metamorphosing to multinationalism: Pax Americana is becoming Pax Nabisco. This portends new galleries for ancient philosophical arts.