The Philosopher's Approach to Addiction

By Luke Walker 01/09/12

Peg O'Connor writes that Socrates and Plato can help us with addiction now.

Can Plato really help us? Photo via

In a fascinating New York Times piece, philosopher and recovering alcoholic Peg O’Connor suggests that philosophy can not only accurately describe addiction, but also function as a sort of map through the many pitfalls of recovery. As an example, she highlights an allegory from Plato’s Republic: some prisoners chained within a cave, facing a wall, are conveyed—through shadows—a distorted version of reality. But to them, it's real. In time, the prisoners find freedom, and discover their cave reality was just a facade. All of them are frightened and confused by the blinding light of the external world—like many addicts—and only some adjust to the struggles of life outside. Those who retreat back to the comfort of the cave can be compared to alcoholics who relapse. O'Connor observations are insightful. But most recovering addicts can testify that addiction can't be beaten through knowledge alone; philosophy is not the answer to addiction, although certainly, as O'Connor suggests, it can act as a tentative guide.

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