Narrative, self-governance, and addiction
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 12:29 authored by Doug McConnell
Addiction has long inflicted heavy costs on individuals and society yet we still lack an account of agency that can satisfactorily explain addicted behaviour. This thesis attempts to develop such an account by drawing on theories of narrative self-constitution. I argue that a narrative account improves on the reward maximisation views promoted by Gene Heyman and George Ainslie and the normative planning views promoted by Richard Holton and Michael Bratman. Heyman and Ainslie define all action, including addicted action, as reward maximizing where rewards are fixed by extra-agential forces. This account eliminates both the possibility of a synchronic struggle against addictive desire and the possibility of self-governance in general. Therefore, it clashes with the experience of addicts and clinicians who see recovery as an extended agential struggle. Normative planning theories improve on these accounts by making room for self-governance. According to these views, self-governance varies according to how much effort the agent puts into conforming to norms of practical reason as they form and enact their plans and policies. However, there remain a variety of agential phenomena that are mysterious on normative planning accounts. The most glaring cases are where addicts recover despite there being no improvement in their planning skills or circumstances and where addicts fail to recover despite disvaluing their lifestyle and having the planning skills to pursue available alternatives. The narrative account defended in this thesis builds on normative planning accounts by showing how networks of intentions are nested within more holistic self-narratives that include interpretations of one’s contingent circumstances. The way agents self-narrate, therefore, affects their self-governance in ways that go beyond mere normative organization of intentions. As a consequence, certain styles of self-narration can entrench addiction or facilitate recovery somewhat independently of one’s values, planning skills, and available opportunities.