Addiction: A multiple object as a continuum of ontological complexity


Integral Enactment Theory highlights the phenomenon of addiction as a multiple and dynamic object arising along a continuum of ontological complexity. Integral Enactment Theory adeptly points out how etiological models “co-arise” in relation to methodology (methodological pluralism) and enacts a particular reality of addiction (ontological pluralism), while being mediated by the world view of the subject applying the method (epistemological pluralism).
Esbjörn-Hargens (2010) explains that at the core of Integral Enactment Theory is the triadic notion of Integral Pluralism. He identifies three pluralisms that should be explicit within Integral Theory, namely epistemological, methodological, and ontological. Esbjörn-Hargens and Zimmerman (2009) developed a framework for this triadic structure where “epistemology is connected to ontology via methodologies. So, if we are going to have epistemological pluralism (the Who) and methodological pluralism (the How), then we ought logically (or integrally) to have ontological pluralism (the What)” (p. 146). Esbjörn-Hargens call this triadic arrangement Integral Pluralism.

Integral Pluralism is composed of Integral Epistemological Pluralism (IEP), Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP), and Integral Ontological Pluralism (IOP) (Esbjörn-Hargens & Zimmerman, 2009; Esbjörn-Hargens, 2010).
Before exploring the three facets of Integral Pluralism, there will be a brief focus on the relevance of the concept of “enactment”, an essential feature of Integral Theory’s post-metaphysical position (Wilber, 2003a, 2003b, 2006; Esbjörn-Hargens & Zimmerman, 2009; Esbjörn-Hargens, 2010).

The notion of enactment is vital in understanding why different theories of addiction do not have to be in contradiction of each other, as they are often interpreted, but can rather be understood as “true but partial”. Enactment is the bringing forth of certain aspects of reality (ontology) when using a certain lens (methodology) to view it (Esbjörn-Hargens, 2010).

In short, reality is not to be discovered as a “pre-given” truth, but rather we co-create or “co-enact” reality as we use various paradigms to explore it (using paradigm in the Kuhnian sense – which includes the social injunctions associated with a certain worldview). For example, when attempting to understand addiction using objective empirical research methods we enact a different ontological reality than when using a phenomenological approach. By avoiding what Wilber refers to as the “myth of the given” we understand addiction as a multiple object with no existing “pre-given” reality to be discovered (Wilber, 2003a, 2003b, 2006). Yet it must be noted we are not referring here to the conception of immaterialism. Integral Pluralism and its conception of enactment can be seen as an option “between” subjective idealism or immaterialism (Berkley) and positivism or materialism. Wilber (in Esbjörn-Hargens, 2010) says: “This is why I use the word sub-sist. There is a reality or a What that subsists and has intrinsic features but it doesn’t ex-ist without a Who and a How. So that is where Integral Pluralism in general comes into being: it is bringing forth a reality but it is not creating the reality à la subjective idealism” (p. 169)”.

Different research methods in addictionology enact addiction in unique ways, and consequently bring forth different etiological models. Virtually all etiological models (typically based on a positivist foundation, including intrapsychic models founded on psychoanalytic metapsychology) treat addiction as a single object “out there” to be discovered or uncovered, and therefore, eventually run into trouble attempting to explain a feature of addiction outside of its enacted reality. For example, physiological models and their accompanying research (naturalistic scientific) methodologies, enact the biological reality of addiction, and are inherently incapable of showing any truth of addiction outside the realm of biology, i.e. societal, existential, and so forth. In acknowledging the multiplicity of addiction’s ontological existence, the “incompatibility” of the various etiological models disappears, because we can see that each enacts a different reality of addiction – each bringing forth valuable insights in its specific ontological domain. What one considers real depends in part on the means and apparatus one uses, so objects are therefore “enacted” (Murray, 2010).

In discussing the status of the ontology of climate change Esbjörn-Hargens (2010) raises some stimulating points, that is relevant to this topic. In explaining the “inevitability of ontological pluralism” of climate change, he points out a relationship between the various methods that are used to “see” or enact this complex phenomenon, i.e. the relationship of (1) the common professions that encounter the phenomenon (the Who), (2) the associated methodology of each discipline (the How), and (3) the consequent view of climate change (the What). Exactly the same assertion can be made for the “enactment” of addiction models. Applying the above-mentioned triadic relationship to the phenomenon of addiction highlights some fascinating, but seldom acknowledged, issues. When the various professions explore etiological models and apply their respective clinical methodologies, they may not refer to the same ontic phenomenon. We often acknowledge that various researchers and clinicians explore or treat different aspects of addiction, but often this is based on the assumption of a common ontic reality of addiction, and when “puzzled” together we assume it forms a comprehensive picture of addiction (this is the underlying ontological and epistemological assumption of the BPS model and other compound models).

Is the above-mentioned statement a correct ontological assumption (What) to build theories (Why) on? Is the neurobiologist seeing the same addiction as the existential therapist? Is the psychoanalyst talking about the same addiction as the 12 step counsellor? Is the biochemist measuring the same addiction as the social scientist? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that that they all attempt to view the socially defined and agreed-upon phenomena called addiction; and no, in the sense that they are “bringing-forth-into-the-world” and enacting different realities of the phenomenon of addiction, ranging in ontological complexity (first, second and third orders of ontology) – which can “overlap” ontologically, but are not the same ontic phenomenon.

In short: there are essential structures of addiction that share the “various enactments” of it, but how it “exists-in-the-world” (in a Heideggerian sense) varies, depending on the unique permutation of its integral enactment triad of “Who–How–What”. Esbjörn-Hargens (2010) says: “In fact, there is not a clear, single, independently existing object, nor are there multiple different objects. There is something in-between: a multiple object … This multiple object [addiction] is actually a complex set of phenomena that cannot easily be reduced to a single independent object” (p. 148).

References to this blog post can be found in my articles as indicated on my Publications and Research page of my website