Hoffman and Free Will

images (2)Some writers are using Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death as an opportunity to attack the disease model and getting a lot of support from treatment critics.

Why would they pick an argument about the disease model and question the existence of loss of control after a man with everything to live for used heroin to his death despite efforts to stop?

I’ve addressed the matter in previous posts. Here are some highlights.

These objections seem to come down to philosophical questions about the role of free will. In a previous post I linked to a Points post that set up the issue nicely:

Although addiction may be defined and operationalized in a number of different ways, the heart and core of the concept lies in its implication of the loss of the ability to choose – that is, the loss of free will.  Hence, and logically, the concept of addiction also implies the actual existence of free will.  And there lies the rub.

The addiction concept repackages one of the Big Questions – free will and determinism – into a new and seemingly more manageable form.   But should we be entirely comfortable with the tacit implication that ordinary, non-addictive conduct is freely willed?

Of course, this assumption underlies much of our day-to-day lives.  We show up at work late and we are responsible for the choices we made that caused our lateness.  Our legal system relies on the same assumption as well.  It assumes people freely do what they do and must take responsibility for their actions.

It seems to me that most of the brain disease resistance I encounter can be boiled down to protecting the universal existence of free will. People feel compelled to protect this for good reason, our social interactions and institutions depend on it.

Another post addressed the apparent incompatibility between free will and determinism by suggesting that we conceptualize them improperly and offered a helpful metaphor:
If a machine has two controllers (one controller representing deterministic factors and the other representing free will), does that mean that only one controller works? Or, is it possible that they both are capable of controlling the machine?
If that is possible, is it also possible that various factors diminish and/or enhance the functioning of each controller?
Another post likened free will to a psychological energy that may be depleted or restored at various intervals.

5 thoughts on “Hoffman and Free Will

  1. Some people seem to like the disease/ powerless idea and use suggested tools in 12 step groups along with fellowship to get well, while others prefer the non disease model and find that fighting an addiction and building self esteem are more important. You mentioned asking for help in an earlier post, and I feel that this is key to maintaining a sober life. Things go wrong in life and that is the time to look for support rather than become an active addict again. That is a choice that many find hard to take, which is very sad, regardless of their chosen recovery path.

  2. “People feel compelled to protect this for good reason, our social interactions and institutions depend on it.”

    And it does leave us with a dilemma. We are held to be responsible if we turn up for work late, but how responsible is the addict for shoplifting to feed his crime, or the alcoholic who drives drunk and wrecks someone else’s car (or worse)? We don’t generally criminalise behaviour arising from psychotic episode, but we do for the behaviours arising from addiction.

    Not that it’s quite the same thing, but I like the system you have in many states where doctors who are found to be addicted get treatment instead of disciplinary measures from the boards. The point being that punishment doesn’t work for addiction, but treatment often does.

  3. The disease conception of addiction is undergoing a major counterattack from the social sciences at present. I think it’s because the Big Breakthrough–the one gene, the perfect anti-craving pill–hasn’t happened, and the natives are getting restless. I just attended a conference on addiction and neuroplasticity in Germany, and the basic theme was how to move beyond the pesky disease model. I don’t know what this bodes for the future, but models built upon the concepts of choice and learning sometimes seem like a giant leap backwards.

    1. Thanks for the update from the conference. It certainly fits with what we’re seeing in the literature and media. Just today, University of Michigan announced a cognitive sciences program. I’d imagine there will be more programs like this to come and their bias will be a lot like what you’re describing.

Comments are closed.