Photo by Ellie Yannis

Philosophy as Therapy

The practice, and discipline, of philosophy is rooted in the desire for human flourishing and happiness. The idea of a practical and compassionate philosophy – “a philosophy that exists for the sake of human beings, in order to address their deepest needs, confront their most urgent perplexities, and bring them from misery to some greater measure of flourishing” is an idea that can be traced back to the origins of the ancient practice.


Martha Nussbaum, for example, notes that:

“The Hellenistic philosophical schools in Greece and Rome – Epicureans, Skeptics, and Stoics – all conceived of philosophy as a way of addressing the most painful problems of human life. They saw the philosopher as a compassionate physician whose arts could heal many pervasive types of human suffering.”

They, and philosophers practicing today, see philosophy not as a detached intellectual technique dedicated to the display of cleverness, but as an immersed and worldly art of grappling with human miseries and challenges.


What distinguishes philosophy from other contemporary forms of medicine is that we do not pathologize, or mark as “wrong,” human sufferings and challenges, but rather see them as an important part of life that can initiate learning and deeper understanding of one’s self and one’s world. As a therapy, its cures and remedies come from practices that are oriented to learning from, in, and in some instances, (metaphysically speaking) beyond life. The etymology of the word “therapy” references “change.” Thus philosophy is oriented towards wisdom and truth, so philosophy as therapy advocates a process of learning and changing into, or evolving into, your authentic, or truest, self.