Society for Philosophy in Practice

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Critical Philosophy

Critical Philosophy is the exercise of critical thinking skills to clarify problems, issues and concepts. It can be conducted on a one-to-one basis, or with groups. It is the core service of philosophical consultancy. 

Foremost amongst the techniques in Critical Philosophy is the method of Socratic Dialogue, which is a co-operative attempt to search for answers to conceptual questions, such as "When do we learn?" and "What are the limits of tolerance?". The process begins with systematic reflection upon one concrete example drawn from the experience of one of the participants (by consensus of the group). This method was developed by German philosopher Leonard Nelson at the turn of the century. Socratic Dialogue is increasingly used with managers and professionals in businesses and organisations, especially in Germany and the Netherlands, but it has also been applied to education, healthcare and counselling.

Critical Philosophy also includes the rigorous analysis of dialectical argument. A philosophical consultant may, for instance, be asked to analyse a policy report for logical and semantic consistency, to identify informal fallacies, and to map out the cited or implicit premises entailed by the conclusion. This service can help to make the reports more cogent and persuasive, to indicate what further evidence needs to be adduced, or to inspire new directions of research or strategy. It can also help opposition speakers prepare critical counter-arguments for the purposes of debate.

There is a form of critical philosophy sometimes known as "philosophical therapy", which helps individuals to identify and correct erroneous thinking patterns. It must be emphasised that the term is a metaphor based on Wittgenstein's conception of philosophy as a type of 'therapy' for confused thinking. Critical philosophy is not a modality of therapeutic counselling. Some of the dialectical methods designed to shake people out of their lazy thinking habits and awaken their capacity for critical self-reflection may seem abrupt, confrontational and potentially embarrassing. The approach should not be used in personal situations where there is a risk of provoking or exacerbating emotional distress or despair.