Addicts, Mythmakers, And Philosophers: Plato’s/Socrates’ Understanding of Habitually Bad Behavior

Alan Brody in Philosophy Now:

GreekWinThad held up his right hand and asked “See this?” He showed me gnarled and maimed fingers. Thad told me that while he was flying his plane into Turkey, the Turkish air force forced him to land, having gotten wind that he was running drugs. They jailed him, and in an attempt to extract a confession, his jailers broke his fingers. He didn’t confess.

Thad bribed his way out of jail. Eventually he came to the drug treatment center where I was working, to get help with his drinking problem. (Thad and other patient names are pseudonyms.) After discussing addiction as involving compulsive behavior, we concluded that Thad was suffering from alcoholism. Knowing he would be better off not drinking, Thad committed himself to abstinence. He told me that he didn’t need to go to Alcoholics Anonymous for support, explaining that if he could resist caving in from torture he could certainly resist whatever discomfort he would experience from not drinking. Thad thought that being able to follow through with his resolve was simply a matter of having the ability to resist succumbing to how bad it would feel to not drink.

When Thad came in for his next appointment he looked pained, shocked and confused. He told me that in spite of his decision to remain abstinent, he drank. It happened at the airport while he was waiting for his friend to arrive. Thad couldn’t understand how he would do such a thing, given his ability to handle pain when sticking to a resolution. I explained how a compulsive condition such as alcoholism can change how one evaluates what to do, so that someone who previously decided not to drink can come to temporarily think it’s okay to do so. After I explained how this kind of change of thought could produce a motive for drinking, Thad saw how his ability to endure suffering couldn’t be counted on to guarantee abstinence.

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