Our Stories, Our Knowledge

The importance of addicts’ epistemic authority in treatment

Authored by: Peg O’Connor

The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy and Science of Addiction

Print publication date:  June  2018
Online publication date:  June  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138909281
eBook ISBN: 9781315689197
Adobe ISBN:


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William James and his great work, The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), had an enormous influence in addiction treatment. In 1934, Bill Wilson was at the Charles B. Towns hospital trying to dry out again. Full of despair and hopelessness, he cried out, “If there is a God, let Him show Himself! I am ready to do anything, anything!” Suddenly the room was filled with a white light and he felt a wind of spirit blowing. At that point he realized he was a free man (AA World Services 1957: 63). Very soon after this experience, he worried he was losing his mind. A friend, however, thought differently and gave Wilson a copy of Varieties as a way to understand this remarkable experience. James was most concerned in Varieties with people who experienced what he called a conversion or rebirth. These are people for whom religion exists “not as a dull habit but as an acute fever” (James 2012: 14). Bill W seemed to have caught that fever; he later went on to found Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

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