Studying philosophy – business or pleasure?
Stephen Hawking has recently pronounced that philosophy is dead, and I am very much hoping that he is mistaken, given that I have recently embarked on a higher degree in the subject (There again, I studied the dead language of Latin up to ‘A’ Level and that was stimulating enough. And I understood at the time that Classics and Maths were the two subjects most sought after in the world of computing – having gone on to obtain a Maths degree I may have missed my calling). I was asked recently whether I was studying philosophy in relation to my work, or just for its own sake. And I realised that I wasn’t sure what the answer was.
Steve de Shazer, one of the leading originators of solution-focused brief therapy, frequently made mention of philosophers in his writings, Wittgenstein in particular, though there was also a healthy dollop of Derrida in Words Were Originally Magic. Understandably, a number of people in the field have followed de Shazer’s lead in this respect, and attempted to connect philosophical ideas with the solution-focused approach. My own position on this has been a little ambivalent. I have tended to think of philosophy as being added on to accounts of practice in a post hoc way, perhaps to lend an academic credibility to the enterprise, and thereby seen it as unnecessary. On occasions I have even worried that it might have a negative effect, if it were to appear to move this gloriously simple and pragmatic approach out of the reach of the non-academic. On the other hand, if philosophical work has been done that would truly help us to conceptualise what we do, to explain what we do to others, and – perhaps most importantly – to develop the solution-focused approach further, then it would make sense to make use of this. Solution-focused considerations aside, I find myself drawn to philosophy, and I know that studying helps me in being mentally alive, so I was fortunate that the changing circumstances that went with the founding of Guy Shennan Associates allowed me to embark on this period of study. One thing that has struck me straightaway is that philosophy is very much an activity: of setting out concepts and constructing arguments, and that what is called for includes clarity, conciseness and concrete examples. Which immediately suggests connections with solution-focused practice. I shall be on the alert for such connections, without wanting to force them, and anything of interest I will share here. For now, pace Stephen Hawking, philosophy seems very much alive!