The book, Plato, Not Prozac!: Applying Eternal Wisdom to Everyday Problems, by Lou Marinoff, is one part sales pitch, and one part advice about how to live a life in accordance with the author’s personal values. Marinoff begins the book by arguing that problems in living are better solved by thinking philosophically rather than thinking medically. Rather than numbing ourselves with medication, or diagnosing oneself as mentally ill, Marinoff says we would be better off engaging in philosophical dialogue with another person.
A Professional Advice Giver
I liked Marinoff’s title much more than I liked actually reading his book! It would be more accurate to entitle this book, Lou Marinoff’s Guide to Living. He seems to have an insatiable desire to give advice to others about how they should live their lives. Marinoff has apparently read most of the great philosophers and has an affinity towards Eastern thought, especially Buddhism and the I Ching. But, Marinoff philosophical practice is merely advice giving based on the philosophy that makes sense to Marinoff. It is this application of his philosophical practice that I take issue with.
I view philosophical practice as a method of inquiry. Marinoff is too quick to give advice. The book has innumerable case histories in which Marinoff offers his sage wisdom to people who seek his counsel. Rather than seeking to understand the client, he jumps to offer his wise advice. Instead of asking questions about a persons life and circumstances, he cherry picks various philosopher’s ideas to which he can impose on his clients.
As a philosophical practitioner, Marinoff would be better off listening and understanding what his client’s values are. Only then would it make sense to offer any advice, or better yet, to ask the client about their opinion. It seems that Marinoff wants his clients to understand Marinoff, and the values he espouses. Marinoff’s approach is unique to himself, but it is not uniquely philosophical.
Marinoff seems to think that talking and listening is a unique service. For example, when talking about the difference between philosophical counseling and psychotherapy, he says: “But now there’s another option for people unsatisfied by or opposed to psychological or psychiatric therapy: philosophical counseling.” He presents philosophical practice as if it is a new third option for people dealing with difficulties in life. In fact, however, there are one million and one ways to deal with problems in life, and there are plenty of people who will talk with you about your problems. For example, priests, pastors, educators, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends, co-workers, in short – the whole human race is taking and listening and trying to change other people’s minds. What is rare and unique is when a person seeks to listen and understand another person, without attempting to change their mind; unless they want it changed. We are often so terrified and mystified by other people’s view of the world, that we rush to impose our own.
Philosophical Contemplation May Not Make You Happy
Another criticism I have of this book is that Marinoff seems to think that philosophical contemplation is about “getting good results” and obtaining “peace of mind”. He says: “You’d find this true peace of mind through contemplation, not medication…Life is stressful and complicated, but you don’t have to be distressed and confused.” Philosophical contemplation, to my mind, is nothing of the sort. It should probe your values, explore what is important to you. This sort of inquiry is not designed to make one happy. As Socrates said, “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied”. Philosophical contemplation is not designed to make one happy.
Marinoff seems to think that philosophy will always lead to peaceful tranquility. Like all good psychological salesmen, Marinoff has even invented an acronym for the type of “therapy” he prescribes. I won’t go into detail, but it is called the PEACE process. He says: “This approach gets good results, is easy to follow, and also illustrates what sets philosophical counseling apart from other forms of talk therapy.” Through the “PEACE” process, Marinoff fits his client’s into a Procrustean bed. He stretches those who are too short to fit and chops off the limbs of those who are too long. One must ask, what are good results? For whom does it benefit? The client or the practitioner? One cannot say that one type of process for dealing with problems of living is good for all. Sometimes problems are actually self-chosen solutions that we have yet to acknowledge as such. As Thomas Szasz said: “Every problem is a solution, every solution is a problem”. One cannot say that the PEACE process “works”, one can only say it works for oneself and his or her life. Moreover, philosophy should not be concerned with the results alone, but rather how one arrives at a result.
The first part of the book is about how psychology and psychiatry have gone astray. They have medicalized problems in living. After Marinoff tells us this, he then explains that philosophical practitioners should be paid for by insurance, prescribed by a medical doctor, just like a psychotherapist! On the one hand, for Marinoff, problems in living have been over-medicalized, and on the other, they must be medicalized and paid for by insurance! This can only benefit his profession. If a philosophical practitioner cannot make it in the free market, why should we medicalize it and force insurance to pay? The old proverb says: People value what they pay for, and pay for what they value. And as George Bernard Shaw pointed out in, A Doctor’s Dilemma, “every profession is a conspiracy against the public”.
Case Histories aka Gossip
The case histories in this book give us a glimpse into how Marinoff actually practices. At the outset, I was surprised that he goes into detail about his client’s problems. Who in their right mind would ever hire him again after he reveals the details of a private conversation? I wonder, did his clients know that this would occur? Did they give their consent? Was this part of the contract he made when he began working with them? The case histories show that Marinoff is more interested in imposing his views, than understanding his client’s problems. In many cases, he doesn’t even attempt to understand his clients underlying values. He takes for granted the ideas of great philosophers and seems to think that a person can simply apply the ideas to his or her life without first inquiring about the client’s own beliefs and values. He also engages in some peculiar practices that do not seem to be philosophical in the least. For example, he tells us how to use the I Ching. After throwing some coins, you turn to a particular page in the I Ching and try to make sense how the words relate to your life. This is a philosophical practice?
I could not wait to finish this book. After about halfway, I had had enough of Marinoff’s trite advice giving, but thought that if I was to write an honest review, I should finish it. Marinoff’s approach may work well for you or someone you know, but I do not like his approach. A more decent, helpful, and philosophical approach would be to seek to understand the client’s values, the meaning of their problems in the context of their life, and to facilitate independent autonomous thinking and living. Marinoff chooses the opposite. He forces his views, or the views of his favorite philosophers onto his clients and asks his clients to accept these views for their life. Given the popularity of religion, psychotherapy, and gurus, many people seem to like this approach, I do not.