The Elephant in the Room: Towards a Dispositional (and Unifying) Account of Addiction.

Romanell Center Fall 2020 Speaker Series

The Elephant in the Room: Towards a Dispositional (and Unifying) Account of Addiction

November 13, 2020, 3:00pm via Zoom

The Romanell Center for Clinical Ethics and the Philosophy of Medicine is pleased to announce the Fall 2020 Speaker Series is being delivered in the virtual format of Zoom. Join us on Friday, November 13, when Robert Kelly delivers the talk, "The Elephant in the Room: Towards a Dispositional (and Unifying) Account of Addiction."

Abstract: Many addiction theorists have utilized the metaphor of the blind men and the elephant to illustrate both the complex nature of addiction itself, as well as the varied methodological approaches to studying it. A common purported upshot of this metaphor is skeptical in nature: due to these complexities, it is not possible to offer a unifying account of addiction. I think this is a mistake. The metaphor is more literal than these theorists think. The elephant is real—there is a there there—and due to the simple fact that their sight is impaired, the blind men fail to see the bigger picture. The same is true of addiction, and much of the literature addressing it (though the impairment there seems to also include an inability to effectively communicate with one another). In this paper, I aim to show that we do not have to throw the baby elephant out with the bath water. To do so, I defend a dispositional account of addiction. I argue that addiction is the systematic loss of control over one's desires to engage in certain types of behaviors. I explain what I mean by this, defend the inclusion of desires and impaired control, and flesh out the notion of systematicity that is the dispositional core of the account. I then show how a dispositional framework like mine can unify the disparate, seemingly incompatible accounts of addiction (and their respective methodological approaches). I close by offering a brief look at some ways in which I intend to extend and implement my account.

Robert M. Kelly.

Robert M. Kelly, Romanell Fellow

About the Speaker

Robert M. Kelly, PhD ABD, Department of Philosophy,​ University at Buffalo, is a Romanell Fellow whose research encompasses issues in bioethics, philosophy of medicine, metaphysics, agency, and applied ontology, but his primary research focuses on addiction, a topic that spans all of these areas. Kelly's dissertation project defends a dispositional account of addiction, argues that addiction research should systematically incorporate applied ontology so as to remedy what he calls the 'disunification' abundant in the literature, and offers a start towards developing an ontology of addiction. He is currently part of a team of UB philosophers working with MIT researchers on a U.S. DoD-funded initiative to develop realist ontologies of human-machine collaborative behavior. 


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