Article

“To learn healing knowledge”: Philosophy, psychedelic studies and transformation

DOI: 10.1080/02580136.2018.1532186
Author(s): David A. PittawayDepartment of Philosophy, South Africa

Abstract

“Philosophical learning” may be summarised in Sobiecki’s fitting catchphrase “to learn healing knowledge”. This catchphrase is taken from an article on the use of psychoactive plants among southern African diviners. In the spirit of this link, I aim to challenge contemporary negative attitudes to the topic of psychedelics, and argue that there are good reasons for philosophers to pay attention to the role that the psychedelic experience can play in promoting philosophical perception. I argue first that the results of some contemporary studies affirm the benefits of psychedelic use in an “orchestrated guided experience”. Secondly, I argue that the aims of such “orchestrated guided experiences” are consonant with the nature of philosophical learning. Philosophy, understood as a learning practice, has a strong historical precedent and ties to contemporary indigenous cultural practices. Here I cite research into the use of psychedelics and the Eleusinian Mysteries at the origin of Western philosophy. Numerous cultures, ancient and contemporary, venerate psychoactive substances as agents of learning, healing, and transformation. Thus, contemporary mainstream philosophy may have opportunities to learn, or relearn, from southern African indigenous cultural practices. Considering the positive light in which the topic of psychedelics will be painted, I will conclude by suggesting that psychedelics have the potential to play an important role in fostering the deeply transformative “philosophical learning” that is the condition for positive social change. This makes the topic of psychedelics worthy of philosophical reflection.

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