Temperance 2.Temperance and Addiction

“In the last class, we saw that human concupiscence is one we are responsible for and which works along with an interior, self-directed, personal source, (or “reason”). Because of this, destructive concupiscence is easiest to see in through addiction, which we defined as a concupiscence that dominates and overwhelms the person. Of course, not every act of intemperance is from addiction, but we can say that temperance always deals with the addictive, and whatever is addictive is dealt with by temperance. We’re going to approach addiction through four different aspects, all of which are complementary though extremely diverse.  Our definitions will be a.)  clinical b.) Augustinian/ Biblical c.) material/ organic and d.) Spiritual.

I.) The Clinical. The clinical account of addiction has seven parts. The rule is that if you say yes to any three of them, you count as addicted.

i.) Have you had to increase your dosage, or the intensity of the stimulus?  Have you had to drink more, smoke more, eat more food, or watch more and more intense pornography?

ii.) Does quitting give you withdrawal symptoms? Do you experience physical or emotional anxiety when you are deprived of your fix?

iii.) Do you have difficulty controlling your use? If you set aside some amount of time to do the activity, have you ended up spending far more time on it? 

iv.) Does  your use negatively affect your mood, your health, your personal relations, or your self-esteem? 

v.) Have you ever desired to cut down or tried to quit before? 

vi.) Have you spent significant time planning, recovering, or concealing your use? 

vii.) Has your use kept you from performing your duties, doing your hobbies, attending to the necessities   of  life?

II.) The Augustinian/ Biblical account. Though Augustine described what we now call addiction in many places, we here have in mind his account in Confessions VIII, which is clearly influenced in large part by Paul’s account of the human condition in Romans C. 7 (esp v. 15).

To set up the problem: Augustine was a Manichean for many years. The Manicheans explained the conflict between good and evil by dualisms: good and evil in the universe arose from a good god and an evil god, and individuals did good and evil things because they had a good will and an evil wills. The account is perhaps the simplest way to explain the diversity of human action, but Augustine pointed out that this was a radically inadequate way to account for the moral conflict of the human will.  If one needed a good and evil will to account for the conflict of good and evil choices, then if one was torn between to evil options (like whether to threaten a victim or kill him) then one would have to introduce two evil wills, and so the wills would multiply ad infinitum.

Augustine’s response is to say that we do not have two wills, but one broken will, which can frequently wish it could do things, or even want to do things, but which does not have enough willpower to execute the action. The will cannot break the habits of concupiscence, and we find ourselves trapped within ourselves and suffering our own actions. The classic expression of this is Paul’s I do not do what I would do, but what I hate. This predicament seems to demand that our only relief can be in some infusion of pschodynamic energy from without.

III.) The material/ organic account. Here we are interested in two things: what is called the reward center of the brain, and the evolutionary development of  the human person. To oversimplify the structure of the reward system, we’ll restrict ourselves to considering three parts: the nucleus accumbens, the amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex. The three tie together by responding to dopamine in the presence of various stimuli. The release of dopamine into the nucleus accumbens  leads to pleasure, release into the amygdala records all the means that you used to get the pleasure, and releasing dopamine into the pre-frontal cortex makes us stop thinking, planning, and reasoning so that we can just chase after the reward. In the face of addictive things, the amygdala is quick to remember what worked to solve stress, and so when the stress recurs, you easily fall into a feedback loop in which your rational parts shut down so that you can chase after the stimulus. When Paul said that he did not do what he would, but what he hated, we can give an anatomical account of how this is possible: there is a division in the brain between the parts that seek after addictive stimuli and the rational, reflective parts.

The addictive things we are talking about fall into three groups:

1.) The desire for calories and sexual experience/ novelty. In our evolutionary past, we high-calorie food and (perhaps) sexual experience/ novelty was harder to come by, and so we adapted to this by simply consuming any amount of it we could find. These sorts of addictive objects are common to everyone, and they are most of all what temperance is concerned with.

2.) The desire for things that evoke pleasant responses, though not necessarily annexed to a further good. Tough calories give us energy and sex gives us offspring, drugs and alcohol just give us chemicals in the head. These responses are also common to everybody, and the desire for alcohol is arguably universal.

3.) Trained responses peculiar to particular persons. Gambling is not a universal desire, but one can become addicted to it. The same can be said for shopping or study (St. Thomas, in fact, speaks of modes of temperance relating to the pleasures of study. One can imagine the professor or intellectual – or any professional, for that matter – who ruins his life through “dedication”,  i.e. addiction,  to work). 

IV.) The spiritual account. Addiction falls entirely under the concupiscible appetite, but, strangely enough, we have not once mentioned the proper action of concupiscence: to love things. We cannot get to the bottom of addiction until we analyze it in terms of love. A Human Concupiscence is at its most radical level a love of sensible things that has been made fully human. We’ll deal with this in a later lecture

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