This is a big one. I spent several years developing a way to capture the transformative, liberatory, therapeutic, healthy, and healing potential of thinking in critically and creatively new ways. Following trends in positive psychology, which seek to cultivate positive emotions like compassion, gratitude, and empathy rather than just eliminate negative things like depression and anxiety, I saw similar potential for doing philosophy in ways that are engaging, captivating, politically robust, and personally relevant. I called it, positive philosophy. This is my dissertation on it.
Positive Philosophy is way of doing philosophy (or any type of critical reflection). It involves cultivating the capacity to experience pleasure (and other good things) from the process of critically thinking in new ways.
It is a practice that takes our ways of knowing (or not knowing) certain things about ourselves and our world and engages with those ideas to create positive emotional, affective, and physiological experiences for us that make us stronger, healthier, more resilient, and more equipped to continue fighting for social justice.
It’s not necessarily that the ideas themselves make us feel good, but rather that embarking on a disciplined practice of learning, unlearning, questioning, and critically reflecting on things like oppression, justice, privilege, and liberation can be experienced as an exhilarating, energizing, inspiring, and humbling process of growth and change for liberation.
As one may suspect, I wasn’t simply writing theory for the sake of writing theory. Instead, I was writing to describe my own personal experience with philosophy (my philifesophy!). Pretty much all of my work can be couched in this framework, including how I teach, what I teach, and why I teach.
Although my dissertation focused on the liberatory potential of positive philosophy for marginalized and oppressed groups, in more recent years, I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for how the practice of positive philosophy can also be a useful method for those with dominating and privileged identities.
In 2017, I gave a lecture that captures that development in my thought entitled, “Positive Philosophy and Politics: Practicing with Both Sides.”
- Abstract – Positive Philosophy: A feminist practice of affective therapy and political resistance (2013)
What relationships can be drawn between affective states and epistemological states? What do affective experiences, such as anger or pleasure, have to do with political projects of resisting oppression? How can philosophy better inform political practice?
Addressing these questions from a feminist perspective, this dissertation develops the concept of “positive philosophy” as a practice of resistance that therapeutically works on and through the affective experiences of socially marginalized individuals. By exploring connections between psyche and soma, experience and embodiment, and theory and practice, I show how systems of domination operate and maintain themselves through the psychosomatic production of negative affects and their harmful physiological effects.
Chapter 1 critically analyzes the reclamation of emotion and affect in feminist epistemology as valuable resources for progressive theorizing by showing how even experiences of “outlaw emotions”—such as anger and rage at racism—can evidence the same problematic desire to make righteous knowledge claims that can be found in dominant discourse.
Chapter 2 explores how the debilitating and disempowering effects of oppression are not merely psychological but also manifest in one’s physiological body. I stress the need to address the embodied consequences of oppression presented in negative affects as a mechanism of oppression.
Chapter 3 critically highlights positive psychology’s therapeutic method of treating negative affects by cultivating positive affects while cautioning against its individualistic emphasis, which lacks sensitivity for larger ethical and political contexts.
My argument culminates in Chapter 4, which combines the therapeutic method of positive psychology with feminist political projects to develop a conception of “positive philosophy.” I argue that the unique mode of philosophical reflection in “positive philosophy,” which entails taking pleasure in one’s cultivated ability to think without certainty, can generate positive affective experiences that undo the negative psychosomatic and affective effects of oppression and discourage the production of righteous knowledge claims.