On Marinoff and the Controversial Legislation

The Socratic Shrink

Published: March 21, 2004 New York Times Magazine

On a recent Manhattan morning, with a cold wind slashing off New York Harbor, Lou Marinoff took the granite steps of the federal courthouse two at a time -- brown eyes fierce, ivory white skin offsetting his dark beard, a Russian fur hat making him the very picture of the engaged intellectual. A tenured philosophy professor at City College of New York and the author of ''The Big Questions: How Philosophy Can Change Your Life'' and of the international best seller ''Plato, Not Prozac! Applying Eternal Wisdom to Everyday Problems,'' Marinoff is the world's most successful marketer of philosophical counseling. A controversial new talk therapy, philosophical counseling takes the premise that many of our problems stem from uncertainties about the meaning of life and from faulty logic. Passing through courthouse security, Marinoff placed his World Economic Forum tote bag in the metal detector -- swag from his annual gig in Davos, Switzerland, and filled that morning with documents for Marinoff's lawsuit against his own employer. Claiming a violation of his freedom of speech, the case stems from a C.C.N.Y. moratorium on Marinoff's campus counseling, instituted while administrators looked into liability questions. What if a philosopher with zero mental health training, they worry, fails to recognize a student's suicidal tendencies and prescribes Heidegger instead of psychiatric intervention? The moratorium is no longer officially in effect, but Marinoff is suing for lost income and professional opportunities, and C.C.N.Y. attorneys have also laid out insurance requirements that Marinoff finds utterly offensive: ''We have never, not ever, had a single case in which philosophical counseling caused psychological harm,'' he said in the courthouse elevator. ''These people just can't tell the difference between psychology and philosophy. That's how badly educated people are these days.''

The lawsuit is only one of several fronts in Marinoff's crusade to make philosophical counseling a mainstream profession, and to make himself its public face. His message, spoken in a defensive staccato, goes like this: Americans are tired of psychologists dwelling on our every painful feeling, we're sick of psychiatrists prescribing a new drug every time we feel confused and many of our most pressing problems aren't even emotional or chemical to begin with -- they're philosophical. To wit: You don't have to be clinically depressed or burdened by childhood guilt to want help with the timeless questions of the human condition -- the persistence of suffering and the inevitability of death, the need for a reliable ethics. ''Even sane, functional people need principles to live by,'' Marinoff told me, his voice lowering without slowing in the sun-flooded courtroom, ''so we are offering what Socrates called the examined life, the chance to sit with a philosopher and ask what you really believe and make sure it's working for you.''

Regardless of C.C.N.Y.'s unease about philosophical counseling, the public appears ready and eager for at least some form of philosophy in the daily diet. Witness Tom Morris, a former Notre Dame professor, charging the likes of I.B.M. and General Electric up to $30,000 an hour for his lecture on the ''7 C's of Success,'' distilled from Cicero and Spinoza, Montaigne and Aeschylus. Christopher Phillips, author of ''Six Questions of Socrates'' (just out from W. W. Norton), has been traveling the country engaging spontaneous crowds in Socratic dialogue about the nature of justice and the meaning of courage. And ''Philosophy Talk,'' a new San Francisco-based radio show modeled on NPR's ''Car Talk,'' offers two wisecracking Stanford professors -- and their many call-in guests -- tackling thorny matters like ''Is Lying Always Bad?'' and ''Would You Want to Live Forever?''

As for philosophical counseling, in which the philosopher serves as a kind of life coach/bodhisattva, the practice does have a toehold in Europe, Israel, South Africa, India and especially the U.K., where Alain de Botton's 2000 best seller, ''The Consolations of Philosophy,'' became a six-part television series. Marinoff wasn't the first to try philosophical counseling in the United States, but he's way ahead of the pack when it comes to building the institutions of legitimacy and seeking access to the river of money known as health-insurance reimbursement.

Like any entrepreneur cornering a new market, Marinoff has worked fast and furiously, sometimes bruising competitors along the way. In short order, he has established the American Philosophical Practitioners Association (A.P.P.A.), started a series of three-day counselor-certification weekends and begun setting up an academic journal. Before those pesky lawyers got involved, he was even performing research on human volunteers at C.C.N.Y. and arranging for a New York foundation to finance free philosophical counseling through the C.C.N.Y. campus wellness center.

Marinoff does have his fans - Vaughana Feary, a New Jersey-based practitioner and A.P.P.A. board member, says that Marinoff's books bring her a steady stream of would-be clients. But to many of the other philosophical counselors in this country -- and to quite a few overseas -- Marinoff may be the worst thing ever to happen to their fledgling field. Shlomit Schuster, an Israeli practitioner, calls ''Mr. Marinoff's overpopularizing presentation a worldwide embarrassment for the profession,'' and David O'Donaghue, a licensed psychologist with a doctoral background in philosophy, says that Marinoff ''is not a scholar, he's not a guy who should be leading a country'' in philosophical counseling. ''This is an infant field, and we're all asking questions.'' O'Donaghue says that he considers Marinoff's three-day certification efforts ''ludicrous'' and that ''the psychologists are laughing at us!'' Marinoff's strongest competition, in fact, comes from the American Society for Philosophy Counseling and Psychotherapy (A.S.P.C.P.), which is devoted to precisely the opposite tack -- seeking bridges to the established professions. According to Elliot D. Cohen, one of the society's executive directors, who has a Ph.D. in philosophy from Brown University and is a certified practitioner of rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), a common form of talk therapy, ''The biggest obstacle to philosophical counseling's growth in the U.S. is its acceptance by the established mental health fields, because we're the newest kid on the block. And what are people in those fields saying now? With Marinoff certifying people who have no clinical training? They're saying, 'Philosophers don't know anything about mental health, and they're going to serve as an endangerment to clients.'''

Marinoff considers his philosophical practice all the clinical training he needs, and could be on the verge of rendering the question moot. Ruben Diaz Jr., New York State assemblyman for the 85th District in the Southeast Bronx, said he believed so strongly that his constituents could use philosophical help that he is pursuing the only thing that can make it affordable: New York State certification of the profession, and the H.M.O. co-pays that certification makes possible. To that end, Diaz has written to the New York State commissioner of education, asking that certified philosophical counselors be recognized under a 2002 law that grants state licensing to marriage-and-family therapy and creative arts therapy. Most important, Diaz, who first heard about philosophical counseling through Marinoff, has suggested that the state recognize Marinoff's own A.P.P.A. as an official certificate-granting body.

Diaz explained that there are those who ''make bad decisions, based on economic pressures. We have single mothers, families broken, people getting sick. Philosophical counseling teaches people about moral and ethical choices. If this is available to our young people, it might better their lives.''

As in the early days of psychoanalysis, and the famous rift between Freud and Jung, philosophical counselors disagree on everything from the best name -- philosophical practice? public philosophy? -- to whether they should be trying to cure people, empower them or guide them to self-understanding. Thus far, only Cohen and Marinoff have branded easily comprehended techniques. Cohen's logic-based therapy builds on the work of his mentor Albert Ellis, who invented REBT. Citing the ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus, and the insight that it is not the events in our lives that cause us suffering but the way we interpret them, Ellis sees much of our unhappiness as based on irrational assumptions, like demanding perfection from yourself and others. Cohen teaches critical-thinking skills that help us identify those irrational assumptions and correct them.

Marinoff and other practitioners hold that we all have a philosophy of life, whether we know it or not, and that we can benefit from identifying that philosophy, making sure it helps us rather than hinders us -- defining success, say, in a way we might actually achieve it -- and then strengthening it through dialogue with the great thinkers. Where Marinoff departs from the others, and sets their teeth on edge, is in the way he packages the journey of philosophical self-improvement. In ''Plato, Not Prozac!'' for example, Marinoff outlines a five-step ''PEACE process'' that seems ready-made for daytime TV: identify the Problem, take stock of your Emotions, Analyze your options, Contemplate your entire situation and then -- voila! -- reach Equilibrium.

Citing privacy concerns, Marinoff declined to give contact information for any of his clients, but in ''Plato, Not Prozac!'' he includes a case study of ''Doug,'' a late-night-radio talk-show host. Doug sees his Problem as his inability to be happy without a woman to love and the impossibility of meeting a woman while he works the graveyard shift. Doug's Emotion is loneliness, and his Analysis of possible options turns up only two: leaving his job or being lonely forever. That's where Marinoff comes in: trying to free Doug from the mental trap he has built for himself, Marinoff encourages Contemplation of Eastern philosophy. Namely, the Taoist warning against craving things we've decided we cannot have, and the Buddha's reminder that what we experience in life is what we have previously willed. In short: stop obsessing on your need for love, stop thinking you'll never find it. Then will your life into the shape you'd like for the future.

Among serious academic philosophers -- even those who address the so-called human-condition questions -- there is an almost visceral revulsion at the very idea of philosophical counseling. Jonathan Lear, a psychoanalyst and philosophy professor at the University of Chicago, considers himself committed both to the therapeutic power of conversation and to the Socratic philosophical tradition of investigating life's pressing concerns. He is deeply skeptical, nevertheless, of any counseling approach that imagines that you can dwell purely in the realm of reason, ignoring hidden motive and unresolved feeling, ''That's a fantasy,'' Lear said by phone. ''And you don't have to be a Freudian to think so. One of the most looming problems for Plato about the human soul is that there's a powerful unconscious dimension.''

For Alva Noe of the University of California, Berkeley, the problem is much simpler: ''While there is every reason to think that philosophical method and rigor, when applied to life's problems, can lead to growth, emancipation, improvement, et cetera, philosophy is very, very hard. How many people really get a life turnaround from practicing kung fu or tai chi?''

Raised in Montreal, Marinoff followed a somewhat circuitous route to his role as philosophical counseling's American figurehead. In the 1960's, he was a middle linebacker- aka Animal -- on his high-school football team, and he lived on a kibbutz before spending the 1970's wandering North Africa and then playing electric guitar for the Dog Brothers, a hard-rock group. Married with a young son in the 1980's, Marinoff put much of his considerable energy into table hockey -- becoming the three-time Canadian Open champion. After philosophy doctoral work at University College London and post-doctoral research at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Marinoff helped organize the first international conference on philosophical counseling in 1994.

Marinoff landed his job at C.C.N.Y. later that year, applying soon after for approval to do counseling research on human subjects. In the meantime, he became active in what was then the only philosophical counseling group in the country, the A.S.P.C.P. The board, including its co-founder, Elliot Cohen, elected Marinoff president in 1996, and at first, the two worked in concert -- Cohen wrote a professional code of ethics, another board member established mentor and internship guidelines for professional certification and Marinoff talked C.C.N.Y. into contributing $5,000 for the Third International Conference on Philosophical Practice.

But it was at that conference in July 1997 that Marinoff announced that the A.S.P.C.P. was certifying counselors and that a test was already available. The response was decidedly mixed. Shlomit Schuster perceived a power grab by the A.S.P.C.P. board, granting themselves undue authority. O'Donaghue protested that certification was premature for such an embryonic field. Marinoff did not take this lying down. ''He just blasted us,'' O'Donaghue said. ''He let us know this was his baby.''

Within days of the conference's ending, Assemblyman Diaz called, as did literary agents wanting a book proposal. Five months later, at the December meeting of the A.S.P.C.P., the board voted Marinoff executive director and, according to Cohen, asked him to look into professional malpractice insurance and nonprofit status, in order to establish the A.S.P.C.P. as a legal certifying body. Marinoff agreed to do all this but, as he recalls it, he was already quietly talking to certain board members about incorporating an entirely different nonprofit society, one that he could run, as he put it recently, like ''a C.E.O. instead of an academic committee chair.'' Marinoff said he never mentioned this to the full A.S.P.C.P. board because it was a private matter.

Then in March 1998, to the surprise of Cohen and other board members, they received an e-mail message from Marinoff inviting them to become ''honorary members'' of his new organization, something called the American Philosophical Practitioners Association (A.P.P.A.).

Marinoff stepped down as executive director of the A.S.P.C.P. later that year, and the embryonic field of philosophical counseling suffered its first full-blown professional schism. ''I think the American practitioners all kind of fell apart after that,'' O'Donaghue told me. ''We got a lot of anger from Lou,'' he said, describing Marinoff's bullying. ''We wilted.'' Marinoff ''did the same thing the following year at the conference in Cologne. He was a keynote speaker, and he talked about the 'clowns' trying to practice philosophical counseling without even being trained, and he was speaking about many of the practitioners in the room. As if he was trained.''

O'Donaghue continued: ''He's done so much damage, and if he gets in trouble, which I think he will, the movement might fall. Psychoanalysis really got identified with Freud, but Freud was brilliant. Marinoff is just self-promoting. He's like the emperor without any clothes. He's built something up and said, 'If I build up an illusion, people will start believing in it, and then it will become real.'''

When Marinoff left the federal courtroom that morning in January, he headed off to tape an interview that he said was for a Hollywood producer pitching him to Fox Television. Marinoff has had extraordinary success since the break with the A.S.P.C.P. - ''Plato, Not Prozac!'' translated into more than 20 languages, his annual visit to Davos. Crossing Lower Manhattan, Marinoff walked and talked with extraordinary vigor about his coming talk at the East Asia Economic Summit in South Korea and about a three-day training session he'll give in Genoa, Italy, next month. Meanwhile, Assemblyman Diaz says he is optimistic about state licensing. The process won't fully unfold until next year, but the commissioner of education has asked Marinoff for documentation about the A.P.P.A. If it all works out (by no means a foregone conclusion), Marinoff said excitedly, ''certified philosophical practitioners -- C.P.C.'s, if you will -- become eligible for reimbursement by insurance companies. Immediately, we will be on a level playing field with the other helping professions.''

Though C.C.N.Y. attorneys give no indication of wanting to settle the lawsuit, Marinoff, in his relentless drive forward, insists that they're getting scared. ''I'm perfectly willing to drop the suit if they'll partner with me -- on setting up a graduate program and the scholarly journal and my research, and all the rest,'' Marinoff said. ''I am not a litigious person. I have only been doing what is in the interest of philosophers and the general public. It's a pioneering effort, a global thing, and the university should be proud to be the center of it.'' Describing his grand -- even grandiose -- plans for a philosophical-counseling empire fills Marinoff with a combative intensity. ''We are already training and certifying practitioners,'' he said, his voice gaining speed. ''We could have them delivering services in prisons and elder-care facilities and hospitals working alongside of doctors. We could have ethicists helping people make difficult end-of-life decisions. We could be rendering services to governments all over the world. We could basically make philosophy more popular than it's been since the days of the agora, in ancient Greece.''

Daniel Duane is the author of ''A Mouth Like Yours,'' a novel to be published next year by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Copyrights NYTimes.com Magazine


Controversial Legislation

The documents under this heading were all 
posted on the phil-counsel listserver, which
is part of the Free Lance Academy and owned
by Lance Fletcher. For all other documents
in these archives please contact:

The following letters were the results of
two newspaper articles which announced that
in New York State a Dr.Marinoff was
pushing a bill to make an end to the freedom
philosophers have there to practice philosophy.

The letters contain the contents and sections
of the bill, an account of Lance contacts
with New York Assembly men, and concerns
expressed over this legislation and the
deceptive manner in which Dr. Marinoff
aimed to achieve his goal.

For the final "realization" of this "fascist"
legislation see the very end of this page.




Date: Mon, 09 Mar 1998 14:50:32 -0500
Subject: bill to license philosophical practitioners

Joe Sharkey's article in Sunday's New York Times contained the
> The most notable success so far is a bill making its way
> through the New York State Assembly that would establish a
> board to license philosopher practitioners, and thus propel
> their campaign to qualify for insurance reimbursement.
> In New York, State
> Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr., a Bronx Democrat who has an
> interest in philosophy, is sponsoring the bill pushed by
> the philosophers to authorize state certification.
I contacted the office of Assemblyman Diaz in Albany (518-455-5514)
and they faxed me a copy of the bill. Below I have copied the cover
sheet and the first two sections of the bill and have summarized the
Since the copy of the bill that was faxed to me did not bear a bill
number, my guess is that this is a draft which has not yet cleared
the bill drafting office (in other words, the bill has probably not
yet been formally introduced).
If and when the bill is introduced, it will be referred to the
Committee on Higher Education, whose chairman is Edward C. Sullivan.
Comments on legislation before his committee should be addressed to:
Assemblyman Edward C. Sullivan
Room 717
Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248

Telephone: 518-455-5603

Assemblyman Diaz's address is:
Assemblyman Reuben Diaz, Jr.
Room 432
Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248

An act to amend the education Law, in relation to providing for
the licensing of philosophical practitioners.
Purpose of Bill:

This bill will provide individuals who wish to become
philosophical practitioners with a state certification attesting
that such person has acquired a certain level of education,
training and expertise.
Summary of specific provisions:

The bill would amend the Education Law by adding a new article
153-A Section 7650, Introduction. Section 7651, use of title
"philosophical practitioner." Section 7652, state board for
philosophical practice. Section 7653, requirements for a
professional license. Section 7654, limited permits. Section
7655, exempt persons.

Philosophical practice is a unique approach to solving human
problems. This practice denotes a cluster of interventions,
including individual client counseling, group facilitation, and
organizational consulting which applies rich varieties of
philosophical insights, systems and methods toward the
resolution of human problems and the amelioration of human
estates. The growing demand for philosophical practice is fueled
by a confluence of forces. This is dissatisfaction with social,
psychological and psychiatric modes of counseling. People need
help resolving moral dilemmas, in weathering existential crisis,
and in fulfilling personal quests for meaning and purpose. Most
philosophic practitioners hold Doctorates in Philosophy, and are
often trained in one or more styles of therapy.
7650. Introduction. This article applies to the use of the title
"philosophical practitioner. The general provisions for all
professions contained in article 130 of this title apply to this
7651. Use of title "philosophical practitioner". Only a person
licensed under this article shall be authorized to use the title
"philosophical practitioner" or to describe his services by use
of the words "philosophical practitioner", "philosophical
services", "practice of philosophy", "philosophical counseling",
"philosophical assistance" or "philosophical explorations" in
connection with his practice.
The next two paragraphs contain a close paraphrase of the bill text:
Section 7652 Provides that a State board for philosophical practice
shall be appointed by the board of regents on recommendation of the
commissioner for the purpose of assisting the board of regents and
the department on matters of professional licensing and professional
conduct; that this board shall be composed of not less than 11
philosophical practitioners licensed in New York State, together
with an executive secretary to the board who shall also be a
philosophical practitioner licensed in the state.
Section 7653 The requirements for a license include filing an
application, having received a doctoral degree in philosophy granted
on the basis of completion of a program of philosophical practice
registered with the department or the substantial equivalent
thereof; two years of supervised employment or engagement in
appropriate philosophical practice activities satisfactory to the
board and in accordance with the commissioner's regulations; passing
an examination satisfactory to the board and in accordance with the
commissioner's regulations; and payment of a variety of fees ($170
for initial examination and license, $85 for re-examination, $155
for each tri-ennial registration.)
The final section of the bill contains language designed to exempt
exempt from the licensing requirement anybody who is a salaried
employee of a governmental agency or an educational institution or
who is an intern or apprentice in an accredited course of study
leading to a certificate in philosophical practice.

Lance Fletcher



In my earlier message that quoted the relevant text of the bill to
license philosophical practitioners that is being offered in the New
York State Assembly, I mentioned that the chairman of the Higher
Education Committee, to which the bill will be referred upon being
introduced, is Assemblyman Edward Sullivan.
As it happens I used to live in Ed Sullivan's district, and I have
known him for about twenty years. We haven't always agreed. In fact
I ran against him in the Democratic Primary in 1986, so I wasn't
quite sure what sort of reception I would get when I called his
office. But I'm glad to say that time heals old wounds, and he
called me back quite promptly and we spoke for a few minutes
yesterday about this bill.
The bottom line is, he said to me, "Even if you were a young man,
you would not live long enough to see this bill become law."
He went on to say that he is generally opposed to any effort to
license what he referred to as "the talking therapies." He said,
"You have to understand that whenever we license something we are
saying that only certain people will be allowed to do it and,
therefore, the people who don't have the license will not be allowed
to do it, and I don't think the government has any business telling
people who is, and who is not, allowed to call themselves a
psychoanalyst, a psychotherapist or a philosophical practitioner."
Assemblyman Sullivan and his legislative staff person, with whom I
also spoke, indicated that they understood quite clearly that the
only real purpose behind this legislative proposal was the desire on
the part of some philosophical practitioners to receive third-party
insurance payments and that such a purpose was irrelevant to the
intent of the government's licensing power. We don't create license
requirements, they indicated, just so that certain groups of people
can collect third-party payments, although many groups request us to
do that. There has to be some strong showing of potential harm to
the public from unqualified practitioners.

I mentioned to Ed that, in the case of the present proposal, I have
never heard any of the advocates express serious concern about the
possibility that somebody might be harmed by consulting with an
"unqualified" philosopher. In addition, I said, the nature of
philosophy is that it often challenges established beliefs and
assumptions. For this reason there is a very long history of
philosophers being accused of causing harm, the best example being
that of Socrates. The problem is that in those cases the people
accused of causing harm were excellently qualified philosophers
authentically practicing philosophy, so to invite the government to
suppress the harm caused by philosophers will ultimately be taken by
some governmental agents somewhere as a license to persecute

It has to be something of an embarrassment to find that Ed Sullivan,
an old "working class" leftist, is more sensitive to considerations
of freedom of thought and speech than many academic philosophers
who, if they have not actually advocated this terrible legislation,
have been passive and silent in the face of its advocacy by others.



Shlomit writes:

> Congratulations with what seems a landslide victory for the freedom of
> thought
> and speech for philosophers (and the philosopher-practitioners) in New

Lance replies:

I strongly agree with what Shlomit says below about the need for
continued vigilance and active opposition to additional efforts to
enact licensing legislation. But I think it is inaccurate to call
what has occurred in New York "a landslide victory" for those of us
who oppose such legislation.
We didn't do anything to defeat this legislation. All I did was to
obtain an explicit confirmation that the Assembly leadership
continues its long-standing opposition to licensing proposals of
this kind. Fortunately, in this case it doesn't depend only on Ed
Sullivan. It was Mark Alan Siegel, Ed Sullivan's predecessor as
chairman of the Higher Ed. Committee, who, more than a dozen years
ago, when requested by a group of psychoanalysts to endorse a bill
to license psychoanalysts, told them that in his opinion, "Basically
what you are asking is for us to make the State Government serve as
_your_ Gestapo." (Those of you who were present at the conference in
New York last July may remember that I caused some irritation on the
dais when I quoted Assemblyman Siegel's words on that occasion.)
But, as Shlomit correctly points out, New York is only one state,
and it is likely that there are other states in which state
legislators may be less reluctant to license philosophical
In my opinion, the most important piece of information I obtained
as a result of my several telephone calls on this issue was not from
Assemblyman Sullivan, but from Assemblyman Diaz's legislative aide,
Paul, who is the one who actually drafted the bill, after
communicating with Louis Marinoff:
Assemblyman Diaz's aide told me that "the only reason" the
Assemblyman had agreed to sponsor this legislation was that they had
been told that this licensing proposal was "strongly supported by an
international movement." When I asked what evidence he had of this
support, Paul read to me from what he said was a document setting
forth the mission of Louis Marinoff's so-called American
Philosophical Practitioners Association, which stated that it was the
organization's intention to seek the enactment of legislation to
license philosophical practitioners. Included in this document, or
attached to it, was a list of the members of the APPA's "executive
advisory board" from which Paul read me the following names that I
recognized (there may have been others):
Gerd Achenbach
Dries Boele
Ida Jongsma
Jess Fleming
David Jopling
Anders Lindseth
Ora Gruengaard
After reading these names to me, Assemblyman Diaz's aide said that
he assumed that all of these people were in support of this
legislative program, since it is clearly mentioned in the mission
statement of the organization on whose advisory board they had
agreed to serve.
This is a very serious matter. Gerd Achenbach is generally regarded
as the father of the philosophical practice movement. Anders
Lindseth has served as president of the German association for
philosophical practice. Dries Boele and Ida Jongsma are leaders of
the Dutch association for philosophical practice. Ora is active in
philosophical practice in Israel, and David Jopling has lectured and
published on this subject. If it is true that all of these people
have endorsed the program of licensing philosophical practitioners,
then the claim that this program enjoys strong international support
would appear fairly plausible.
Therefore, it seems to me that the first priority, even before
writing letters to legislators, is to nail down the truth about
this. I think three members of that list are also members of the
phil-counsel list (David, Jess and Ora) -- so we can address you
directly: Please tell us if you have indeed endorsed this
legislative program. With regard to the remaining four, I request
anyone here who is in communication with them to contact them
immediately and find out where they stand.
The lesson of this experience is that we need to start by getting
our own house in order. There is not much danger that licensing
legislation will be enacted if the community of philosophers
interested in philosophical practice opposes it. But if some of the
most prominent names in this community have already signed on in
support of licensing, then we have some difficult talking to do
amongst ourselves.
> Nevertheless, I think it is good to give Lance all the backup possible.
> If you find limiting practicing philosophy to a particular Ph.D. elite,
> also a
> threat to everybody's right to think about and discuss whatever matters
> (isn't
> that what PP is all about), than write to these assembly men involved.
> Now what about the other states? Who knows what bills are being in progress
> all around the USA. According to the article it was a matter to be taken
> from state to state.
> Under these conditions it might a good idea to form an action front (it
> might be
> best if Lance could coordinate this), for example by the name "Philosophers
> International concerned with the Freedom of Thought and Speech" (PIFTS).
> An organized action as such would cost the executors time and money and
> we would like to contribute to these noble efforts.
> Instead of waiting for a next newspaper article telling us about
> the upcoming bill on the practice of philosophy in Ohio, for example, we
> just can
> inform all the educational assembly men around the USA about what seem to
> the un-American ethics of such a bill.
> Looking forward to hear what you all think about this.
> Shlomit Schuster.


Date: Wed, 01 Apr 1998 20:29:20 -0500
Subject: certification and/or licensing of "philosophical counseling"

Dear Fellow List Members:

I'm sorry that it has taken me over a month to get around to answering
Lance's request for information regarding whether or not I (as an
"Advisor" to the "American Philosophical Practitioners Association")
endorse certification and/or licensing of "philosophical counseling"
("philosophical practice," "philosophical consulting"). A bout with the
flu, various academic commitments, as well as a desire to think
carefully about this important issue, are the reasons for my delay.

In trying to decide if certification and/or licensing is a good thing, I
have tried to put myself in the position of a person in trouble who
might consider consulting a philosopher, rather than a psychotherapist,
priest, etc. It seems to me that the average person facing a life
problem (or, simply seeking life-enrichment) would be reassured to know
that someone calling himself/herself a "philosophical counselor" has
some kind of credentials or certification by a professional organization
which will vouch for their competence. As Susan Robbins wrote in a
letter published in an ASPCP Newsletter, it helps with "philosophical
credibility." Indeed, it is very difficult to decide what kind of
training or knowledge would qualify someone to call himself/herself a
"philosophical counselor," and it is certainly a touchy question as to
who, or which organization(s), should be entrusted with the right and
responsibility to oversee such certification and/or licensing. No doubt
there are many individuals who are wise and could act as helpful
"philosophical counselors," just as there are many Ph.D.s in philosophy
who are foolish and unwise, despite their academic credentials.
However, do we really want to allow anyone who wishes to do so, to
advertise himself/herself as a "philosophical counselor" without any
kind of professional watchdog organization (whether it be the ASPCP, the
APPA, or whatever) guarding the reputation of this "new" profession, not
to mention the well-being of prospective clients?
Upon invitation by Louis Marinoff on behalf of the newly formed APPA to
join their "International Advisory Board," I immediately offered my
first advice -- namely, that while I still think that in the long run
certification and/or licensing might be a good thing for the profession
of "philosophical counseling," I think more discussion on all the
problems/issues surrounding the topic needs to be conducted before going
ahead with the certification/licensing process. And, in fact, I was not
consulted or informed about the proposed legislation in the New York
legislature before it was initiated. If such certification/licensing
would help us gain recognition/trust/respect from the public, and
protect prospective clients in any way, then I am for it. If (as I
sincerely doubt), such certification/licensing would limit our freedom
of thought/speech, then of course I would oppose it. There are many
legal questions which I would like clarified before definitely
supporting or opposing it -- for example, the apparent problem that some
states prohibit the use of the term "counselor" unless one is somehow
certified by a professional organization.
Finally, let me add that one of the concerns I have been pondering since
the Vancouver meeting four years ago is whether or not a "philosophical
counselor" should have some kind of training in (or knowledge of)
psychopathology -- obviously, it would be unfortunate if a
"philosophical counselor" counseled someone without recognizing the
signs of suicidal depression or border-line personality disorder, and
continued to philosophize with the client, instead of referring the
client to a psychotherapist/psychiatrist competent to deal with such
problems. Not all problems are philosophical, nor are all problems
psychological; some are one, some are both, some are neither. Of
course, someone could also argue that psychotherapists might ought to
have a certain amount of training in philosophy, in order to be able to
spot philosophical confusion and refer the client in question to a
"philosophical counselor." But, I think the truth is that
"philosophical confusion" is much less likely to end in tragedy, than
various forms of mental illness that a philosophical counselor might
encounter and not recognize. I'm sure there are many angles to this
whole issue which I have overlooked, and in some respects I am
misinformed or ill-informed. I look forward to further discussion on
this list, at conferences, and so forth, with all who share the belief
that philosophy can serve the common man in many ways.
Jess Fleming, Ph.D.
Assoc. Prof.
Tamkang University
Tamsui, Taipei County


Hello Jess,

I appreciate your frank answer and hope that others will now follow your
It is still a question to me who the hundreds of members of the APPA and its
advisory board can be. And how does the APPA relate to the ASPCP (from
Kenneth Cust's note I still assume that there is no relationship between
the two).
I will not repeat again here my arguments concerning the
psychopathologization madness of our society,
I only want to state that not recognizing these so-called mental illnesses
would probably be of much greater help to the afflicted ones than
treating them as having "xwz."
But led each counsel according to his/her conscience and personal ethics.

What I find worrying are your next statements:
> However, do we really want to allow anyone who wishes to do so, to
> advertise himself/herself as a "philosophical counselor" without any
> kind of professional watchdog organization (whether it be the ASPCP, the
> APPA, or whatever) guarding the reputation of this "new" profession, not
> to mention the well-being of prospective clients?

There are other, better ways of watching over your property (if it is
yours at all--why should to counsel wisdom, or talking philosophy be the
property of Ph.D's, M.A.'s or any other degree--does philosophy belong to
any particular person more than an other--are philosophers kings back in
rule? ) than having a dog doing the job.
In the arts people can
buy kitsch if they like and that also seems to fill a certain need for
some, it can be fashionable as well.
I am proud that the reputation of philosophers is not much better than
that of artists and I think we better leave it like that.
Just as in the arts philosophical organizations could give there approval of
certain kind of
practices more than of others, but without forbidding or discouraging other
practices. Often watch
dog organizations are more concerned with the wrong standards of those
that might take "their" property than with anything else.
The liberal arts have also been accused, and still are so now and than, of
doing harm to society and individuals, but
artists have been wise enough to understand that by "not doing their kind of
harm" they
can put their creations in the garbage bin.
Likewise thinking as a creative
process cannot be stifled by the teachers, supervisors, and guardians of
Dialogical creative thinking processes as happening in pc are as dangerous
for a persons well-being as
reading any good or bad book available from your next door book shop or
If (as I
> sincerely doubt), such certification/licensing would limit our freedom
> of thought/speech, then of course I would oppose it.
Here I would like to ask you who do you mean when you say our? If our does
mean your own (and own colleagues and the APPA club etc.) than of
course "our" freedom will be extended while the freedom of some others
will be destroyed. That is the meaning of being a watch dog, you get a
good hold of the thief in his legs, arms or face and in some case you might
kill as well.
What a relieve: no more kitsch philosophical counseling, no more harming
wisdom talks, no more dangerous philosophical practice cafes on UFOs, and
what else weird practices of philosophy.
It is just a small offer taken from the freedom of ALL, but at least the
reputation of philosophical practitioners seems to be saved.
You may like to check any legal dictionary on the meaning of a license.
It limits the freedom of some people for sure.

Shlomit Schuster


(From the Bill for Establishing
Religious Freedom in Virginia)

"Well aware that Almighty God
hath created the mind free,
and manifested his supreme will
that free it shall remain by making
it altogether insusceptible of
restrains; that all attempts to
influence it by temporal punishments,
or burthens, or by civil
incapacitations, tend only to beget
habits of hypocrisy and meanness,
and are a departure from the plan
of the holy author of religion,
who being lord both of body and mind,
yet chose not to propagate it by
coercion on either, as was in his
Almighty power to do, but to extend
it by its influence on reason alone."


The final realization of the bill on
philosophical counseling as reported by
a reliable source:

Diaz Bill Redrafted from Licensure to Certification

(Albany, NY) Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr., whose 1998 Bill A-9841 to license
philosophical practitioners fomented major media coverage and much
professional discussion, has redrafted the Bill from a Licensure to a
Certification Statute.

The Assemblyman initially proposed legislative recognition of philosophical
counselors in a form (i.e. licensure of title) that would put them on an
equal footing with psychological counselors in New York State. Under current
title law, only licensed psychologists can call themselves "psychological
counselors" or "counseling psychologists." At the same time, the terms
"psychotherapist" and "psychoanalyst" are completely unprotected, as is the
term "philosophical counselor." Given the growing popularity and viability
of philosophical counseling, the Assemblyman and his supporters want to
recognize the profession legislatively and, by so doing, make its service
more accessible to the public.

The original Diaz Bill served a very worthwhile purpose, in bringing
deserved attention to the reputability and professionalism of philosophical
counselors, particularly those who are APPA-Certified. News of the Diaz Bill
broke first in The New York Times, in the Week in Review section (March
1998), in a strong advocacy piece by Joe Sharkey, entitled "I Bill Therefore
I Am." That piece, among others, is archived on our website. (For you
conspiracy theorists: Joe Sharkey is not related to the APPA�s Paul
Sharkey.) The Times piece spurred public awareness across America, and
shortly thereafter in international circles as well. It was also the first
piece to announce the formation of the APPA.

There followed a protracted debate among philosophical counselors
themselves, which questioned the desirability of licensure. Some
philosophers argued that psychologists should never have been licensed in
the first place, and that philosophers should not seek to emulate that
error. Other philosophers argued that legislative recognition is desirable,
but that licensure is too strong a measure, and is possibly qualify for a
license-hurled charges of "fascism," "tyrrany," and the like at those
responsible for this most democratic of initiatives, reported in full public
view and carried forward by the epitome of due political process.

The original Diaz Bill also served a very useful purpose in introducing
leading practitioners in New York State to key legislators such as Ed
Sullivan, who Chairs the Higher Education Committee, through which the Bill
must pass on its way to debate in the Assembly. Assemblyman Sullivan was
forthright in his very first meeting with philosophical practitioners: he
said that while a Licensure Bill would never get past the Higher Education
Committee as long as he chaired it, a Certification Bill might stand a fair

In sponsoring Licensure, Assemblyman Diaz set the legislative bar to maximum
height at the outset. One must admire his panache - or chutzpa. His
political team, as well as leading practitioners with whom they consulted,
were also aware that Licensure was an aggressive opening gambit, which if
declined in Albany could always lead to a fallback position on
Certification. This, in effect, is what has just transpired. The
Certification Bill is also a piece of legislation with which most
philosophers opposed to Licensure can happily live.

The Diaz Certification Bill puts philosophical practitioners on a parallel
footing with Certified Public Accountants. In New York, and in many if not
most other states, anyone may call himself a "Public Accountant" (PA). But
only one who possesses adequate professional expertise and passes State
Board examinations may call himself a "Certified Public Accountant" (CPA).
If your PA claims to be as knowledgable and experienced as a CPA, then he
begs the question: "Why not become Certified?"

Certification of philosophical practitioners is a quintessentially American,
economically laissez-faire statute, because anyone remains free to call
herself a "Philosophical Counselor" (PC) practice as such. At the same time,
by stipulating that only a demonstrably qualified and reputable person may
call herself a "Certified Philosophical Counselor" (CPC), it provides an
explicit remedy for excesses of laissez-faire economics. While caveat emptor
applies to every good sold and every service rendered in America, it applies
more to some than to others.

Paul Del Duca, Assemblyman Diaz�s political Chief-of-Staff, recently said of
the Certification Bill: "We are sure that we�re doing the right thing." Lou
Marinoff replied "One can do no better thing than the right thing."

As a 501(c)(3) educational corporation, the APPA must remain apolitical. It
may neither support nor oppose any legislation, and it may neither endorse
nor denounce any political candidate. However, as private citizens or
recognized professionals, anyone may support the Diaz Bill to certify
philosophical practitioners. You will soon be contacted privately in this

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