domingo, 25 de octubre de 2009


An interview by Manuel Abraham Paz-y-Miño , July 2009

Paz-y-Miño and De Haas

Leon de Haas is a Dutch practical philosopher who lives in Roermond, the Netherlands. In his web page: we can read that he is an "organization consultant and project manager for ‚business intelligence’ in professional organizations", and a Socratic coacher for the ‘art of living’, ‘joy of work’, and ‘leadership’. De Haas is also a member of the IGPP (International Society For Philosophical Practice), and a board member of the VFP (Dutch Society For Philosophical Practice). He is the editor of the section ‚Philosophical Practice‘ of the Dutch magazine ‚Filosofie‘.

According to your view, what is a practical philosopher?
The words of your question imply a broader view on ‘philosophical practice’ than we have in circles of ‘philosophical practice’. With the latter I mean the kind practice that started with Achenbach and Marinoff. I agree with you. The notion of practice is as old as philosophy, both in European and Asian traditions. In the writings of Aristotle we find the distinction between theoria, poiesis and praxis, praxis being both ethics, economics and politics. In the Hellenistic schools the notion of praxis had to do with living philosophy - philosophy as a way of life, in distinction from what was academic philosophy in those days. These notions revived in the life and works of Erasmus and De Montaigne. Another tradition in which those notions revived, were the mystic philosophy of Meister Eckart and of others in the early Renaissance.
In Modern times, the praxis revived in European philosophy via marxism (Marx’ theses on Feuerbach and his Parisian Manuscripts) and neo-marxism (the Frankfurter Schule, Ernst Bloch, Erich Fromm) and via existentialism (in a religious sense through Kierkegaard, and in a political sense through Sartre) - and via Nietzsche (and the french nietzscheans like Bataille and Foucault). These Modern traditions of philosophical praxis came to life in the sixties and seventies. I learned philosophy in these traditions.
I also have to mention Ludwig Wittgenstein. He has been adopted by the non-practical philosophy of language. But that is not justified by Wittgenstein’s own praxis of life. As a human being and as a philosopher, he was strongly influenced by Kierkegaard’s philosophy. His so-called philosophical investigations were not just academic activities in the ivory tower of linguistic analyses, they were part of Wittgenstein’s efforts to lighten his mind, trying (desperately) to live as a good human being.
And, in the eighties, ‘philosophical practice’ was invented. It differed from the old long philosophical traditions of philosophical practice in that it was not political practice nor a philosophical way of life. It was a philosophical alternative to professional practices like psychiatry, psychotherapy, counseling, At the same time, the word ‘practice’ also got the association of ‘small business;, the philosopher running is own practice for personal counseling, group counseling or management consultancy. So, we could call this way of philosophical praxis a commercial therapeutic or advisory practice. It is not strange that this kind of philosophical practice has been compared to the sophists in Socrates’ times.
When I started to call myself a ‘philosophical practitioner’ and to set up my own philosophical business, I had to match those (at least) three philosophical traditions of philosophical praxis - praxis of daily life, political practice, and commercial practice. The interference of the aspects of philosophical praxis influences the way I do my commercial job as a philosophical counselor, coach and management consultant.

What circumstances in your life made you a practical philosopher?
This question cannot be answered, because I don’t have - and cannot have - enough detailed insight into the motives of my life. I just can make a guess.
One of the circumstances may be the families I am born in. From both sides, my father’s and my mother’s, my family were craftsmen from generations ago. My father’s father was a carpenter and builded wooden boats. My mother’s father was tailor. Both grandfathers had their own business. To create things with your own hands and ideas, in your own business, that is a skill and a desire that I inherited. Those ‘things’ may also be ‘spiritual’ things; in my mother’s family there are many professional musicians. My ‘things’ is philosophy - but not philosophy as just words and theoretical thought, but as the daily practice of life and work. I always considered philosophy to be a craftsman’s work; create ‘wise and free situations of daily life’ (I did not need Foucault and Hadot to know that).
Another circumstance of me becoming a practical philosopher are the sixties. I am from 1949 and was born and raised in Amsterdam, so I was about 15 to 17 years old at the time of the anti-authoritarian and hippy movements in Amsterdam and the rest of the world. In the years I studied philosophy at the University of Amsterdam, philosophy and the study of philosophy was both personal and political, i.e., practical both in personal life and in social action.

Why is it better for you to call yourself a philosophical coach rather than a philosophical therapist, counsellor or adviser? What are the differences among those terms?
To begin with the last part of this question, I think there are three ‘attitudes’ of ‘commercial’ philosophical practice (also see my answer to your first question). One attitude is “philosophical practice is an alternative to psychotherapy or to regular management consultancy” (it is about the same problems etc., but is deals with it in a different way). Another attitude is “philosophical practice is an alternative (and better) form of psychotherapy or regular management consultancy” (it is the better psychotherapy). The third attitude is “philosophical practice has nothing to do with psychotherapy or regular management consultancy, it is a way of practice on his own”. This last attitude is mine. To emphasize this and to be clear to my clients, I like to use other words than those that are used by therapists. I like the word ‘coach’, for this reason. Moreover, the word ‘coach’ associates to competences and goals that are comparable to those of philosophical practice. I mean the Socratic attitude of ‘not knowing’ and ‘midwife practice’ by questioning skeptically and critically.

Do you think it is necessary for a practical philosopher to leave academician world or College teaching?
Practical philosophy can be practiced by someone who earns his money as a teacher of investigator at an university. The question is not wether he works at an university, but wether how he or she philosophizes - in daily life and at the university.

Can you tell us about the Dutch practical philosophy? Who are its most important representatives? What about its tendencies?
There are no exact, reliable figures about the amount of (really) practicing philosophers. I suppose, that there are just a few philosophers practicing in the field of individual therapy, counseling of coaching. Theo van Leeuwen (The Hague) and Will Heutz (Heerlen) are working as what you can call ‘philosophical psychotherapists’. Some others use the so-called ‘aristonide’ method of Eite Veening (Groningen). Some female philosophers work with psychological technics to cope with emotions. Some practitioners are working as a (personal) coach, like I do (as far as I know, I am the only one to have his own philosophical method in this field). There are one or two philosophers who adapted the method of Brenifier (like Minke Tromp in Amsterdam).
Most philosophical practitioners are working in the field of management consultancy and organization development. As far as they use explicit philosophical views an methods (I think, most of them are just regular consultants), they use Leonard Nelson’s method of the socratic dialogue. The New Trivium, a group practice of philosophers (Jos Kessels published a lot about their vision and method), is rather well-known in Dutch business. Joep Wijsbek (Eindhoven) uses another method; he developed the so-called ‘Zelfkonfrontatiemethode - Organisatie’ (self confrontation method - organizations). Wijsbek is also rather successful. I did develop my own method, too; I call it the ‘engadin style’ of socratic coaching. I work both with individuals and with groups. with private persons and in organizations.
Then, there are of course the philosophical cafés, and some colleagues are doing philosophy with kids (you talked with Maaike Bekkers in Amsterdam).
Only the Nelson-socratic practitioners are sharing knowledge and experiences intensively. They have courses, and are active on an international level. Those who philosophize with children do not have professional meetings with each others. The practitioners who work with individuals are slowly meeting one another more and more professionally in the context of the Dutch association.
The Dutch association is busy trying to professionalize philosophical practice. Within the board of the association, Peter Harteloh (Rotterdam) and I are developing a professional profile, with competences, and the professional register of philosophical practitioners.

What about your personal philosophical interests and researches? Have you published any papers or books?
I have been studying Wittgenstein and Nietzsche for years, and re-read Sartre and Heidegger. The main topic in my philosophical investigation is the philosophy of experience. I’m busy writing an article and a book on (my style of) socratic coaching.
Most of my publications are in Dutch, and are in the field of management consultancy. In 1988 I published a transcript of my philosophical performance ‘Strategieën van het vlees - Hommage aan John Cage, ondanks Adorno’ (‘Strategies of the flesh - Homage to John Cage, despite of Adorno’).
In the Dutch philosophical magazine ‘Filosofie’ I published articles and essays, among which ‘Wittgenstein and the art of living’, ‘What is philosophical practice?’, and ‘The paradox of the philosopher / management-consultant’ (all in Dutch).


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