Philosophical Encounter

Philosophical Encounter

Philosophical encounter is a practice of philosophical counseling. It isn’t a completely defined term. It’s an idea that signifies meaningful and productive conversation with someone you never met before. This practice could result in replacing old beliefs of client with trending thoughts. It also helps to erase the feelings that don’t serve anymore. It is a journey of a philosopher into a client’s world. It is a method to remove the blocks in clients’ minds that often take away the capabilities of free thoughts and expressions. Philosophical encounter is a part of practical philosophy which helps to deal with the unexpected problems of the client.

According to philosopher and counselor Leon De Haas, there are three methods in the practice of philosophy-
1. Imposing philosophical themes and concepts on someone else.
2. Extracting concepts from someone’s narratives.
3. Exploring someone’s experiences.

Most of the philosophers will use the methods of imposing. It signifies Wittgenstein’s idea of bringing the fly out of the bottle. Wittgenstein has theorized the phenomenological problems with its useful applications. The method of philosophizing works very well for keeping the problems away. But, for long-lasting solutions, we would have to move towards the other two methods of practical philosophy. Extracting means to derive the abstract elements in client talk and try to grasp its true meaning. The concepts of anger, trust, and various other emotions could be understood by having a meaningful conversation with clients. To explore someone’s experiences is to step in someone else’s shoes. It is closely looking at the situation and explore the reactions of the client.

Leon de Haas has utilized all these methods in his work of counseling. For this task, he has preferred to choose three approaches to the Philosophical encounter. They are – Narrative situation, observational position, and situational understanding.

  1. The narrative situation is going into a narration of the client. It is listening patiently to the client’s narration of her life, feelings, emotions. It involves the total suspension of any judgment or opinion. While keeping our judgment and mental conflicts aside, we can understand the client’s situation better. Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, has termed this suspension of judgment as ‘Epoche’. This literally means keeping us free from any mental thoughts and just be immersed in clients words. It is not even looking for the words meaning. Because the meaning of words differs from person to person. Thus, the more we focus on clients’ narration, the better we could know the thoughts going through the client’s mind.

    Narrative situations demand us to be familiar with the client’s life, ask her about the situations which give troubles and guide her in the right direction. This method doesn’t give any form of labeling to clients’ issues. It is just going deeper into clients’ thoughts, emotions, and helps her to come out of negativity. The narrative situation is the situation where a client evokes by recalling her experiences. The experiences help clients to look back again at her problem with a philosopher’s point of view. Narrative situations consist of both an empathizing friend and a neutral observer(de Haas technique)

    In Narrative situations, a practitioner needs to go beyond phenomenology. Phenomenology wants to see the ‘essence’ of a phenomenon by ignoring its concreteness and understanding ‘that what it is’. By understanding the phenomenon without our pre-given opinions and judgment, the phenomenon reveals itself to us.

2. Observational position speaks of movements. There may be variant body movements of your client. The movements help you to know your clients better. The gestures and facial expressions help us to be aware of the phenomenon your client is passing through while describing her emotions. A practitioner needs to carefully examine the observational position without letting her know that you are doing that. When one is deep in emotions and experiences, the body movements speak itself. If we can’t reach inside to understand emotions, we could look for the bodily signs which tell a lot about clients undergoing emotional changes. The practitioner tries to challenge the observational position of a client by mirroring, pointing and questioning. The observational position helps to continue philosophical practice without getting influence by the emotions of clients.

3. Situational understanding involves phenomenological reduction. It is to reduce all subjectiveness in perception, feeling, and thinking and look at the phenomenon as it is. We need to examine carefully the situation itself. We have to go on the roads of the client and feel the way she might be feeling. Putting ourselves in someone else’s position is situational understanding. We need to understand the situation of a client which has made her suffer. Once we realize the situation, we could feel the pain. And once we feel the pain, we know the solution to it.

After finishing the session with clients, by implying all the methods in practice, a client feels more clear in her thoughts. Leon de Haas says that the first session should be basically put to building relations and then one could proceed to counsel for problems. Every encounter with a guest is a unique event with a unique human being. And thus, we have to begin counseling with a mindset of Locke’s blank slate.

The methods provided above isn’t so technical but a general approach we could adopt in the process of counseling others. The method of situational understanding is an extension of the Narrative situation. Once we focus completely on narration, we could easily know the feelings of clients in a particular situation.

Leon de Haas’s methods of practicing philosophy give a clear idea of observation, understanding, and finding solutions. De Haas differentiated himself from Achenbach who uses the Eclectic philosophical method. The Eclectic method is basically looking at different styles and approaches and finding its own ideas. De Haas’s method is not the complete kit to provide a tool for practicing. But, it isn’t less than important tools we require while evolving in the process of healing others. Leon de Haas’s philosophy is different because it helps to deal with clients in a simpler way. It helps to build stronger and long-lasting relations with clients. Once a client trust you, she can completely rely on you for the solutions to her problems. She not only follows your advice but also gives the feedback consequently.

De Haas methods are easy to practice and don’t require any other technical background to grasp its concepts. He has referred Wittgenstein concepts of family-resemblance for finding similarities and differences in the observed phenomenon. So, the family resemblance does not say anything about the essence of the members of the group. But, it is just about the occurrence of similarities together with differences(de Haas) in a phenomenon.

It should be noted that the methods given here are very well related to each other. The following of one method takes us to the other methods. And so, we just need to remember the introductory parts of practicing and the rest would automatically follow. The unique concept of Leon de Haas’s practice is -‘he would not reveal the solutions, but he would make the clients to herself discover the solutions of her problems’. This Socratic approach not only gives complete solutions to the clients but also make her strong enough to follow the solutions for a long time.

Apart from the methods mentioned here, the attitude and intention of the counselor also matter. Attitude describes ‘How am I present here? Do I want to hand on my philosophical knowledge to the other? or do I want to challenge the other to question his truth claims and explore his experiences?’ To clear our intention, we need to ask self ‘What is my contribution to the conversation? What is my aim for this encounter? Imposing concepts and theories? Exploring experiences?’ Once all this factors are clear, our practice of philosophical encounter would definitely turn successful.


A situative view, and a discussion of the value of Wittgenstein’s philosophical investigations’
Lecture before the Korean Society of Philosophical Practice on July 8, 2011

Lecture of Leon de Haas on ‘Dialogical interventions on everyday’s experiences: An Introduction to contemporary Socratic practice’

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