The new image of the person (by Peter Koestenbam)


The new image of the person‘, written by Peter Koestenbam, is the first book (1978) about clinical philosophy and ‘set out the essential contributions of philosophy to counseling’ [Wikipedia, Philosophical counseling].

It’s a 500 pages book for ‘those who wish to practice clinical philosophy’ [P. Koestenbam, The new image of the person, Preface].

Here I’m going to write down some notes about the introduction.

– Philosophy deepens therapy, it doesn’t replace it.

– Each psychological cause is a symptom (metaphor) for a deeper philosophical condition, the fact that one doesn’t take responsability for asking the basic philosophical questions: Who am I? What is my meaning? What is intimacy?

– The four relevant factors in this approach are: freedom, self-understanding, meaning, love.

– The most relevant philosophic positions to psychology are Phenomenology and Existentialism.


It’s the first (of three) expressions that illustrate the relationship between Philosophy and Psychology.

Constitution: from the raw material of being is carved out the phenomenon of individuality and the concept of an ego.

It is the central issue both in theory and in practice of psychotherapy.

Deconstitution: by eliminating or putting out of action the assumptions implicit in the experience of being an isolated ego, the experience of surrender to the world emerges, and with it arises the sense of oneness with the universe.

This point provides the sense of peace and eternity that may be the answer to suffering and anxiety about death. Security which can result from deconstitution of the individual is a second central issue in therapy.


It’s the second expression to define the Philosophy – Psychology relationship.

It refers to the philosophical anthropology or theory of man that emerges when we interpret the phenomenon of being human as an act which gathers in meaning.


It’s the third expression to define the Philosophy – Psychology relationship.

It refers to clinical use of the phenomenological model of being and existential personality theory. It makes diagnostic suggestions.

Each person is alike in her essential philosophical structure. But the pictures in term of which each person feels and thinks of her life are different.

–> The truly creative therapist will invent a distinct psychology for each of his patients.

– METAPHOR /symbol, myth, symptom)

The Literal truth about being and about persons is expressed in Philosophy as the phenomenological model of being.

When we use the body and its behavior as a symbol for philosophic truth we get the important and useful mythology of Psychology.

When we use the spirit as root-symbol we get Religion and theology.

Psychology and Religion can serve equally well to manage in metaphoric form the basic questions of Philosophy.

From the point of view of clinical philosophy the sense of worth derives ultimately from experiencing one’s ontological foundation, a ground which is always there but is not always perceived. This is a universal fact of existence, a philosophic discovery available to everyone at all times. Parental love does not produce security, it helps discovering it.

–> Security is not a psychological feeling but a philosophical fact. A person in secure, grounded, and at home by virtue of his nature, because of his relationship to his consciousness and to the universe. Every person is worthy, safe and secure due to his or her nature and not by virtue of the idiosyncrasies of a particular childhood or environment.

If we go one level deeper then psychology permit, we discover a foundation, a home and answers at the core of every human being. This is where philosophic therapy must reach.

–> Psychological explanations of human distress, especially when reference is made to its origin in early childhood, have an air of fatalism about them. It is thought that damage done in early life may well be irreversible. Without denying the power of these psychological insights, we must nevertheless also integrate into our thinking the fact that we are at this very moment free to discover our philosophic nature (which means we have access to our foundations) and free, on the basis of this security, to reconstruct our lives.

The philosophic facts about a person’s essential human nature can be taught at any time. The philosophy of personality is self-determining rather then fatalistic.


First level (base): The philosophic analysis of the human condition represents the most literal statement possible.

Second level: The management of these underlying philosophical realities is often relegated to metaphor. Spirit/Religion; Nature/Art and literature; Body/Psychoterapy.

Third level: less intensive activity.

Fourth level (point): most shallows of the healing arts, self-help books.

Philosophical background Part 1


The focus is to establish the theoretical foundations for humanistic psychology and existentialism.

The fields of Phenomenology

1. Phenomenology as method

2. Descriptive, empirical phenomenology which has two subdivisions: cosmology and anthropology (when phenomenology is used to describe the human condition), also called existentialism or existential personality theory.

3. Transcendental phenomenology, or phenomenological ontology: phenomenology as a description of pure consciousness.

Scientific character of phenomenology

Phenomenology allows us to be both scientific and subjective at the same time.

– Scientific fact: precise fact

– Phenomenological fact: fringe fact

Phenomenology makes possible a scientific approach to the subjective study of the person.

The meaning of the scientific character of phenomenology can be compressed in two propositions:

– descriptions that are poetic and intuitive, introspective and metaphoric, are of the same logical form as traditional scientific descriptions and mesurements

– to observe our acts of observation or our inner consciousness is not different from observing distant galaxies

Three types of facts

A: scientific data

Are the experiences of structure, assimilated and managed by the left part of the brain. Make the world appear discrete.

B: poetic data

Are the experiences of process, make the world appear continuous, are processed by the left hemisphere of the brain. Are also objects, but amorphous, not limited.

C: consciousness itself

Consists of transcendental data, not objects but pure subjectivity Are revealed by performing the transcendental phenomenological reduction and focusing attention on the act of focusing itself. Unique. There is only one consciousness and therefore there is only one transcendental datum It is either described accurately or not, there is no room for inductive procedures to cast doubt on the integrity of other and similar data.

Phenomenology as method

How to proceed.


All knowledge begins with first-person experience. The idea of objectivity itself is an invention of subjectivity. Phenomenology is the fearless development of this idea.


Description of that first-person experience, to catalog the data.


The description of the first-person experience must be presuppositionless. We don’t eliminate assumptions but we become aware of them.

An example of assumption denied by phenomenology is the cartesian dualism mind\body.


It’s the applying the presuppositionless description of first-person experience to the activity of knowledge itself.

What does our phenomenological description tell us about the structure of knowledge?

– Bracket, or to thematize: is to take a phenomenon out of the stream of experience and examine it in isolation.

– Reduction: to reflect on experience rather than to participate in it. Stepping back out of involvement.

The act of reduction introduces abstract thought into human experience.

Additional terminology

Referential thought

Is consciousness directed outward, referring to objects in the sense in which a word refers to its meaning.

Reflexive thinking

Is consciousness turned back upon itself. It’s self-referential, it is an act of self-consciousness. We can produce it at will, it’s a permanent possibility of human nature.

The capacity of reflexive thinking is the key that unlocks the door to transcendental phenomenology.

Transcendental Phenomenology

Exploration of the structure of pure consciousness as that consciousness is given to us in the here-and-now.

–> When the method of phenomenology is used to describe our consciousness it becomes transcendental phenomenology.


Is the tradition that holds all knowledge is derived from experience, and denies the existence of a priori knowledge.

Phenomenology endorse the empiricism and extends it to cover the transcendental zone. We can describe the structure of pure consciousness through successive applications of the phenomenological reduction, when we describe that region we are extending the principle of empiricism.

A reflexive observation of the zone of transcendental subjectivity is called transcendental empiricism.

Intentionality and the Field of Consciousness

The fundamental structure of being is the intentionality of consciousness.

Being consists of three elements:

– Subject: ego

– Object: cogitatum

– The connection between them: cogito

By recognizing that cogitatum is an integral part of the perceptual process, phenomenology has transcended the subject-object split.

Archetypal Decisions

The world as it appears to us is the constitution imposed by consciousness upon the data of experience. Since all constitutions are constructions of consciousness and in theory changeable, they are called decisions.

–> Our world organization is our own responsibility.

Archetypal decisions are the most basic of all (ex. individuality, identity).

Primary archetypal decision is the decision for finitude. Related archetypal are the decision for personal identity, embodiment, scientific outlook, affirmation, morality, sexual role identification.

Clinical philosophy leads the patient past his\her psychological foundations straight to these archetypal regions.

Philosophical background Part 2

Traditionally there are 3 disputes about the structure of being.

1. monism-dualism

Is reality made up of a unity or a duality? Is being one, two or many? This analysis is important on the problem of evil (the Catholic view is monistic).

The phenomenological description of being tries to resolve the epistemological and metaphysical monism-dualism dispute through the theory of the intentionality of consciousness. This theory holds that reality has two poles, that all being and all thinking is polarized. It also says that we are free to focus on either one pole or another. But we also able to perceive the total polarized situation as a unit.

2. idealism-materialism

Is ultimate reality consciousness or the object of consciousness? Mind or matter?

The idealistic view holds that reality is mind or consciousness, and that matter, or the object of consciousness, is illusion or dream. [Plato, Hegel]

Material: natural and the impersonal (the object of consciousness) are the ultimate and the real. [Hobbes]

Another group adopted the view that ultimate reality is part mind and part matter: Descartes, Spinoza, Locke.

3. rationalism-empiricism

Mind-Matter Interdependancy

Intentionality: mind and body are two regions of a continuous field. Mind creates body and body creates mind.

Subject (consciousness) = function of (Object)

Mind = f (Matter)

and viceversa.


* means that both statement are true at the same time.

Constitution and Cathexis

Constitution: refers to the fact that freedom, which is found in transcendental consciousness, has the capacity to organize the material it receives as data from the empirical realm literally into as many combinations as there are mathematical permutations of these data.

Communication depends on a consensual uniformity of such interpretations.

Psychological problems are often results of constitutions that fail to perform their expected pragmatic tasks.

Deconstitution must take place before Reconstitution.

Constitution: the process through which a unique world design and a personalized being-in-the-world are created.

Reconstitution is to create a new order.

The Constitution-deconstitution-reconstitution process is an art and not a science. Rigidity in constitution means obsession and compulsion, excessive liberty in the process leads to disorganized and asocial behavior.

Cathexis: identification, fusion. Indicates the attachment or the commitment that transcendental consciousness makes to one type of organization (ex. loyalty) and to one region within that constituted organization (loyalty to the family).

This latter region becomes the Ego, or Self, the Individual identity.

A person chooses an identity. But before an identity can be chosen it must be constituted as a meaning.

Thus, constitution means organization of meanings and cathexis means identification with or attachment to a specific organization of meanings.

Persons are responsible for their life-styles, their self-image and their world design. Such severe ascription of responsibility is one secret of successful therapeutic work. […]

The process of establishing an identity is to perform a cathexis […] We say ‘yes’ to zone A and ‘no’ to zone non-A. And that simple act of saying ‘yes-no’, that simple act of attachment-alienation, of involvement-estrangement, is the act of becoming a person and an individual.

Constitution and cathexis can be active or passive. They are usually passive, but we possess at all times the potential for transforming passive constitutions and cathexis into active ones.


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