We must be free or die

WE MUST BE FREE OR DIE: HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE VIRTUE OF PHILOSOPHICAL COUNSELLORS

 

 

 

     My statement on the virtues of philosophical counsellors is on the Socratic virtue of choosing freedom above anything; about preferring death above being curtailed in speech and action.

That is the path of wisdom and virtue Socrates set forth for his sons and daughters, and it is a road to freedom indeed.  In his final speech Socrates asked the citizens of Athens to rebuke his offspring if they would not really care about the free investigation of thought and morality, and only would pretend to be philosophers.

     I consider it a major virtue of a philosophical counsellor to share in this Socratic ethos.  Unlike Socrates, philosophers find themselves today in the fortunate position of having international legal protection and support to practice their trade.

     The legal systems of European countries such as Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Italy, and others, made the rights and freedoms as worded in the European Convention applicable alongside their domestic law.  In the UK and the USA the rights and freedoms set forth in the European Convention seem to have found already full protection in domestic law.[1]

     In countries were there is no domestic legal protection of the rights and freedoms pertaining to the freedom of thought and conscience, there nevertheless exist the obligation to the International Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Civil and Political Rights Covenant.  In particular I refer here  to article 18 and 19 of the International Declaration of Human

Rights:  18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.[2]

     Philosophers and others who try to initiate or support restrictive legislation with the aim of constraining the practice of philosophy and its consulting office to a selected group of practitioners are actually confronting the International Declaration of Human Rights.  These philosophers, who out of over-protectiveness claim that the free practice of philosophy may cause harm, cannot provide evidence to their point.  And, have we not heard in the past similar claims concerning the other liberal arts.  Blinded through sincere over-protectiveness or maybe also out of fear for their own potential to freedom, some philosophical practitioners appear to be dreaming of returning to the conditions of the Dark Ages.  Or are their motives maybe to be understood as an egotistic desire for greater respectability and financial advance?  And what is wrong with that in our materialistic and somewhat nihilistic-relativistic oriented Postmodern society?

     Philosophy and its counsel is not like any other counselling or consulting profession.  Philosophy as the expression of the human spirit, the poetry of the intellect, cannot endure any restricting legislation.  As patriots died to defend the frontiers of their country, and saints died for the profession and practice of their faith, philosophers in similar ways sanctified the freedom of thought.  A philosopher who does not defend the freedom of thought and its practice seems to me lacking the most essential professional virtue. Nevertheless, J. H. Burns in his essay "The Rights of Man Since the Reformation" observes that with the exception of Theodore Beza, George Buchanan, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Tom Paine and a few more, thinkers seem to have contributed more to scrutinizing and criticizing the concepts of individual liberty than actually contributing to it.  Nonetheless, since the Reformation the state lost "any position from which it could claim to exert a single, undivided, centralized control over society and the individual."[3]  Luther's statement that one cannot go against conscience, and that persons need to examine and judge their beliefs for themselves became not only the basic doctrine of

Protestant individualism, but also that of universal conscientious objectors.[4]    

     My question to philosophers and philosophical practitioners is: Would it not be most desirable to be empowered with the Socratic ethos that demands to live or die practicing philosophy freely?  A practical and contemporary way to obtain such virtue is through a greater awareness of the price humanity and particular philosophers paid for obtaining the rights and freedoms as ensured by the International Declaration of Human Rights.  Next: a greater awareness to the abuse of these rights and the consequent human suffering that could not be prevented in situations where legislation concerning these freedoms were lacking.  I think it extremely helpful if philosophical counsellors would study the subject of human rights and would make a commitment to keep and promote them. 

     My concern for the free practice of philosophical counselling does not exclude a concern for standards for professional quality.  However, this last concern must be articulated in a search for an ethics for counsellors that does not contradict essential human rights.  As a practitioner community we may all contribute in finding humane and just ways to safeguard and care for our clientele and our profession.  A commitment to a common code of ethics, or a commitment to being a moral agent, and an on-going discourse concerning standards of ethical practice are all appropriate ways to creating and keeping high quality professional standards. 

 

 

 

[1] Humphrey Waldock, "The Legal Protection of Human Rights-- National and International," in Francis Vallat (ed.) An Introduction to the Study of Human Rights (London: Europa Publications, 1970), 90.   

 

[2] Francis Vallat (ed.) An Introduction to the Study of Human Rights, 121.

 

[3] J. H. Burns, "The Rights of Man since the Reformation: An Historical Survey," in Francis Vallat (ed.) An Introduction to the Study of Human Rights, 19.

 

[4] Roland H. Baiton, The Reformation and the Sixteenth Century (Boston: Beacon Press, 1956), 61.

 

                                                                                                                                                                          by Shlomit C. Schuster
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