Emperor Hadrian faces death

Animula, vagula, blandula
Hospes comesque corporis
Quae nunc abibis in loca
Pallidula, rigida, nudula,
Nec, ut soles, dabis iocos.

P. Aelius Hadrianus Imp.

Gentle little soul, fluttering, flickering,
Guest and companion of my body,
Drifting, descending for parts
Dark, forbidding, and barren,
Linger still to play once more on these sunlit shores.

Translated by Neel Burton

Review of ‘The Talking Cure – Wittgenstein’s Therapeutic Method for Psychotherapy’ by John Heaton

John Heaton is, amongst others, a practising psychiatrist and psychotherapist, a regular lecturer on the Advanced Diploma in Existential Psychotherapy programme at Regent’s College, London, and a long- and some-time editor of the Journal for Existential Analysis.

This is Heaton’s third book with Wittgenstein in its title. In it, he applies the great philosopher’s insights to the psychotherapeutic process in all its forms. Heaton’s principle thesis is that many of our deepest and most intractable problems find their roots in linguistic confusions and limitations, and are resolved not by the search for causes inherent in the various pseudo-scientific doctrines and theories of the mind (such as those of Freud and Klein), but by careful attention to the use of language. This is particularly true in neurosis and psychosis in which language is used not so much to clarify and to communicate as to deceive and to obfuscate.

Like all the best things, the talking cure has its roots in ancient Greece with such luminaries as Socrates and Diogenes the Cynic (see my post on Diogenes here). Upon being asked to name the most beautiful of all things, Diogenes replied ‘parrhesia’ (free speech, full expression), and his intransigently courageous and sometimes delightfully shocking behaviour consistently accorded with this, his, truth. The self-understanding that underlies parrhesia is revealed not in reductionist propositions based on questionable pictures of the mind, but in the singular use of language – both by the expression and by its truthfulness. In short, it is revealed not in causes, but in reasons, with all their multiplicities and particularities.

For Wittgenstein as for Heaton, the talking cure is, like philosophy itself, a battle against the bewitchment of intelligence by means of language, for it is not knowledge but understanding that is needed to live an integrated, productive, and, dare I say it, happy, life. To date, this important, indeed, devastating, critique has had little or no impact on psychotherapeutic practices, and Heaton’s revolutionary book requires and deserves to be read not only by psychotherapists and psychiatrists but by every mental health professional. Although the book is not difficult to leaf through, she with little more than a scientific background may find it difficult to understand, accept, or come to terms with certain concepts. As Lichtenberg tells us, ‘A book is like a mirror: if an ape looks into it an apostle is hardly likely to look out … he who understands the wise is wise already.’

Neel Burton

NB: This review has also been published in the September issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.

The Oxford Course on Wine

James Flewellen (author of the Oxford Wine Blog) and I are pleased to announce a new summer school on the appreciation of fine wine, to be held at Exeter College, Oxford between the 11th and 17th of August 2012.

Amongst the highlights of the summer school are a focus session on champagne, our own ‘Judgement of Oxford’ in which you will blind taste some of the finest wines from around the world, and a friendly and informal blind tasting match to round-off the week and put your newly-acquired skills to the test.

You can find out more about the Oxford Course on Wine by visiting our brand new website (just click on the picture above) and/or by writing to us. For now we are keeping a mailing list of people who might be interested in the course, so thank you for letting us know if you would like to have your name added to this list.

Thank you also for forwarding the link to friends and colleagues. We have decided to cap off numbers at 18 to keep the group intimate and ensure that there is plenty of wine to go around, but if there is a lot of interest we may well look into doing a re-run of the course.

Cheers!

‘Aristotle’s Universe’ is finally out

Aristotle is without doubt one of the most influential people in history. His belief that philosophy should be grounded in observation laid the foundation for the scientific method. His moral philosophy exerted a profound influence on religious thinking and has recently returned to prominence with the resurgence of virtue ethics. His works are so thorough and wide-ranging as to constitute a quasi encyclopaedia of Greek knowledge. Amongst the most important are Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, Politics, On the Soul, Poetics, and the Organon, with which he created the field of logic and dominated it so thoroughly and for so long that even Kant thought that he had said the last word upon it. Following in the footsteps of ‘Plato’s Shadow’, this book aims to provide the student and general reader with a comprehensive overview of Aristotle’s thought. It includes an introduction to the life of Aristotle, and, for the first time, a précis of each of his works, including Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, Politics, Poetics, Rhetoric, and several others.

You can find it on Amazon (click on the picture) or in any good bookshop.

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