“Philosophical health will be in the 21st century what physical and psychological health were in the 20th century. At the beginning of the century, it is a luxury for the happy few. By the end of the century, it is a necessity for all.”
Luis de Miranda, talk at Unesco, Paris, 29 October 2019
Health is today one of the main concerns of humanity. In the last century, physical health and psychological health have been systematized into a societal imperative, an industry and in some cases a mode of control. In occidental societies, what was a luxury for the few in the beginning of the twentieth century (gymnastics, dietetics, psychotherapy, etc.) became a necessity for many by the end of the same century. States are financing and administrating programs of psychological and physical health, in the line of what Foucault called biopolitics, often favouring a mode of health grounded on a mechanical and dualistic view of the mind and body.
The notion of philosophical health possesses a long genealogy. In The Hermeneutics of the Subject, a seminar Foucault gave at the College de France in 1981-82, its prehistory is located in the Platonic and Socratic notion of epimeleia heautou, the care of the self. For Plato, the philosophical care of the self was a necessary condition not only for itself but in order to become a good governing actor of the city. The Alcibiades indicates that there was a correlation between the collective idea of justice and the individual idea of self-care. Moreover, such a care of the self was ultimately not individual, as it was a reconnection with the divine within our self, an idea often illustrated by Socrates’ daemon. The Ancient Greek notion of philosophical health articulated personal growth with a shared cosmology, cosmo-political.
In On the Concept of Creal: the Politico-Ethical Horizon of a Creative Absolute (2017), I have argued that such a cosmological bridge between the collective and the individual needs today to be reconstructed via a global social contract, in order to avoid the pitfalls of relativism, totalitarianism and Protagorean anthropocentrism. The problem with our dominant physical and psychological versions of health is that they often implicitly promote a solipsistic idea of the self, methodologically individualist, based on the idea of individual will and technological symbiosis or chemical scaffolding. In the end, such views might lead to a general adoption of implicit forms of transhumanism, a constant and anxious enhancement of humanity via automation and technology which generates guilt and self-hatred among those who cannot become crypto-cyborgs or well-performing individuals, even with the help of psychoactive drugs or digital prostheses. In a sort of vicious loop, such guilt is sometimes interpreted as “depression” or any other form of diagnosis validated by the medication industry via the global DSM protocol. Moreover, the current high-speed development of artificial intelligence is generating an artificially deterministic society in which existential choices will be more and more supervised by the state or multinational corporations. Once we will be statistically told by “machines who know better” which education, partner, profession and city to choose, the episteme of the modern subject, based on self-determination, might collapse, generating a wave of pathologies of free will, the premises of which are already observable today.
In recurring to a philosophical counselor, human beings are now looking anew for other forms of care of the self, more holistic, more intellectual and yet respectful of our embodiment, more natural, more philosophical. Informed by my societal and human practice as philosophical counselor at The Philosophical Parlour in Stockholm and by the genealogy of the notion of philosophical health, time is ripe to answer the question What is Philosophical Health? in a programmatic way. Since the fields of Philosophical Health Studies and Philosophical Counseling are yet to be unified and structured academically, much work needs to be done both theoretically and practically to define the contours of the concept and its critical viability.