Filosofiske samtaler med innsatte i fengsel. En fordypning i samtalens form og innhold
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Since 2006 I have engaged in philosophical dialogues with inmates in Bjørgvin prison in Bergen, and these experiences form the foundation for my reflections in this thesis.
In part one of this thesis I try to grasp the premises of a successful philosophical dialogue. I start by explaining some key concepts in philosophical practice, and then I discuss different views on goals and methods, where I also address the debate on the relationship between philosophical practice and therapy, and diverging views on training in philosophical practice. An important point emerging from these discussions is that philosophical practice, as a discipline, has to approach professional discussions from an open and self-critical standpoint, rather than with prejudices, which is sometimes the case.
Following my account of the internal methodological discussions within the field of philosophical practice, I present my own concepts – ‘attentive equality’ (tilstedeværende likeverd), ‘dialogical openness’ (dialogisk åpenet) og ‘polyfonic patience’ (polyfonisk tålmodighet). These are concepts that aim to describe the essential traits of what I consider to be a genuine philosophical attitude. These concepts are developed on the basis of, on the one hand, my practical experience as a prison philosopher, and on the other, a dialogue with theories within the field of philosophical practice. In explicating these concepts I draw on concrete philosophical dialogues in prison, not in order to give a recipe for how philosophical conversations should take place, but to highlight what I call ‘philosophical elements’, which as I see it, is all about the attitude and relation between the philosopher and his/her guest, (how they approach other) and their attitude towards the topic (how they approach the issue/the thinking process). In other words: What must be present for a dialogue to achieve a philosophical character and what distinguishes philosophical conversations from other kinds of dialogues? An important point in my reflections is that philosophical thinking must be considered a goal in itself; because it is here – in the open, exploratory and critical attitude – the value of the philosophical reflection is found. Another point is that the philosopher must also be prepared to acknowledge and meet the guest as an equal and independent thinker.
Finally, and in dialogue with Arendt’s philosophy about thinking and judgment, I reflect on ethical and existential aspects of philosophical dialogue. Here I highlight how possible (and desired) (side) effects of philosophical dialogues are related to the activity of engaging in philosophical thinking as such.
Part two of the thesis focuses on the content of my prison dialogues. Self-reflection often leads us to existential issues, and I have therefore had the opportunity to learn about the criminals and their world. My meetings with them have raised questions about their experiences of freedom and unfreedom, and I have approached the criminals and their life stories through a dilemma I have called: ‘When freedom becomes unfreedom’. There are especially two things that have concerned me here: First of all, what we may call the ‘criminal way of being’, i.e. ways of thinking and attitudes, and the discrepancies that come to light when these are subjected to scrutiny in philosophical dialogues. Secondly, that what may appear as the obvious 'right choice' from an outsider’s perspective (as in the choice between a criminal career or school and work), from the criminals' point of view may seem extremely demanding and even impossible.
In my attempt to understand the criminals’ experiences from an existential viewpoint, my readings of their stories lead me to what I have called ‘the criminal attitude to freedom’; an attitude that characterized the criminals’ way of being. As freedom became a key term in my reflections, traditional understandings of freedom and responsibility became an issue, and I got into a discussion where I reflect upon different outside perspectives on criminals. The question that emerged here was: What does it mean to be an individual with freedom and responsibility? A question which led me to Kierkegaard’s Either-Or, which problematize freedom and unfreedom in the light of two fundamentally different attitudes. While what I have called “the criminal attitude” does not immediately fit any of the two attitudes (the aesthetic and the ethical) that Kierkegaard talks about, his claim that the aesthetic attitude to freedom will lead to unfreedom resonated with the existential dilemmas experienced by many of my guests. The question then became: Why did the criminals seem to experience the same dilemma as the aesthete, even though their attitude is not identical to that of Kierkegaard’s aesthete? Here I found a third attitude described by Kierkegaard – that of the philistine – useful, and to some extent representative for certain aspects of ‘the criminal way of thinking’.
An important point in my philosophical project is that if experiences of freedom and unfreedom are about perspectives, then our attitude determines what we experience as freedom and unfreedom.