History of Therapeutic Understanding of Philosophy from Spinoza to Cavell

Main content

Philosophy as therapy is an ancient idea. We will investigate what happened to this idea in modern times since 1600 up to the present in a series of studies. We start from Spinoza's Ethics and its therapy of emotions. From there we consider ideas of medicina mentis as they can be found in Tschirnhaus and other philosophers of the enlightenment. In this context we will compare the development of academic philosophy in relation to so called "popular" philosophy and the theories of education (like Zimmermann, Garve, and Knigge). One of our hypotheses is that the therapeutic idea was not academically accepted anymore after Spinoza. Both Cartesianism and Kantianism criticize it as methodologically naive.

We believe that the rise of psychotherapy at the end of the 19th century is a reaction to the tension between the public want for philosophical therapies and the academic refusal to work on them. The conflicts between psychoanalysis and philosophy mirror the old quarrels between academically established and non-academic philosophy. Parallel to psychotherapy therapeutical conceptions of philosophy become influential at the end of the 19th century: in the thought of Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Emerson, and Thoreau.

These philosophers are the starting-point for different therapeutical enterprises in contemporary thought. Here we will especially look at Stanley Cavell and his relation to the late Wittgenstein. Cavell, following Emerson and Thoreau, considers philosophy as a kind of (re-)education for grown-ups. This leads to special problems: In what sense is it possible to educate a grown-up person for life, what are the standards for this education and what are its needs?

The first two studies will cover the two ends of our temporal scale: Spinoza and Cavell. One study will investigate Spinoza's conception of subjectivity. Who is it who suffers from disturbing emotions in Spinoza? What is the result of the Spinozistic therapy for the individual? Will it be "freed" from its particular perspective onto the world? We believe not. Spinoza has been misunderstood as a philosopher who considers the therapy of the individual as dissolution of its individuality.

The second study will reconstruct Cavell's view that philosophy has lost its connection to ordinary life and has therefore become unable to be therapeutical. Austin and Wittgenstein have tried to find a philosophical way back to ordinary life. The study will investigate what a therapeutical philosophy of the ordinary in Cavell's sense could mean.

In the long run we hope to come to a new understanding of the relation between modern philosophy, psychotherapy and religion.

[This project is founded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (project no. 115930).]


Prof. Dr. Michael Hampe

Dr. Donata Schoeller

Susanne Wagner


  • U. Renz: Zwischen ontologischer Notwendigkeit und zufälliger Semantik. Zu Spinozas Theorie der menschlichen Affekte. In: Landweer, Hilge (Hrsg.): Gefühle - Struktur und Funktion (=Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie, Sonderband 14). Berlin 2007, S. 25-56.
  • M. Hampe: Achilles' Brain: Philosophical Notes on Trauma. In: History of the Human Sciences 20(3), 2007, S. 85-103.
  • U. Renz: Die Definition des menschlichen Geistes und die numerische Definition von Subjekten (2p11-2p13s). In: Hampe, Michael/Schnepf, Robert: Baruch de Spinoza. Ethik. Reihe Klassiker Auslegen. Berlin 2006, 101-121.
  • U. Renz: Der mos geometricus als Antirhetorik. Spinozas Gefühlsdarstellung vor dem Hintergrund seiner Gefühlstheorie. In: Paul Michel: Unmitte(i)lbarkeit. Gestaltungen und Lesbarkeit von Emotionen. Freiburg 2005, 333-349.
  • M. Hampe: Rationalität als Selbsttherapie. Einführung in Spinoza. In: Dominik Perler/Ansgar Beckermann (Hg.), Klassiker der Philosophie, Stuttgart 2004.
  • M. Hampe: Plurality of Sciences and the Unity of Reason. In: Marianne Leuzinger-Bohleber /Anna Ursula Dreher/Jorge Canestri (Hg.), Pluralism and Unity? Methods of Research in Psychoanalysis, London 2003, S. 45-62.
  • M. Hampe: Theorie, Erfahrung und Therapie. Anmerkungen zur philosophischen Beurteilung psychoanalytischer Prozesse. In: Psyche 3/2001, S. 328-335.
  • M. Hampe: Interne Komplexität und Theorie der Affekte bei Hobbes. In: S. Hübsch / D. Kaegi, Affekte. Philosophische Beiträge zur Theorie der Emotionen, Heidelberg 1998, S. 77-90.

Working papers in the context of philosophy as therapy are available from www.socrethics.com.

Page URL: http://www.phil.ethz.ch/en/research/closed-reasearch-projects/philosophyastherapy.html
Sun Jun 25 16:03:42 CEST 2017
© 2017 Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich