An Introduction to Modern Philosophy for Counsellors and
Psychotherapists and Allied Professionals
Outline Draft Syllabus for the 10 Seminar Course
Seminar 1. Overview and Orientation to some Major Problems and Dilemmas of
Modern Philosophy since Descartes with their psychotherapeutic dimensions:
Psychotherapeutic praxis has inherited (sometimes unknowingly) philosophic
dilemmas and faultlines which go back at least to Descartes. The aim of this course is
to bring these to life, and in the process to give an overview of the development from
Descartes. The relevance to psychotherapeutics will be emphasized at every stage, but
particularly in respect of the 20th Century developments, which grounded the main
streams in psychotherapetics.
To achieve comprehensiveness without losing touch with key specific insights:
1. I shall focus on key central themes to weld the evolution together. This will be my
own perspective, yet open to dialogue with other ways of construing.
2. I shall try, where possible, to focus on concise texts which dramatise and epitomise
the evolution, making available a wider range of reading for anyone who wants it..
The first overview session will be an initial mapping and identification of those
themes (synoptised below) which evolve through the whole development.
The evolution as a whole has been marked by two simultaneous trends,which take
many forms. They run in parallel and are clearly in some sense mirror images. Yet
they are also profoundly in conflict with each other:
A. the emergent third-person scientific and mathematical articulation of the world
construed as a physical entity. This involves both the objectification of the world and
its gradual secularization.
B. the gradual development of the understanding of first person awareness,
consciousness, reflexivity, the temporal process of experience and intentionality, the
primacy of process and enactment. This is understood as irreducible, and arguably
non-convertible, to the terms of A.
The struggle between these two conceptions continues, their mutual alienation and
misunderstanding continues, and the search for a third position continues.
Further, this philosophical conceptualization, on the one hand, increasingly takes on
a psychotherapeutic character. And, on the other hand, it is clear that, in major ways,
psychotherapy is a development out of philosophy, and perhaps itself a branch of
philosophy, rather than science.
We shall see, then, how this evolves, through the following approximately three and a
half centuries (onward from Descartes’ Meditations, to the present: 1641 - 2009).
Seminar 2. From Rationalism to Empiricism: Descartes and the Rationalists to
Hume and Empiricism:
Enlightenment Philosophy emerging from Mediaevalism, the Scientific World View;
the unresolved tension between Subjective Experience and the Physical realm; the
beginnings of Positivism and proto-psychoanalytic therapeutics (Spinoza, Locke)
Key Themes: The Mind-Matter Division and the Experience vs Mathematics and
Seminar 3. Kant and Hegel and the foundations of Consciousness
Romanticism; the revaluation of Imagination and the constructive Self; and
Historically based philosophy; the Idealist recoil against emergent Positivism
Key Themes: Deep Constructivism – inclusive of both Subjective and Objective
Seminar 4. Nineteenth century Utilitarianism, the emergence of Positivism, and
the Two Cultures argument
Mill on Bentham and Coleridge, Dickens and the novelists, Carlyle, Emerson,
Thoreau, Newman and Arnold
Key Themes: The Rise of Anglo-American Positivism and the articulation of
alternatives to it
Seminar 5. The rise of Modern Socialistic Epistemologies
Marx, Mill, Comte, Feminism, the radical novel, and the rise of Modern Socialistic
Key Themes: The Rise of Societal, and Socialistic, understandings
Seminar 6. Modern Voluntaristic and Pessimistic and Life perspectives
Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Darwin, Wagner, William James, Bergson,
Freud and Jung, DH Lawrence, M Proust:
Key Themes: The Rise of Voluntarism-based (Will and Instinct - Life) views of
Roots of the Development of Psychoanalytic and analytic approaches, and the
emergence of developmental psychologies
Seminar 7. The emergence and evolution of modern linguistic philosophy from
positivism and commonsense to linguistic constructivism
Logical-Analytic and Positivist Philosophy, Russell, the early Wittgenstein, Ayer, the
Vienna Circle, and Quine; the later Wittgenstein, Austin, Strawson, Searle, Dennett;
onward to philosophies of consciousness and of cognitive science
Key Themes: The 20th century’s movement from mathematical-logical positivism, on
to a renewed intersubjectivism grounded on a commonsense, and linguistically
Background of the development of behavioural, cognitive, and programmatic
approaches to psychotherapeutics.
Seminar 8. Phenomenology and Existentialism and related visions
Husserl and Heidegger and their successors including Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and
Martin Buber. The unique cosmically existential vision of A.N. Whitehead.
Key Themes: Intentionality and Being-in-the-World, development of thoroughgoing
Intersubjectivist and Dialogical understandings.
Background of Developments of humanistic, existential, and integrative and
dialogical approaches to psychotherapeutics.
Seminar 9. Structuralism, and modern literary perspectives and literary
Including: Levi-Strauss, Riceour, the later Heidegger, TS Eliot, FR Leavis, Stanley
Cavell, Harold Bloom
Key Themes: The emergence of the novel as literary-philosophical paradigm, and of
anthropology as a paradigm.
In the Background of Systemic, hermeneutic and literary-anthropological approaches
Seminar 10. Post-Modernism, and its parallels, - and reactions against it
J Joyce, Levinas, Lacan, Foucault, RD Laing, Borges, Julian Jaynes, Robert Pirsig,
Derrida and other deconstructionists, Wittgenstein’s third phase
Key Themes: Radical Constructivism, world assimilated with text and context,
unanalysability of primary frameworks
Constructivist and contextualist approaches to psychotherapeutics, and relational and
symbolic mode analytic approaches