DEATH OF A VIRTUE SALESMAN:
THE PHILOSOPHICAL COUNSELOR AS PERSONAL REDEEMER
James A. Tuedio
Department of Philosophy
California State University, Stanislaus
Turlock, CA 95316 (USA)
to regain possession through payment of a
tipulated price; to rescue, deliver, reclaim
If the virtues are valued as dispositions, more often than not this is because they are seen as contributing to the cultivation of a good society. On occasion, though, the judgment comes from within, as an integral feature of the recognition that virtues contribute value to the life of the individual by promoting a kind of personal facility through which we live for the expression of our dispositions, and live them as expressions of our personal affirmation of life. What is at stake when we shift from the context of social ethics to the context of personal facility in our analysis of virtuous development?
?quality of being easily performed;
freedom from difficulty; ease
(expressing a power proceeding from practice and use that accounts for how
? we can perform an act or dispatch a task with alacrity and preparation)
I am curious about the role philosophical counselors might play in the cultivation of virtues conducive to a form of human flourishing that reflects an individual sense of fulfillment. Issues concerning personal facility and personal satisfaction would seem to lie at the core of any serious concern regarding the role of the virtues in the life of the individual. What form of philosophical counseling is likely to benefit someone seeking insight into the virtues that promote a sense of self-fulfillment? What will direct the dialogue on personal facility? How will the social aspects be factored in? Would the goal be to form insights about virtue, or perhaps about a virtue? Would we expect these insights to manifest the lifeform of a virtue, as an intersubjective form of life that both transcends and complements the orientation of an individual's frame of reference?
One touchstone for this conversation would be the narrative accounts provided by counselees who focus on the life-challenges resulting from a complex interplay of personal, interpersonal, and institutional roles in their life. Here attention could be directed to the attendant connotations of responsibility and expectation, and to the evidence of vulnerabilities, opportunities, and shifting degrees of importance, too). But are the virtues simply a reflection of how we might accomodate ourselves to all this complexity? Do they reflect how one can learn to flow with these forces? If we believe that the virtues reflect how best to accomodate ourselves to social complexity, we might feel the need to ask another pressing question: toward what end should we steer our life in the cultivation of our virtuous dispositions?
(But perhaps we should be more suspicious of these questions: Do we really need to understand "the end" toward which we would be striving in order to begin actualizing the virtuous dispositions that would be conducive to a flourishing life? What role does the concept of "end" play in this process? Can we make flourishing adjustments to the interplay of interpersonal and institutional roles only if we start from a knowledge of the end to be served by this process? Or is the concept of "the end" merely a philosophical construction? Perhaps it is not at all essential (perhaps it is even an impediment!) to the cultivation of a flourishing life. Perhaps we are merely conditioned to believe that knowledge (or acceptance) of "the end" is essential to cultivating virtuous dispositions, when in fact the whole process is designed to motivate predictable, optimizing outcomes in human development conducive to social assimilation. --Here the unspoken emphasis might be on producing "good people" who lend themselves to social appropriation. So for now I will suspend the belief that we need "the end" in view if we are to embark on the cultivation of human flourishing under the guiding hand of philosophical analysis.)
A typical place to start in philosophy is with a question. For instance, the counselee might ask for conceptual guidance: starting from the premise that virtues are conducive to a flourishing, fulfilling life, he might feel the need to secure an operative conception of this quality of life: and so the conversation might take up the question, "What is a flourishing life?" Suppose that I assume there are some virtuous dispositions (implying tacit expectations) that are likely to be valued above others when weighed from the point of view of an inquiring individual (--allowing for the influence of a modest herd-instinct). These virtues would be valued differently from one individual to another, and from one stage of life to another.
Now, even if there were a fixed point of reference comprising a core of self-identity, we could not be sure it would stay fixed for long. Indeed, when a shift occurs, the work of the past can quickly lose its significance, and the challenge we face may be quite unanticipated. While it is appealing to believe that we can condition ourselves to apply the right amount of courage, wisdom, moderation, and honesty in judgment to navigate a shift in the interplay of our personal, interpersonal, and institutional roles, the reality is we never know in advance what this would entail, and we cannot count on past performance to chart our passage through each new predicament. The virtues we cultivate will have a fluid value as we negotiate the ebb and flow of innovation that often leads us to shed (or reconstruct) our acquired habits, beliefs, and personal investments in response to the unexpected qualities we experience. If the self were a stable and enduring identity carefully orchestrating the cultivation of our virtuous dispositions, we would not face this problem of flux. But we are multifaceted beings in a constant state of becoming. Today's virtue will not save me tomorrow. I will be "saved" only if the one who is virtuous today can be reconstituted tomorrow, and only if this is who I should be in tomorrow's context.
Despite the fluid nature of the virtues, we can still become better attuned to important characterisitics of specific virtues. For instance, we could engage counselees in philosophical conversation about the virtue of being honest. We could start by helping them learn to focus on the variety of affects produced by different degrees of honesty. They would of course be working from their own personal experiences, but they might also benefit from studying imaginative scenarios in which the affects of different degrees of honesty are played out. And would they not see enhanced value in extending their capacity to recognize and respond to important contingencies in the circumstances of their life? What if counselees could strengthen their attunement to the emotional and practical investments of key role-players in their life? What if they could learn to see what is at stake when someone reveals a personal or professional bias? Or learn to anticipate the focus of another person's expectations, or come to see how people rank their preferences as they move from one dominant role (or demanding circumstance) to another? Who would deny that these enhanced forms of attunement are conducive to a flourishing mode of life?
Surely none of these forms of attunement would qualify as virtuous dispositions unless we were convinced the powers were being applied in the right way. Presumably this means as "the good person" would apply them. But how will this be determined? In the end, must I not determine for myself what the good person would do? Of course, it would follow that others must determine this for themselves, too. So, if there was a need for us to get along with each other, we would need to work out agreements to establish some common parameters of expectation. Even so, a dynamic tension would remain pitting our instincts to flourish against our instincts to belong. This tension would operate on both the personal and the interpersonal levels of engagement. Accordingly, we would all need to preserve our own specific healthy balance of personal and collective considerations, and we would need to adjust this balance wisely as we move from one context of involvement to the next.
Next question: should I be more concerned with promoting the flourishing of others than is necessary to promote my own desired level of well-being? Or should the quest for virtue be defined simply as a project to promote my own flourishing? (This latter option would still entail consideration for the flourishing potential of others, but the value of helping others to flourish would trace to the projected impact on my own prospects for flourishing. Is this a sufficient basis upon which to cultivate virtuous dispositions?)
I propose to test the viability of a project organized around the primacy of the individual. This project will privilege the goal of human flourishing, but as defined from the standpoint of the individual, rather than from an investment in preserving the collective interest. Preserving or promoting the collective interest (or the interests of other individuals) would be given value only in the context of supporting the individual's own prospects for flourishing.
I. Asserting the Primacy of the Individual
Since we often project our tacit expectations onto others without careful forethought, and must bear the consequences of doing so, it can benefit us to look into how these expectations reflect biases intrinsic to our personal life-narratives. For instance, as a man, I might see the virtues of a good woman in terms of the roles I have come to expect of women in my life: perhaps I would expect them to strive to be patient, caring, willing to invest time in other people's happiness, and able to keep their moods (and difficult truths) to themselves. What could I learn about myself from a discussion of the implications of this mind-set? I might gain better attunement to the "forestructures" of my interpersonal experiences. I might gain insight into how I frame expectations in terms of roles, and how I constitute my sense of role responsibilities. From here, I could move into discussions regarding the virtues I would attach to specific roles, including my own. I could reflect on how I would define my own virtues, and compare this to how a good woman (as I define her) might identify them. I would slowly construct, critique, and assimilate a narrative understanding of my relation to these virtues, and as a result of this, I might begin to experience shifts in my tacit frame of reference. New attunements would begin to kick in, and I would find that I have a new relationship to the project of human flourishing.
As each of us works from our own tacit frame of reference, many of us eventually come to define virtues from a standpoint that privileges social roles and expectations: perceived initially as important facets of human life, they soon become part of our gender identity, and eventually come to reflect the instrumental value of a stable, predictable, ever-expanding life-narrative. This narrative reflects a social appropriation of the individual within a community of mutual moral consideration (as reflected in my embrace of the "Here I am" dimension of personal accountability). From this standpoint, the virtues are normative criteria expressing a social claim on the general scheme of a person's life. But what happens when we start to reflect on the contingencies driving these expectations? What happens to me as I begin thinking through my relation to the project of human flourishing? Can philosophical dialogue assist me in rethinking my pursuit of the virtues? Would this enhance my capacity to define and achieve my own brand of human flourishing?
Is it legitimate for philosophical counselors to draw counselees into an experience-based analysis of the human virtues as a strategy for producing personally affirming dispositions in the life of the counselee? If so, would you advise the philosophical counselor to work from the presumption that all counselees need to strive for the same general balance of personal and interpersonal considerations in their life? Or would argue that counselees must identify their own "healthy" balance?
What will legitimize the perspective from which a philosophical counselor addresses the task of promoting a virtuous life? It may seem problematic for counselors to address these issues from their own frame of reference. But does this mean the work should be done from the standpoint of the counselee's frame of reference? Who has the greatest claim on what will count as manifestations of virtuous facility in the life of the counselee? (--especially when this facility is central to the production of a good human life, a life rich in meaning and value for the one who must live it through to the end!) Who has the greatest claim on this life? Can the philosophical counselor avoid taking a position on this question in the course of the counseling session?
Is the counselor's role enhanced by focusing on how the instinct for "virtuous facility" plays out in a counselee's life? If so, would you propose structuring the counseling sessions to incorporate a normative-based analysis of the counselee's life-narrative? Or would you focus on ways to promote "virtuous facility" as a condition of personal fulfillment? In either case, the counselor's role would be to awaken in the counselee insight into how the cultivation of virtues might translate into a more satisfying mode of life. But which approach is more likely to enhance the counselee's general facility in life? Which approach is more likely to enhance their attunement to circumstances, or their capacity to grow within a context of personal satisfaction? By refraining from normative assessments of the counselee's dispositions in life, the counselor would be able to provide a more supportive environment in which the counselee is encouraged to visualize dispositions that would promote their own brand of human flourishing.
But is it possible to discuss the virtues without reference to normative criteria? Without importing normative connotations? Or in terms that imply no endorsement by the counselor? Or would this silence imply a tacit support of the counselee's existing normative criteria? What is the counselor's responsibility here? And to whom? We could insist that philosophical work instantiate a commitment to critical thinking. But does this translate into a responsibility for promoting the counselee's moral or intellectual development? Do philosophical counselors have a responsibility to draw counselees into normative-based reflections on the virtues in connection with the life-narrative presented by the counselee? Or should reflections like these proceed only from the counselee's initiative?
To continue my exercise, I will propose that the virtues are tacitly present in the efforts by which people strive to establish a nd develop themselves within the ever-shifting contexts of their life. (I speak here of efforts to "establish and develop" the self in contrast to the practices that make us alien, as reflected in the experience of uncanniness that might arise from living under the gaze and expectations of others). I do not assume that the virtues are life-directives. Nor do I see them as life-templates. I will argue that we live for the virtues, not under their thumb. On my account, we desire the personal facility that derives from our virtuous dispositions, but more as an empowering quality of life than as a constraint imposed upon our conduct. Even so, we gravitate toward the notion of constraints upon our conduct as we begin to construct our expectations of others. As this tendency increases, the quest for personal facility comes to be framed in terms of public exhortations to honor values and expectations that bear the mark of social validation.
?language intended to incite and encourage; advice; counsel
So easily do we construe the virtues as socially validated reflections of "good" human attributes that we rarely stop to reflect on the meaning of this construal in the life of the individual. But when the virtues are construed from within a context of social validation, surely this contributes to social appropriations of the individual (as reflected, say, in the social constructions of "good practice"). The counseling session can focus on how social appropriation is reflected (or concealed) in a counselee's life-narrative. It can also encourage the counselee to reflect on how actual manifestations of this phenomenon blend (or conflict) with their instinct for cultivating life-affirming dispositions.
A subtle prodding will open the door to this conversation. Suppose the issue raised by the counselee reflects a life-directing choice framed in terms of a concern about what to do next; or perhaps the question concerns how to cope with the ramifications of a fast-dissolving life-narrative. In the process of addressing these concerns in philosophical dialogue, the counselee will benefit from thinking about who will emerge as the agent of choice or as the one who must cope with disillusionment. If the issue concerns how to cope with mundanity or how to survive a bout of overwhelming disappointment, why not inquire into who it is that will survive these experiences? Who experiences the mundanity of life as a problem? And who experiences such overwhelming disappointment? Who is this person aspiring to flourish in the face of these impediments? Who is it that actually experiences the mundanity and disappointment as impediments to a flourishing life? Who sets the targets in this life?
By directing the counselee's attention to the "who" facet of experience, the counselor helps to establish a viable context for reflecting on the role of the virtues in the life of the individual. For in reflecting on the identity of the one who would endure these experiences we encounter traces of a pressure game involving forces of social validation in tension with instincts that motivate us to develop our own personal life-affirming dispositions. By reading these traces one can gain some insight into who is actually striving to attain a flourishing mode of life. Perhaps with this insight we can understand better the disappointments in our life and learn to apply our successes to a broader range of experiences than would seem appropriate from the standpoint of the everyday roles and challenges of the "natural attitude."
II. Philosophical Premises Underwriting the
Postmodern Narrative Analysis Movement
Every description, assessment, or concern expressed in dialogue connects to an evolving relational construction of meaning sustained in part by a narrative context of understanding. There is always room to test for the representational validity of a statement about who you are, what you believe, or what you have been through. The counselor might be tempted to question the accuracy of narrative constructions employed by counselees in discussing relevant facets of their life-story. But how should this concern be appropriated in philosophical counseling?
I would argue that there is another level of attention with respect to the issue of validity which should take priority over concerns about representational validity. On this new level of attention, interest shifts to the "performative validity" of the counselee's narrative construction. The issue no longer concerns the accuracy of a counselee's construction of events. The task is now to understand what this construction means in the counselee's life. But this should not be translated into another representational project. The construction of reality provided by the counselee is much more than a representation of reality. It is also a performance of reality --the counselee's reality. A bird's-eye view of the actual events or values recounted in the counselee's life-narrative might enhance the counselor's ability to test for representational validity. But the most important work would still need to focus on how to understand the performative function of the life-narrative. Here lies a key to understanding how the counselee's narrative construction bears reference to actual episodes, relations, or values in the counselee's life.
The puzzle is not so much about what actually happened as about the counselee's understanding of what happened. Here I will introduce the image of a living construction, one produced in part by life's obstructions, in part by social and interpersonal influences, and partly by our capacity to accept, refine, or reject a given representation of events in our life. I would like to consider the case of the compulsive gambler portrayed so poignantly in the writings of Dostoevski (1869) and Sartre (1945). The gambler cannot rely on the intended meaning of his prior resolutions against gambling to save him from the pull of the gaming tables as he approaches. Instead, he must perform the meaning of his resolve in the very situation where his commitment to the resolve carries its ultimate meaning for him. Later, when the gambler recounts his dramatic episode to his narrative analyst, he will describe his actual experience in representational terms. But instead of assessing for representational validity, the counselor should redirect the counselee's attention to the performative validity of his descriptions. The counselor needs to help the counselee piece together an account of how the descriptions and assessments reflected in his life-narrative achieve credibility in his mind. Even if the gambler's vertigo is not diminished by analyzing the performative structure of his narrative, the experience itself can be brought to clearer understanding.1 The gambler can achieve an insight that allows him to experience his vertigo as a recognition, namely, the recognition that nothing in his resolve will prevent him from throwing himself into a fit of gambling (as one might throw oneself off a ladder in a panic over suddenly feeling too high off the ground). Only the one who commits to this resolve can prevent the loss of control, and only so long as he who commits to the resolve is seen to be the same person who might also succumb to the desire to gamble.
If the counselee's narrative is always in part a performative construction, how can we presume it bears reference to actual episodes, relations, and circumstances in the counselee's life? This construction is a narrative reflection of the counselee's experiences, articulated within a framework of interpretive descriptions and assessments. Employing the mediums of description and assessment, we convey an interpretation of the episodes, relations, and circumstances in our life. In the process of relating these narrative accounts, we construe their meaning within the context of conversation. The meaning we construe is a reflection of our on-going life-project, and this life-project is itself affected by the specific portrayal of narrative content. How might this apply to our gambler? By reconstructing his narrative account of the experience of vertigo, the gambler can pull back from the experience of losing control over his resolve and focus instead on the question of the moment: whether to embrace the possibility of throwing himself into a fit of gambling. To honor the spirit of his resolve in the situation that counts, the gambler must be the one who could choose to gamble but who has also learned to see how this would be a bad choice to make. He cannot honor the spirit of the resolve if he hides behind it and allows the one who gambles compulsively to carry out the next phase of his life.
While the meaning of his resolve against gambling is revealed only in the performance of the resolve, the performance itself is conditioned by the underlying narrative through which the gambler understands (and experiences) his situation. He can size it up as a moment of choice or as impending loss of control. The meaning of his resolve depends in part on the narrative construction through which he understands his situation. But his narrative also refers to a field of interaction within which certain facets of a situation crystalize into organizing pressures. These facets can be identified only through the medium of language. This does not mean the actual facets of a situation are inaccessible to knowledge. But it does imply that our primary access to them is through language. Our access to knowledge must pass through the language of description and assessment, and this is already to construe meaning within a context of performative validity. This is why it is important to analyze the language of description and assessment reflected in the counselee's narrative constructions of reality. The counselee's experience of actual episodes, relations, or circumstances is always already mediated by performative understanding. The point of narrative analysis is to reveal and reconstruct the problematic meaning intrinsic to this understanding. How we understand the goal of this process will determine the pressures we bring to bear on it.
By adjusting his context of performative validity, the gambler can reconfigure the scene of his life. This will have an impact on actual episodes, relations and circumstances in his life. By and large, the impact he experiences over time will reflect the narrative construal of meaning in terms of which he understands his experiences. This is why counselees need to address the credibility factor in their narratives. They need to understand how credibility is sustained by the language of description and assessment. There will always be issues regarding representational validity. But these should be addressed in relation to the counselee's context of performative validity. For this will determine what he makes of the therapeutic intervention (and in a counseling context, every philosophical question is a therapeutic intervention). Postmodern narrative therapists have identified this context as a dominant factor in the therapeutic situation, and are for this reason tailoring their methods to the conceptual idiosyncrasies of their counselees.2 The point of this practice is not to reinforce these conceptual idiosyncrasies, but to respect their influence on the counselee's process of assigning meaning and value to the input of experience. This brings us to some important postmodern insights about the self.
III. Narrative Identity and the Context of Performance
Postmodern narrative therapists and counselors reject the concept of "substance" as a theoretical basis for understanding the self.3 In lieu of the more traditional appeal to "substance" (with its connotation of cross-temporal identity), postmodern practitioners design their practice around the concept of narrative identity. As Paul Ricur points out, the emphasis on narrative identity shifts our attention from the "what" to the "who" of the "I am." Ricur's analysis of narrative identity presumes "a dialectic of selfhood and sameness" at the heart of the "who."4
According to Ricur, the narrative structure of the who's self-identity manifests "the two processes of emplotment, that of action and that of the character." (p. 146) On the one hand, there is the "selfhood" of self-constancy, in terms of which I am considered reliable and, by implication, accountable. Here the focus is on preserving a connection between intentions and actions, as when I express my intention to honor a commitment or promise to myself or another. Ricoeur refers to this as the "Here I am!" aspect of the self.
Narrative identity provides an important link between the "Who am I?" question and the "Here I am!" response. But narrative identity also provides a link to the second pole of temperal identity, which he calls "sameness of character." Ricur considers character to be "the set of distinctive marks (or "lasting dispositions") which permit the ("recognition", or) reidentification of a human individual as being the same" (pp. 119, 121). Here the focus is directed not just to the "habits" or "character traits" of the individual, but also to "the set of acquired identifications" reflected in the "values, norms, ideals, models, and heroes in which the person or the community recognizes itself" (p. 121). "Character is clearly the 'what' of the 'who'," and manifests a socializing element of "loyalty" which channels us "toward fidelity, hence toward maintaining the self" (p. 122). Of course, character has a "history which it has contracted." To preserve the oscillation between "identity of the self" and "sameness of character," this historical dimension of character "must be set back within the movement of narration." Foucault and Nietzsche have proposed genealogical strategies for tracing out "the complex relations of forces which provide the conditions for the existence of the entities, values, and events of our experience" (Mahon, 1992, p. 8). Philosophical genealogy is initially "an attempt to reveal concrete, practical, and historical conditions of existence," but always as preparation for the "critical second moment" in which we question the value of the entities, values, and events of our experience" (having revealed to ourselves their "precarious origins"), and to do so "for the enhancement of life" (Mahon, p. 8). This approach, as conceived by Foucault, would identify the life-project of the counselee in terms of "relations of force, strategic developments, and tactics."5
Now, while the sameness of character can be "inscribed" within the dimension of a general social expectation, the self-constancy of identity cannot. Self-constancy reflects a personal resolve that can only be inscribed within the life of one who says "Here I am!". With this resolve to stand on firm ground, I constitute a basis for appropriating "the obligation to safeguard the institution of language and to respond to the trust that the other places in my faithfulness" (Ricur, p. 124).
The mediation between these two extremes of permanence in time (--mediation between the socially charged "sameness of character" and the personally charged "constancy of self-identity") opens an "interval of sense" within which our narrative identity resides. Here we find a space of self-concern where it makes sense to direct questions about "what matters or not" only to the individual for whom meaning and significance are an issue (cf. p. 137). Here we encounter a key dimension of the "who."
At one pole of the dialectic of sameness and selfhood, we can hardly avoid confusing sameness of character for the selfhood of self-constancy. At the opposite pole, the self of self-constancy poses the ethical question of its own identity "without the aid and support" of the identity intrinsic to permanence of character (p. 124). Spielram is central to revitalizing the dialectic of character-development. Greater Spielram often allows us to reclaim "the movement abolished in acquired dispositions" (p. 166), but it can also bring to a head the existential challenge of closing the gap between our "narrative identity" (composed in response to the question "Who am I?") and our "moral identity" (expressed through the affirmation "Here I am!").
As we work to close this gap, the "tormenting" question "Who am I?" can be "incorporated" into the "proud declaration" "Here is where I stand!" But the "existential crisis" of the self remains forever on the fringe of awareness, waiting to reemerge in the gap between "self-effacement" and "self-affirmation." The resulting tension in the self expresses an oscillation between "the question which engulfs the narrative imagination and the answer of the subject who has been made responsible by the expectation of the other...." (p. 168).
Whenever the question of self-identity erupts anew, as when we experience a loss of resolve, we face the challenge of narrative reconstruction. Since the question of narrative identity can be posed only by the "who" to whom the question is posed, the challenge of narrative reconstruction is always already my own challenge. In posing the question "Who am I?" I cannot help confronting my identity as an open question. But this question never dissipates that point of reference in terms of which I experience the challenge as my own.6 I experience this decentered reality as my own, as an absence of substantial unity, and as a radical multiplicity.
When William James examined this notion of radical multiplicity in the Principles of Psychology (1890), he drew the conclusion that "a man has as many social selves as there are [groups of] individuals who recognize him and carry an image of him in their mind." Because we generally show a different side of ourselves to each of these different groups, there results "a division of the man into several selves." In some cases, this produces a "discordant splitting," in others, it produces "a perfectly harmonious division of labor" (I: p. 294). In discussing the "Rivalry and Conflict of the Different Selves," James recognized that a broad range of possible characters "may conceivably at the outset of life be . . . possible to a man," but "to make any of them actual, the rest must more or less be suppressed." He then proposed that if we are seeking after our "truest, strongest, deepest self," we should "review the list [of possible characters] carefully," and choose the one on which to stake our "salvation."
James presumed there is normally one person --the "I"-- who plays the various roles in our life, who stands behind our different persons, and speaks through our various masks (to use Nietzsche's metaphor). But the postmodern view throws this open to question. After Nietzsche, it is an open question as to who speaks through our various masks. As Graham Parkes has expressed the issue, "Is it really . . . some one, single person, the unitary I, who plays these different parts? Or does a variety of roles not . . . require a plurality of persons as well as person to play them?" (Parkes, 1994, p. 368). In contrast to the metaphorical expression of personal autonomy favored by James (in which autonomy is cast as a "perfectly harmonious division of labor" orchestrated by a single I), Parkes contends it might be more beneficial to imagine the increasingly autonomous I on the model of a group of theatrical performers,
[one that is] moving toward improvisational theatre, with scripts and prompts constantly coming in from outside and the most accomplished players rotating through the directorship. With the passing of time the actors [and actresses] would practice their art with discipline, get to know each other's style, and broaden the repertoire; and there would finally come a point at which there was no [further] need for a director, and the company could become fully improvisational. At every juncture the actor(s) [or actresses] most suitable to play the part or respond to the prompt would do so, without having to be directed by an independent agent." (Parkes, p. 369; cf. pp. 370-71)
This requires a capacity to be open to the perspectives of many different characters, not just those that are consistent with the idea-complexes of a dominant self (or the "heroic ego" who is so often behind our masks).
For many of us, this capacity is occasionally within our grasp, but for counselees with troubled lives, experiencing the self-reflexive influence and interplay of different characters or person could intensify their problematic mode of life. Philosophy does not always produce wisdom. It can often produce great anxiety. It can sometimes produce more trouble than it can fix. The point, it seems to me, is to give the rational side of life something valuable to chew on.
This project becomes even more interesting when we address the impact of social construction on the evolution of self identity. The writings and interviews of Michel Foucault reveal some the operational aspects of social construction. His main focus concerns the normalizing modes of social subjection. He tracks the rise of this phenomenon back to the transition from a highly personalized ethic in ancient Greek and Roman thought to the social disciplining practices inherent in the "interdictions and normalizing effects" of Christian and Enlightenment moralities. Out of this tranformation came the "problematization of the subject," or the issue concerning the constitution of the self as subject (under the force of subjection to moral norms).7 As Foucault sees it, the more significant changes are to be found not in the new codes that stipulate what is forbidden and what is not, but in a new conception of "the relation to oneself," which now emphasizes "a moral experience centered on the subject." The role of the intellectual cuts against this, in that the goal of intellectual work is to "make oneself permanently able to remove oneself from oneself," to "reexamine evidences and postulates, to shake up habits, ways of doing and thinking, to dissipate accepted familiarities, to reexamine rules and institutions,"8 and, above all, "to lift subjection by displaying its mechanisms" (Racevskis, 1987, p. 31). Here Foucault returns our focus to the "who" of experience:
Who makes decisions for me? Who keeps me from doing one thing and tells me to do something else? Who programs my movements and my schedule? Who forces me to live at this particular place while I work at this other one? How are these decisions that completely articulate my life made?9
Should we expect to uncover the "specific identity" of a person, group or class lurking behind each "who"?
For Foucault, there are no strategists to be identified behind the strategies -- no one occupies the place of the Other. Nevertheless, it is in the name of the Other that identities are formed; by questioning the provenance of the forces that control an individual's life, Foucault calls into question the accepted patterns of individualization. (Racevskis, 1987, p. 31)
If patterns of individualism are organized in relation to "games of truth" and "practices of power" (cf. Foucault, 1987, pp. 9-12), how are we to understand our relationship to the different forms of subject emerging within the context of truth games and power relations? As Foucault reminds us, "a political subject who goes and votes or speaks up in a meeting" does not have the same relationship to self as the subject who tries to fulfill desires in a sexual relationship. Because each relation to self takes on its own distinct form, we must dispense with any "a priori theory of the subject" in which the subject is conceived as "substance," and replace it with the hypothesis of "different forms of the subject," with each form of subject developing within a specific context of truth-games and practices of power (cf. Foucault, 1987, p. 10).
Because these "games" of truth and power provide some degree of liberty for everyone involved, each participant is drawn into the process of appropriating specific "practices of self". But these practices are not invented along the way; they are generally experienced as "ready made patterns" within our culture, patterns that sustain many of the "forms of relationship" we establish with ourselves and others in the course of trying to "direct the behavior" of the people we encounter in the shifting contexts of our life (cf. Foucault, 1987, p. 11).
Foucault is intrigued by the "changeable, reversible and unstable" character of relations that hold between one form of human subjectivity and another. Even in their most unbalanced form, relations of power sustain "the capacity of resistance" (p. 12). Won't this be just as true for power relations within the individual as it is for power relations between individuals? This insight opens a domain for reflective analysis in which many forms of truth can be seen as productions, not simply as the results of intellectual analysis or objects of scientific pursuit. Foucault sought "to discover how the human subject enter(s) into games of truth, whether they be games of truth which take on the form of science or which refer to a scientific model, or games of truth like those that can be found in institutions or practices of control" (p. 1). Couched in the context of the Greek and Roman focus on "care for the self," this project involves striving to master a few important truths, doctrines, basic principles, and rules of conduct, so we will know how to behave in a spontaneously appropriate manner in crucial situations.
Foucault captures this point in a metaphor drawn from Plutarch: "You must have learned principles so firmly that when your desires, your appetites or your fears awaken like barking dogs, the logos will speak with the voice of a master who silences the dogs with a single command." As Foucault points out, "you have there the idea of a logos who would operate in some way without your doing anything" (p. 6). Within this context of analysis, "being free" means "not being a slave to one's self and to one's appetites, which supposes that one establishes over one's self a certain relation of domination, of mastery, which [the Greeks] called arche -- power, authority" (p. 6)
Even leaving aside the discussion of how these practices have come to be usurped and transformed into social schemas of power by dominant institutions of the Scholastic and Enlightenment traditions, we can see where Foucault's analysis is leading: "caring for the self" demands a study of the impact produced by the operational schemes of domination (whether they be games of truth or practices of power); it also calls for practices that would help us identify "other rational possibilities," practices that would "teach people what they ignore about their own situation" when they live under the influence of their "conditions of work" and other forms of "exploitation" (p. 15). Recognizing that we lack a "complete and peremptory definition of the games of truth which would be allowed, to the exclusion of all others," Foucault would encourage us to strive for maximum Spielraum within a given situation. As he points out, there is always the possibility that you might discover a new move, change a rule, alter an expectation, or perhaps even change "the totality" of the game (p. 17).10
Philosophical counseling can play an important role in this process of discovery, production, and reconstruction. Enhanced awareness of the contingencies supporting a dominant practice or discourse of power can open up the field of play within relational games of truth. Greater attunement to the organizing structure of a specific discourse of power can open up new possibilities for self-development. But if we identify "relations of power" as the means by which individuals try to "conduct" and "determine" the behavior of others, the task, Foucault points out, is not to "dissolve" these games of power. The task is "to give one's self the rule of law, the techniques of management, and also the ethics, the ethos, the practice of self, which would allow these games of power to be played with a minimum of domination" (p. 18).
IV. Personal Growth and the Practices of Attunement
Philosophical analysis of narrative constructions can enhance our capacity to adjust the problematic patterns of self-production reflected in our relations with others. In the course of this analysis, philosophical counselors can draw their counselees into discussions regarding the contribution of the virtues to a flourishing mode of life. It would be crucial to focus on the tension between personal growth and collective well-being, which often pits the risk of stifling growth against the risk of losing control. These tensions are often magnified by the context of dependencies and insecurities reflecting the cultural plura lism of the day. This in turn will motivate questions concerning the credibility of social constraints on personal growth.
It should come as no surprise that the virtues have returned to the center of philosophical attention. The legitimacy of authority has lost its epistemological and metaphysical footing, and the concept of human nature has succumbed to paralogy.11 As a consequence, there appears to be wide-spread suspicion regarding the legitimacy of totalizing values and principles that would underwrite a master blueprint for human development. Many of these same individuals remain trapped in a vortex of practices and conventions designed to promote social accountability and dependability. For this reason, I think initially most people would define the virtues from within a framework that privileges the customary values and interests of dominant social groups. They would work from this context even if they see the virtues as contributing to the nurture, growth, and development of individuals.
My guess is that philosophical counseling will become increasingly popular with people who want to circumvent or diminish the influence of this framework without landing in moral or civil jeopardy. The success of this movement will be measured by the extent to which counselees learn to develop relevant practices of attunement. The desire to function autonomously is increasingly at odds with the evolving institutional structures of mass society. One way to cope with these pressures would be to promote a basis for collective interactions that would destabilize the production of regimes of power based on self-privileging authority and discourage institutional assimilations of the individual.
Philosophical perspective can help to establish the conceptual basis for this style of interaction. It can also sustain the confidence we need to move forward with alacrity and preparation in response to opportunities for personal growth when we find ourselves in circumstances harboring the seeds of change. For those who desire this kind of attunement, the value of philosophical interaction is indispensible. The insights provoked by philosophical questioning can serve to redeem a person who is struggling to break free of the conventional practices and expectations attaching to social roles and customary beliefs. In sharp contrast to the virtues of conformity, the virtues of attunement can facilitate human flourishing on a broad scale. Empowerment of individuals is not an isolating process. Nor is it an anti-social development. But it does break away from a long tradition of social training that emphasizes conformity to moral principle and the duties of social altruism. The question is whether philosophical insight can redeem the individual in a form that will sustain the structure of interpersonal relations necessary for human flourishing. Indeed, there is a prevalent suspicion that efforts to promote the empowerment of individuals will encourage the growth of self-centered individuals who see no value in promoting the capacity for growth and autonomous thinking in others. But philosophical attunement to the demands of paralogical pluralism reveals the importance of preserving a collective sense of stability as the basis for promoting aspirations conducive to personal growth. This balancing act lies at the heart of Nietzsche's call to embrace "the dangerous privilege of living experimentally."12 The pressure to strike a balance between our instinct for growth and our instinct for security and conformity will no doubt continue to dominate the human prospect. But clearly the scope of intellectual growth and intercultural contact over the past century has raised the stakes considerably and tipped the scales in favor of those who cultivate the practices of attunement. Philosophers should relish the opportunity to assist people in the cultivation of these practices. Perhaps in the process we can increase our cultural regard for achieving philosophical growth on a practical level.
1 Sartre offers an interesting analysis of the gambler's vertigo in the context of existential bad faith. Cf. Being and Nothingness (1945).
2 See Neimeyer (1995, 1998) and Held (1995, 1997) for discussions (one supportive, the other critical) of this orientation to psychotherapy. See Parry (1991), White & Epston (1990), and Anderson & Goolishian (1988) for interesting elaborations on the process of examining the narrative construal of meaning in a counselee's presentation of problematic events in their life. See Held (1995, 1997) for a critique of the antisystematic implications of this mind-set for psychotherapy. Straightforward discussions of the relevance of this approach for the philosophical counseling movement can be found in Lahav (1995), Schefczyk (1995) and Norman (1995).
3 See Held (1995) for a rather exhaustive and critical summary of the underlying assumptions of this movement in psychotherapy.
4 Cf. Ricur (1992), p. 118. Ricur's discussion of narrative identity is the principal focus of the fifth and sixth studies in this book ("Personal Identity and Narrative Identity" and "The Self and Narrative Identity").
5 This is Foucault's terminology from Power/Knowledge (1980, p. 144), quoted by Mahon (1992, p. 124).
6 Cf. Tuedio (1979a and 1979b), where this point is discussed in the context of Heidegger's Being and Time (1927) and Sartre's Being and Nothingness (1945).
7 For a concise discussion of these themes, see Foucault's interview with Franois Ewald entitled "Le souci de la verit," Magazine littraire 207 (May 1984). Cf. "Truth and Power" (1980), The Care of the Self (1984) and The Use of Pleasure (1985).
8 Ibid., p. 22. Passage translated by Karlis Racevskis (1987, p. 30).
9 "Du Pouvoir," L'Express (13 July, 1984, p. 56), Foucault interview with Pierre Boncenne. Passage translated by Karlis Racevskis (1987, p.31).
10 Compare Lyotard's extended discussion of this point in Just Gaming (1985). An excellent summary analysis of Lyotard's views in this regard can be found in Haber (1995).
11 Lyotard (1984 and 1985) and Haber (1995) have articulated the crisis of legitimation in terms of the rise of paralogical thinking.
12 Cf. Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human, Preface to the 2nd Edition (1886), section 4.