Human Rights and Philosophical Counseling


by Shlomit C. Schuster

We must be free or die, who speake the tongue
That Shakespeare spake; the faith and morals hold which
Milton held.

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
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.
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.

(c) Copyright S. C. Schuster, All rights reserved--August 1998

*This short statement has been first presented (except for some
minor changes) at the colloquium of the Fourth International
Conference for Philosophical Practice, Bensberg, Germany, 1998.

[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.
setstats 1