Volume 30, Issue 1/2, July//December 2022
Addiction, Identity, and Disempowerment
Supposing that addicts choose to act as they do, rather than being compelled to behave in particular ways, what explains the choices that they make? Hannah Pickard has recently pointed out that we can go a long way to answering this question if we can make sense of why addicts value the ends they pursue. She argues that addiction is a social identity that gives purpose and structure to life and that the choices that addicts make are valuable to them as ways of sustaining this social identity. But if addicts freely make choices towards ends that they perceive as valuable in terms of a social identity to which they contribute, and therefore if addiction involves the deployment of quite considerable agential apparatus, how are we to hold on to the natural assumption that addictions are disempowering? In this paper I present an answer to this question. Drawing on the resources of the phenomenological tradition, I argue that some social identities give purpose and structure to life in a way that inhibits, rather than enables, the exercise of a capacity that is central to our form of life. I elaborate the hypothesis that paradigmatic cases of addiction involve this sort of disempowering social identity.