By Ken Niemann
Step Three: “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we Understood Him.”
My purpose in this essay is twofold: Primarily, I think it would be remiss of me to enjoy a quarter century of robust, meaningful, and joyful sobriety without telling a single soul how I got here and I haven’t done that yet. Previous attempts to do so were more characterized by parroting program speak in hopes of connecting with an audience. Now, however, at my 25th anniversary I feel impressed upon to share the knuckle dragging, unearthly worldview that has made life so happy and drinking so unnecessary. As each thought unfolds in the process of doing so, please acknowledge a tacit admission on my part that I have not always listened to my better angel and that unwarranted grace is as much a part of my story as anything else. I also wish to follow up on a highly truncated article I wrote for Recovery Today titled On the Philosophy of Recovery: Reason, Meaning, and Logotherapy which will serve as a context and background for my efforts here.
Understood by many as the Queen of the Sciences, Philosophy has a rich tradition of influencing the field of Psychology. Ryan and Deci, for example, in the 2001 Annual Review of Psychology underscore the impact that philosophers such as Aristotle have had on how psychologists define two distinct types of happiness. The authors describe each as:
“The first of these can be broadly labeled hedonism and reflects the view that wellbeing consists of pleasure or happiness. The second view, both as ancient and as current as the hedonic view, is that well-being consists of more than just happiness. It lies instead in the actualization of human potentials. This view has been called eudaimonism, conveying the belief that well-being consists of fulfilling or realizing one’s daimon or true nature.”
According to Aristotle, true happiness is grounded in virtue and meaning. This type of happiness, termed eudaimonism, entails the meaning and value one derives from, say, being of service to the sick or suffering for a noble cause. In support of this distinction from hedonism, Baumeister et al. studied 400 Americans and report that “Happiness was linked to being a taker rather than a giver, whereas meaningfulness went with being a giver rather than a taker”. Happiness, they conclude, in the absence of meaning “characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life”. Ryan and Deci further comment that those embracing eudaimonism ‘would feel intensely alive and authentic, existing as who they really are”. Curiously, there also exists a unique physiological response to each type of happiness. Fredrickson et al. found that an upregulated proinflammatory response and a downregulated antiviral response occurred in hedonists. That is, the immunological profile of hedonists mirrored those facing chronic adversity. While the authors commit the naturalistic fallacy when they state: “This dissociation of molecular well-being from affective well-being implies the potential for an objective approach to moral philosophy rooted in the utility of health and the basic biology of human nature”, they do make a strong case that we are hardwired for meaningful experiences. Importantly, we learn from these authors that emotional positivity is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for eudaimonic happiness to obtain.
The three Viennese Schools of Psychotherapy also have their roots in Philosophy. Feuerbach who was a student of Hegelian Philosophy at the University of Berlin in the early 1800’s was a progenitor of the reductionist, materialistic interpretation of religious ideas by Freud (and Marx). Oxford University theologian Alister McGrath explains:
“Feuerbach’s basic ideas found new life, however, in the writings of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. In fact, it is probably fair to say that the `projection’ or ‘wish-fulfilment’ theory is best known today in its Freudian variant, rather than in Feuerbach’s original version. The most powerful statement of Freud’s approach may be found in The Future of an Illusion (1927), which develops a strongly reductionist approach to religion. For Freud, religious ideas are `illusions, fulfilments of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind.”
Ironically, if Freud’s only argument against “religious” beliefs is that they are merely a wish fulfilment or rooted in some other psychological need, he commits what is known as the psychogenetic fallacy. Beliefs are not true or false depending on the emotions associated with them. We may have true beliefs associated with negative, or in this case needy, emotions and we may have false beliefs associated with positive emotions. For example, a mother’s beliefs about her child playing in traffic may be based in fear yet also quite true and rational. One may even have a psychological need for some sort of higher power but this does not tell us if those beliefs about a higher power are true or false, rational or irrational. Therefore, if at some point during my distinguished drinking career, I have an existential crisis (a crisis of meaning), it does not follow that the resolution entails false beliefs. Moreover, those such as Freud who embrace reductionism/materialism undermine science itself and succumb to problems of self-reference (See Angus Menuge).
Lecturing at the same time but decidedly less popular than Hegel was Schopenhaur who, with his concept of will to live, greatly influenced the works of Nietzsche. In turn, Nietzsche’s will to power formed a loose, general framework for Adler’s individual psychology, understood as the second Viennese School of Psychotherapy and, by some, as a forerunner to cognitive therapy. However, unlike Nietzsche who embraced nihilism, Adler is quite friendly toward teleological metaphysical interpretations. He defends the idea that a belief in some sort of higher power or God is likely to translate into better mental health. Indeed, a literature review by Bliss found that this is largely the case. However, what seems to be represented in Adler’s writings is the philosophical school of pragmaticism. Under this view, truth is dealt a lamentable blow in favor of whatever works. JP Morgan explains:
“Pragmaticism means, roughly, the idea that science does not give us a progressively truer picture of the world, but aims at giving us theories that work in solving the problems before it. In fact, truth (understood as correspondence with a theory independent world) is irrelevant for science. Scientific theories allow us to predict phenomena, devise technology, improve experimental technique, represent phenomena in a simple, economical way and so forth. But theories can (and often do) work without being true or approximately true, and the truth of a theory is basically an irrelevant factor in determining whether it will work.”
Success is not truth and failure is not necessarily falsity. For me, it is not enough that a theory, program, or set of beliefs work. They have to be true; they have to correspond to a mind independent reality. With pragmaticism, in contrast, one may have an infinite number of daft beliefs that propel him or her through a series of mental health successes. But on the face of it, it seems counterintuitive that one should have to sacrifice truth and reason in order to achieve mental health- that certainly isn’t meaningful, at least not to me.
The Third School, developed by existentialist Viktor Fankl, is based in meaning and is contrasted to the other two schools by Frankl himself as:
“the striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man. That is why I speak of a will to meaning in contrast to the pleasure principle (or, as we could also term it, the will to pleasure) on which Freudian psychoanalysis is centered, as well as in contrast to the will to power stressed by Adlerian psychology”
In this short journey, we have encountered broadly differing views on the philosophy of psychology. For the most part, neuroscience has embraced a reductionist, materialistic viewpoint as known as philosophical naturalism. Some, however, like Adler and Frankl allow for subjective only constructs such as “spirituality”, “meaning”, and “higher power” to achieve mental health aims. As was argued in the previous article, for the intellectually honest, both of these worldviews revert back to nihilism – no objective meaning.
Philosophical Naturalism –> Nihilism <– Existentialism
So where does one go from here? In my view, Frankl was on the threshold of a magnificent idea in Logotherapy but had succumbed to the popularized fideism of philosophers and theologians such as Kierkegaard, Pascal, Schleiermacher, Ritschl, and Barth. Fideism (faith without or despite reason) is intellectual sloth and, again, as Brown put it “a violent affront to the integrity of the soul”. Yet this unilluminating position is ubiquitous in both our culture and within the program. A contemporary example may be found in the Day by Day devotional on November 14 where it states: “Have I stopped intellectualizing about God?” (As if this is a bad thing.) Arguing for fideism is self-referentially refuting because the fideist offers us reasons, albeit poor ones, for accepting faith without reasons. The view is also easily reduced to absurdities. If fideism holds, why not just dispense with other complexities and “believe in” our lucky astrology mood watch or, perhaps just have faith in something other than fideism. In short, fideism is the dumbing down of the mind- the very antithesis of what was historically understood to be The Logos. The term “Logos” does encapsulate Meaning as Frankl informs us. However, the term, or proper name rather, also implies Reason or Logic and these terms are even closer in meaning to the term “Logos”. For reasons I hope to show later, the Logos necessitates Personhood.
The Logos is my Higher Power and my First Love. As my understanding of this reality increased, my world detonated with so much meaning, happiness, and wonder that it wholly diverted my thoughts from drinking. Eventually, even groups, the program, etc. became distractions. The relationship as I now call it has consumed me for about the last 25 years. I see the Logos in the souls I meet, in all the life around me, in physics, in Austrian Economics, and in the music of Handel, Ravel, and Potts…in every life category of import.