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The Phenomenology of Addiction

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 4135 words Published: 29th Nov 2021

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"He feels he holds a little world
Brooding in his brain,
That it begins to act and live,
That it from himself he fain would give."

Goethe's Miscellaneous Poems


This essay attempts a phenomenology of Addiction by borrowing from Schopenhauer's system. I want to place Addiction within said context. It falls under the post-Kantian ambit. Kant's Sachen an sich is precursor to Schopenhauer's Wille. Unlike Kant, Schopenhauer has not given up the Thing-in-Itself as impossible. This is his only point of theoretical contact with Hegel.

Hegel engages the reader in a Dialectic of Negation. A proposition is set forth, discussed, and consequently negated. Through repeated negation Consciousness is raised and reconciled with Absolute Spirit. Schopenhauer, like Hegel, desires for his reader to grasp the hitherto impenetrable. His methodology, however, is toto genere different.

Schopenhauer's writing appeals because his words are coherent and lucid. Not one of his sentences reads anything like the ramblings of a mad man. One may well take them out of context but his words put together are brilliantly aphoristic. His statements are categorical and display a knowledge devoid of speculation. Schopenhauer too is systemic but has not left his thoughts for the pedantic claws of chance to decipher. He has been deliberate of the ideas in his texts and is thus their foremost authority.

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None of these three thinkers, however, have considered addiction to be explicit phenomenon. Schopenhauer has made the occasional remark or two on alcohol and opium intoxication. Nietzsche later used hashish smoking as a negative metaphor. Perhaps it was customary for popular philosophers in the 19th Century to consider a state of repeated intoxication as the ideal of an Epicurean. Nonetheless notions of the orient associated an excess with the decadent East. Dipsomania was thought to appear in the paroxysmal and imperious wants of a libertine.

Addiction today is understood as more than about making a simple choice. It is generally taken as anathema to rational agency because over time the affected individual is faced with a conundrum of powerlessness. Present understanding considers Addiction to be more than the abuse of substances or a set of behaviours which become dependencies. The study of Addiction means to engage fields both in Medicine and the Sciences simultaneously.

Philosophy has so far been an inconsequential participant in the overall discussion. The Philosopher's prerogative thus lies in setting about change.

A just view point should leave room for argumentation because one cannot claim Truth. This is not to say morality may not become absolute. To try and attain the summit wherein one is not burdened by dilemmas that merely expose the illusion of free choice is the limit to Philosophy. The Philosopher's responsibility is in the accumulation of nuances so one can provide an integrated approach to the consideration of a subject matter. Identifying elements in the problem of addiction is one step toward enriching the understanding of it. We therefore can begin from the general given to reach the precise.

Addiction is likely to be at the very heart of the world's obsession over the internet. Information systems are made to exploit one's predilection for untimely rewards. But I digress; for what does one understand by Addiction? Numerous ideas have been set forth with varying degrees of consensus, albeit not one agreement. We ought to first depict what Addiction is not.

Addiction, when considered psychologically, is not simply the tendency to overindulge. Colloquialism classifies it as laziness, bad habit, and a lack of initiative. The priest says Addiction is moral thus spiritual weakness. But it is not process out of order. It is also not the inability to resist temptation nor is it borne out of an overwhelming craving or appetite; for excessiveness is symptomatic but not definitive of Addiction. Its drive is beyond sociopathic superego lacunae. The abuse of substances or an acquired set of destructive behaviors are mere extensions of Addiction.

A popular view takes Addiction to be, by its nature, lethal. One who persistently abuses a substance signs a death warrant for his addiction to finish him. Dire consequences are witnessed time and again to raise but a blind eye as little by little the power to stop diminishes, whereas his assigned fate grows closer. Addiction deceives and is elusive. The act epitomises a compulsion taken to its logical extreme of becoming ritualised. One must, at the very least, consider Addiction to be a compromise because it singularly dictates the agenda of the psyche. Under its reign nothing else can take precedence.

Can one classify Addiction as phenomenon? A tumour may grow successfully over time and become cancerous to then invade nearby tissues. We identify its malignancy after careful observation and study to call it the disease Cancer. We thus ascribe meaning because it must imply phenomena eo ipso. It occurs because a variety of changes can be seen independently in the body. Moreover, if a typical convalescence is not encouraged by the means available, cells gradually perish and the disease kills.

I contend Addiction to oppose and deny all of life. Addiction is inimical to the survival of a species. One midst the throngs of Addiction has a hankering back to the State of Nature. It usurps the individual's intellect. His thinking devolves to the role of a puppet in charge of the sustenance of nothing else but the Addiction. Addiction needlessly but often prolongs suffering before manumission from it can be accepted. The obsession rises like a monarch with a command so wildly hegemonic that an individual is fully subjected to his addiction.

Death is a phenomenon because one must live through the experience of dying before he is dead. Addiction then too is adequate phenomenon because the individual who suffers through it endures pain in the realm of objective happenstance. Addiction, as such, is progressive in nature. We should be careful not to compartmentalise it because Addiction is a malady not just of the body but also the mind and greater spirit. Suffering wrought upon by Addiction has a distinctly human face.

We can thus accept Addiction to adequately be phenomenon. Can we next construe an ontological basis for it? What could then be the metaphysical implications of such phenomenon? What aspect of it can Philosophy aspire to challenge? Do viable answers nonetheless lead only to the continuation of Suffering? Would it be rational to want selfaffirmation in any case? Is Addiction perhaps fact rather than phenomenon?

The argument at this stage, however, is crude because it lacks due sophistication. We must refine it through a correlation with a complete philosophy. An exposition on Schopenhauer's system as outlined in his magnum opus Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung is thus necessary and in order. It should provide the blueprint for us to build the crux of our argument step by step. We then will stand with a determined chance of drawing independent conclusions unfettered by countless discrepancies in the bloated doggerel of 21st Century Science.

Where there is Wille

Existence has bequeathed every living and knowing being with a capacity for experience. The lot of mankind alone has the imperative of an abstract and reflective Consciousness. Man can think, evoke, and may feel. All of his senses tirelessly work in unison and supply the intellect with manifold and finely shaded data of the objective world to form a cohesive and marvellous picture of life before the eyes. This Kant referred to as the Synthetic Unity of Apperception. It enables the Nous, is Logos, and key to grasping Consciousness within the macrocosm. A mirror without it can create no reflection. It is empty in itself; for every form of Knowing must be governed under a ground of sufficient reason. How do we qualify the outside from immediacy? What, then, can it take to fill in the deep gulf between the ideal and real?

Possibility of plurality arises in space and time put together by the law of Causality. Everything that exists, the multiplicity of phenomena in this whole wide world, is made conceivable by the conditions of principium individuationis. It is the principle by which expresses all our knowledge a priori. The Wille, as Thing-in-Itself, is foreign to it and as such entirely outside the physical framework of empirical reality. It stays indivisible, in spite of the plurality of things which are but its objectivity, and is consequently one.

An empirical object is not Thing-in-Itself because it exists objectively and is real. Space is only in my head, yet empirically my head is in space. About oneself everyone knows directly, about everything else only very indirectly because there is no bridge between things as they are in themselves and the knowledge of them. The world manifested at large is assured absolute reality in consequence of the application of the law of Causality. It also ensures a causal relation of objects to one another which unites only phenomena. There arises the unquestionable relation between every knower's body and all other physical objects. The whole of such knowledge necessarily presupposes complete dependence on the knowing subject, and therefore, is conditioned by it.

The law of Causality enables perception of the objective world. Perception itself is an aspect of the intellect. The senses merely facilitate the transfer of sensation far yet from being perception. This key disambiguation was provided by Locke who, under the name of secondary qualities, singled out the share of the sensation of the senses. He thus denied knowledge of things as they are in themselves to the senses. Kant carried his method forward by denying it also to the elaboration of the sensation of the senses through the brain, or the perceiving understanding. In other words, only in the brain does our own body first present itself as an extended, articulate, and organic thing. The Thing-in-Itself, following Kant as such, is spaceless, unextended, and incorporeal.

Systematic knowledge under the guidance of the principle of sufficient reason cannot reach a final goal or give an entirely satisfactory explanation to phenomena because it is bound by the mere relations of appearances to another. The recognition of such an obvious fact has been obscured by the religion of Scientism operated collectively by so-called intellectuals and even scientists of our age. It has manufactured the fantastic world where all of Science has devolved into farcical attempts at explaining what is directly given to us from what is given indirectly. This is why the aim and indeed the ideal of Science is a materialism wholly carried into effect.

It is pertinent at this point to understand the role of the intellect vis-à-vis the Wille. The intellect is conditioned by the brain to respond adequately to the whims of the Wille. Keep in mind that the brain itself is simply the objectivity of the Thing-in-Itself, which for us, is the Wille; for the intellect generally turns out to be what is secondary and subordinate to it. In self-consciousness the Wille appears as the primary and immediate thing to always assert its pre-eminence over the intellect. This Wille is not essentially united with Consciousness, but is related to it, in other words, to knowledge, similarly as something illuminated to light. It comes into consciousness from within just as the corporeal world comes from without. The Intellect is as fleeting and is as perishable as is the brain, and is its activity foremost. Like the whole organism, the brain is the phenomenon, therefore a secondary thing of the Wille. Only the Wille is truly imperishable but in itself is without consciousness; the Wille is metaphysical, the intellect physical.

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Consciousness itself is conditioned by the intellect, which is but an accident of our being, and acts as the primary function of the brain. The brain in all its complexity serves only the purpose of self-preservation by regulating the body's relations with the external world. Indeed this way the brain is in fact like a parasite attached to its host, where as the image brought about by its forms of knowledge is said to be extended and operative. The apprehension of the external world, thus, self-consciousness contains a knower and a known else consciousness of anything would not be possible. The knower himself, precisely so, cannot be known because he would otherwise be the known of another knower. Yet the known in self-consciousness can merely be, what St. Augustine too has called, the will (volition) itself.

Let us consider the image of a plant as a symbol of Consciousness. It is comprised of the root and corona; the former reaches down into the darkness, moisture, and cold, while the latter goes up into brightness, dryness, and warmth, yet close to the ground they part from each other. The former is the original and perennial, whose death entails that too of the corona, and thus we call it the primary. The latter is which has sprouted forth and which can pass away without the root dying, so is thus secondary. The root represents the Wille, the corona the intellect, and the point of difference of the two would for us be the I or Ego.

The fundamental of all errors made by philosophers before Schopenhauer has been in attributing the accident into the substance. In doing so they have made Thinking the essential and primary element of man's inner being or spiritual life of the Soul, always putting it first, whereas willing is only made product of thinking, and as such, something additional and subsequent. Such a glaring error is made obvious if one can consider even the lowest of all the animals, in whom, the Wille is yet so often indomitable in spite of extremely limited knowledge. To not identify this incorrect first premise has led them to the pursuit of wrong paths with no exit. The consequence is reason why Philosophy has fallen into disrepute.

Moreover, if we descend through the series of grades of animals, we see the intellect growing weaker and weaker and more and more imperfect, but we certainly do not observe a corresponding degradation of the Wille. In fact the case is rather contrary to that because the Wille everywhere retains its identical nature, and with vehemence clings on to life by a great attachment and care for the individual, thus the species, and displays egoism and lack of consideration for all others. The smallest insect wills what it wills as decidedly and completely as does man, with the only difference in the motives of its respective willing. Every act of the Wille is wholly what it can be and is as manifest just as the intellect has innumerable degrees of perfection and is generally wont with limitations. Degrees of the completeness of its real nature accordingly rises gradually from the lowest animal up to man; where its pinnacle is attained in genius. Plants are embodied Wille without any knowledge.

The Intellect is delegated responsibility of the Wille and acts in servitude to fit the requirements of the Wille willing itself. The Wille alone is everywhere entirely itself, for its function is operated out of the greatest simplicity, which is in its willing and not-willing. This is carried out flawlessly, with the greatest ease, and without effort or need for practice. Knowing, on the other hand, has many functions and does not take place without effort. It requires fixing of the attention to an object to be grasped, and at a higher degree, for thinking and deliberation, and is therefore capable of great improvement through practice and training. The intellect's laborious rumination is up to the Wille's approval or disapproval, and its results are always furnished to comply with the interests of the Wille. This relationship of the bondsman to its sovereign remains always the same in essence.

Nature signifies that which operates, urges, and creates without the intervention of the intellect. The possibility of this fundamental knowledge of the Wille rests on the fact that the same thing is immediately illuminated in us by the intellect appearing as self-consciousness. To penetrate into nature's inner being and thus comprehend the true essence of the Wille-inItself as much as possible, the intellect must reach a point of rest which, however momentarily, can negate the individuality so the individual Wille may become aware of willing itself. Thus the Thing-in-Itself, which for us is the Wille, can come into consciousness directly, by it itself being conscious of itself.

Anaxagoras arbitrarily assumed a Nous, the supreme intelligence, or a creator of appearances, as the first and primal thing from which existence has proceeded, and is considered to be the first to have advanced such a view. His philosophy is the antipode to Schopenhauer's because for Anaxagoras the world had existed earlier in its mere representation alone than in itself, although there was no eye to see it. Aristotle (Metaphysics, i, 4) has recognised his folly and admits Anaxagoras himself did not know very well how to begin with Nous, that he merely set it up and then left it standing, like a glorified figurehead who points to the well of gold, when in fact, in it is nothing but air. He played with the idea of Nous like is in the nature of an impetuous child who buys a telescope to discard it but the next moment of the setting sun.

The Wille constitutes the metaphysical substratum of the whole of phenomena, and thus is not, like the intellect, a posterius, but the prius, of the phenomenon. The phenomenon depends on it, not it on the phenomenon. All other things are too, in themselves, the Wille.

Addiction may Flourish

We have understood that the inner most kernel of all that exists and is thus manifest Thingin-Itself, which for us is the Wille, is groundless and consequently, indestructible. The Wille is in itself a mere blind impulse which strives to no end, yet endlessly repeats its willing as all of the countless luminous spheres and the life produced by a mouldy film on the hard cold crust of a smaller illuminated one called Earth rapidly arise and pass away in beginning-less and endless time. Brahmanism teaches man to regard himself as the original being to whom all of phenomena is essentially foreign, yet no where else but in India can one find a contempt for death of which Europe has no conception.

This is not to digress in any consequential way; for what occurs if and when we introduce Addiction in the subject matter hitherto contemplated? We have all ready made a just presupposition in our introduction and can thus take Addiction as phenomenon. But what place does such an alien, but nevertheless real, occurrence have in a system which has accounted for and explained every sober yet radical phenomenon possible? In fact, Addiction is problematic because it has had no role to play at all.

We shall give the benefit of doubt and try to consider it quite plainly. Addiction turns the explanation of the functioning of self-consciousness on its head. Whereas previously Intellect, and thus the self-consciousness which it manufactures, was geared for the maintenance of the Wille, under the dictates of Addiction, turns rogue towards its appointed duties. The original self-consciousness, like the senile and frail king who grows increasingly despondent and turns out of character, is at once usurped by a Prince, the Addiction, which bears the promise of unearthly rewards. It orients to God, which is but itself, and leads to a false awakening whereby the Idea of the individual, far still from being realised, leads into a pitiful slumber in which the only bliss is his ignorance.

Whereas Nature has through simple egoism deeply supplanted a quality in all of individuality that in order to rouse the activity of an individual being, egotistical ends are the only ones on which we can count with certainty, it is in fact true for the species, to make a claim to the individual than has the perishable individuality itself; for the individual to be active, even to make sacrifices for the sake of the continuance and constitution of the species, the importance of this matter cannot be made so comprehensible to the Intellect, calculated as this is with the matter. It has therefore implanted a delusion to fit its ends, by virtue of which, the good of the species seems to man a good thing for himself, so that he really serves the species under the guise of serving himself, which is in his instinct. It is the sense of the species which presents to the Wille what is useful to it. Where it imagines to pursue individual ends, in truth, it chases merely general ends. This external phenomena is seen most clearly in animals where its role is of the singular importance.

The Hegemonikon of Addiction, instead, assumes direct control of all mental, and consequently, bodily functions. The overthrow is swift and brutal, with the overall objective of life perverted to accommodate not the sustenance of it, rather its utter and absolute destruction. The Wille, in turn, wills a return to non-life by supplanting a delusion on top of the pre-existing one forthwith described as instinct, and thus negates its main motive which is the careful and serious selection of the individual's pressing need, for namely that which is to be produced. The resulting Self-consciousness badly tricks the Wille by taking on a mask of objective admiration. All of the willing then devolves to a disgusting need. There arises the even greater conflict of the individual's need vis-à-vis that of the species, with the former taking the edge; for by this point Addiction has displaced Instinct in its Will-to-Live.

Let us highlight what has just been said with an example. Two individuals holding hands amidst a maelstrom of love desire for nothing more but the utmost possession of each other. The aesthetic in the experience is felt in the sensations brought upon by a rush of blood entering into the brain. This otherwise natural process for one enslaved by Addiction can merely create an artificial feeling of the sublime because experience of the aesthetic is not desired but only wanted. Under such a context, even the superfluidity of Genius is powerless to become a pure subject of knowing, because an experience can only be super-individual so long as Addiction permits it.

Intoxication can be a means for some to experience the otherwise hard to attain sublime moment of knowing. Yet Addiction ensures that through it one gets closer only to the experience of mania sine delirio, the inability to correlate memories chronologically, and as things have happened, than does one of grasping beauty in the objective perception of things as they appear to be. Regardless, one is free to affirm a disgruntled Wille and push fate inexorably to the extreme, in which case he is assigned a fitting end. It is equally possible for another to play part of the detached observer who thus aims to achieve ataraxiathrough ascetic self-renunciation. This latter possibility has more in common with the Buddhist ideal of practicing boundless Compassion for all living beings.

That one carrying the yoke of Addiction can delude himself into believing he works towards the very same ideal despite mounting opposition to the contrary, thus easily resign utterly and frequently to a desired state of unhinged intoxication. To this Addiction will have robbed him of objectivity. In the end, he will merely have created a subjective hell of his own design.

Schopenhauer has developed a phenomenology not by looking at thought, but by the way one lives bodily. The body as object of study is not the lived body. The lived-body is one's conscious bodily experience. Experience of the lived-body is consciousness of being bodily.

This can equally accommodate Addiction. A thorough investigation how is recommended.


Schopenhauer, A. (1966). The World as Will and Representation (Vol. I), Dover Publications, Inc., New York.

Schopenhauer, A. (1966). The World as Will and Representation (Vol. II), Dover Publications, Inc., New York.


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