by Lou Marinoff
Academic Press, 2001
Review by Alex Howard on Mar 11th 2002
Practice is aimed at philosophers and other professionals interested in the
application of philosophy outside of, but supported by, academe. He examines philosophical
practice as it may be utilised as forms of counseling, facilitation and
This is a very different from, and much more
demanding than, Marinoff's previous book (Plato
not Prozac), which was far more
'popular' in style, aimed as it was, at the general reader.
I have read both the manuscript and the final
published version of Philosophical
Practice and, as I observed in my endorsement on its back cover, the book
is informed, engaged, polemical, amusing, concerned and passionate.
Marinoff says in his Acknowledgements that
Alex Howard hunted every hare; no utterance or implication eluded his
meticulous scrutiny. It would be
unreasonable to expect an author to allow critics to actually shoot dead every
hare they have hunted, and some of my targets have certainly managed to survive
the salvoes I aimed at them. These I found running around intact in the text.
Marinoff describes the development of
philosophical practice, the difficulties it is likely to confront, and is
already facing, and the direction he believes it needs to travel if it is to
establish itself as a professional activity of use to individuals, groups and
The book provides just the kind of detailed
practical information an aspiring philosophical practitioner might need, and
describes the work of the American Philosophical Practitioners' Association,
whose President is Marinoff himself, in furthering this work.
The book thereby helps readers move from
philosophy they may have learned as an academic subject to philosophy that can
be of practical use to clients in a variety of marketplaces.
Such a guide, and manual, for philosophical
practitioners, on its own, would be a very useful agenda that would quite
justify the writing of this book. But Marinoff has an additional, and much
larger, ambition. This is to provide a cultural analysis of what he
passionately regards as intellectual and moral decline, not just within
academe, but in many other parts of the society, community and polity of North
America and beyond.
This general account is relevant since he
values philosophical practice, above all, as a means of combating the moral,
intellectual, spiritual and emotional decadence and dissipation, which he sees
all around him.
The style of writing is deliberately polemical
and, perhaps inevitably, it has the strengths and weaknesses of polemics. On
the positive side, he hits home at his targets graphically, succinctly,
sometimes convincingly, with brutal and uncompromising clarity. Less
positively, polemical description is prone to exaggeration, can collapse into
name-calling, and does not reliably provide the (relatively) detached
marshalling of evidence that a calmer style of writing might encourage.
Marinoff observes, I think quite rightly,
that: ... professors
of philosophy must assume responsibility for having managed to reduce their
subject to irrelevancy in the larger community. (p 3)
Instead of using
language as a precise tool, Americans and others now use it as a blunt
instrument. (p 8)
He does not assume a world of inevitable progress:
'Homo sapiens' is
something of a misnomer; man is at least as rapacious as he is sagacious, hence
'homo rapiens' is surely a more accurate taxonomic depiction of the broad
spectrum of human history. (p 74)
He looks for signs of hope:
post-postmodern urban and suburban worlds of secular fragmentation, where every
man is an island, where most families are unextended, where many churches are
empty, where all communities are ephemeral, where local culture means a
shopping mall, the supermarket bookstore serves a vital function. (p 117)
And within the bookstore, as well as the boardroom and consulting room
he seeks to locate the philosophical practitioner. The discussion that might
take place there could, he believes, be an improvement on much of what passes
for 'Higher' Education in the academy and elsewhere. He is, for example,
rightly scathing concerning the effects of (the worst kinds of) post-modernist
Because there is
no rigor, one can talk in any way about anything; any proposition seems
credible, and, in the absence of rules of inference, any other proposition can
be inferred from it. One can ordain the universe according to fancy, or
re-ordain multiverses hourly. (p 146)
Marinoff shows forcefully and effectively
that philosophical problems are not the same as psychological problems. He
gives instances of the important philosophical problems that confront
individuals, groups and organisations and demonstrates that philosophers are
better placed than psychologists to tackle such problems.
He acknowledges the difficulties: What most theoretical philosophers lack,
of course, are the interpersonal skills and professional (as opposed to
academic) expertise necessary to practice philosophy as a discipline of
personal counsel. Those deficiencies are precisely what this book addresses,
and what APPA Certification Training Programs remedy. (p. 89)
Clearly such certification is a work in
progress and much more needs to be done to clarify and provide the kind of
personal skills suitable to the provision of philosophy outside of academe.
On balance I welcome the polemical style,
though it will not always help him make the friends he might need. Also, both
style and content do sometimes get in the way of the main message. For example,
as Marinoff acknowledges, the reader does not need to accept all, or many, of
Marinoff's political views and cultural perspectives in order to participate as
an enthusiastic and effective philosophical practitioner.
He observes of City College, where he is
employed: This is not a university;
it is a travesty. (In relation to its Open
And announces that: I am a political refugee from the People's Femocratic Republic of
Canada. (Further details in Sexuality
He asks, Where is Senator McCarthy when we really need him? (p. 318) (Oh dear!).
On the other hand, he bemoans the replacement
of steadfast moral worthiness with
(p 312) (Three cheers!)
This is a brave, sincere and important book.
I stand by what I said on its back cover: 'Read it!'
© 2002 Alex Howard
Alex Howard is a
philosophical counselor and consultant practicing in England and online. His last book is Philosophy
for Counselling and Psychotherapy.