in the Department of Philosophy and Religion

Philosophy Forum: Addiction, Chronic Illness, and the Notion of Responsibility

Dr. Valerie Hardcastle

University of Cincinnati

August 27th at 4:00-5:30

in Barnard Observatory, Room 105

“Addiction, Chronic Illness, and the Notion of Responsibility”


“Some philosophers, neuroscientists, and bioethicists argue that we should understand ‘free will’ as the ability to select the most adaptive behaviors from a range of possible behaviors in response to an ever-changing environment. Organisms are personally responsible for their behavior insofar as they can alter their behavioral choices in response to new environmental information such that they can still select the most adaptive. One consequence is that addicts become responsible for their actions, for at each choice point, there is a very real sense in which the addict could have selected not to use or abuse. I advocate for a different and more complex way of thinking about addiction, one that aligns it with other complex chronic illnesses, like heart disease, diabetes, chronic pain, and obesity. With addiction, both executive functioning and motivational systems are impaired. As a result, addicts cannot align their behavior with their long-term or short-term goals, nor can they truly consider the range of possible behaviors available to them. I conclude that the biological-evolutionary picture of free will and responsibility is an over-simplified and neuropsychologically inaccurate portrait of the basic human capacities for behavioral choice and will gesture towards a more plausible way of understanding these notions.”


The format of this event will be a workshop of Dr. Hardcastle’s paper.  Requests for an advance copy of the paper can be directed to Dr. Donovan Wishon (  More information about future UM Philosophy Forum events can be found on the department calendar at