restricted access Confronting Addiction Across Disciplines
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Confronting Addiction Across Disciplines

(Anglo-American) analytic philosophy, scientific method, hyper-rationality, autonomous agency, externality, Augustine

Patricia Ross's detailed and thorough response to my paper exemplifies some of those strengths and weaknesses typically associated with contemporary Anglo-American analytic philosophy. The development of her position involves the following representative moves: In the first stage of her discussion, she highlights the possible presence of an implicit, untested, and potentially false proposition underlying my general argument, namely, that proper theorizing about ourselves and the world may provoke changes in our beliefs and any behaviors based on them. In the second stage of her project, she expresses a paradigmatically analytic mode of skepticism; this doubt concerns a "chain of events" implicit in the development of my position, and it takes the form of a set of questions that bear a strong family resemblance. First, Ross questions the very possibility or intelligibility of using fictional discourse and philosophical theory to explore the ways in which addicts conceive of themselves and their circumstances. Next, Ross turns to a more psychological (and intellectually profitable) line of questioning: Do people struggling with drug abuse and addiction have similar self-conceptions that, moreover, are meaningfully distinct from those expressed by nonusers? How might such idiosyncratic and shared modes of self-understanding instruct us about the disease of addiction? Finally, in what sense (if any) might certain alterations in our conceptual schemas have practical rehabilitative value? Having voiced uncompromising doubt concerning my pragmatic appropriation of philosophy and literature, Ross proceeds to an unlikely third step in her argument: She insists that my project is entirely theoretical, in the sense that I focus exclusively on truth-evaluable claims (about addicts' conceptions of self and world) that are garnered from literary narratives. Relatedly, she takes issue with my strong Wittgenstenian intuition about the presence of some intimate connection between linguistic self-expression and an individual's conceptual framework, insisting that I neglect "the degree to which the narratives are [not] honest, veridical expressions of self-conceptions" (228). Ross urges me to recognize that the language employed in narratives of drug abuse and addiction "might be said to reflect the addict's observations concerning his or her self-hood, or, alternatively, what the addict cares to portray about this conception, however truthful" (228). From her analytic-philosophical perspective, these features of language, combined with sensible intuitions about the practical limitations of theorizing, motivate a critique of my overall project. [End Page 233]

A standard analytic response to Ross' commentary would typically involve certain moves: One might question the truth value of her claims, challenge the soundness and validity of her arguments, or take issue with her particular use of philosophical terms and concepts. Instead, I clarify further my project and its intended results, in such a way that opens up space for her analytic voice within the context of an interdisciplinary discussion. Ross and I agree on two absolutely central concerns: First, her description of the proper significance of the language under study is perfectly apt, if ultimately irrelevant as a criticism of my work. Of course, I concede the obvious point that the narratives I consider are not perfectly veridical, reliable, or honest. Yet far from being a problem, these rhetorical features make the narratives appropriate and fruitful objects of study. Through the use of philosophical tools and literary-critical practice, I seek primarily to develop an understanding of the ways in which addicts portray their subjectively informed, culturally conditioned, and selectively edited self-observations. Second, I would like to underline Ross' helpful reminder about the contingency of the hypothetical claims I develop through close reading and philosophical references. Our agreement about these fundamental points may reflect my own failure to describe clearly my procedure and desired results. The overarching aim of my project is simply to highlight the possibility that addicts conceive of themselves in distinctive ways that are describable in philosophical terms. Moreover, I would like to initiate an ongoing interdisciplinary discussion in which the truth, aptness, and practical relevance of my method and its results may be evaluated. Ross's remarks highlight the need for further clarification on three points: First, I do...