The significance of ‘the person’ in addiction

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Van Gordon et al. outline the classification of their Ontological Addiction Theory (OAT), including its aetiology and treatment. In this review article I will from an appreciative perspective question some of its fundamental assumptions by presenting an alternative view on the ontology of ‘the person’, as distinct from its presently assumed conventional conflation with a contracted separate egoic self. I will propose this view as structurally and ethically significant for the ‘embodied’ experience of a reconstructed “dynamic and non-dual self”, as cultivated in their treatment. Rather than this reconstructed self simply being socially desirable for functional purposes, I will underscore the meaning-generative case for ontological status, in the absence of which, a pervasive ‘sense of lack’ is evident, with all attendant individual, psychological, social, ecological and ethical implications. This article brings a developmental psychology perspective to bear in appreciating ‘personhood’ as an emergent, progressively realised and is thus similarly aligned with the intent of OAT in overcoming egoic addictive suffering. This mapping of the territory however populates a blind spot in OAT’s diagnosis by affirming unique personhood, a quality of ‘integrative presence’, meaningfully understood as a psycho-spiritual ontological reality. It offers, as with OAT’s stated intent, the merit of avoiding attendant mental health and developmental pitfalls, which can beset what we may discern as an implicit transcendental reductionist assumption operative in OAT, where ‘the many’ are reduced to ‘the One’ and there are, it is assumed, no real many. This framing is resonant with the lived experience of healthy ‘individuation’, a process distinct from the problematic phenomenon of ‘individualism’, evidenced by the empirical data on post-conventional human development, which potentially provides diagnostic markers for any optimal treatment discernment. It is also attuned to what many recognise as a contemporary Fourth Turning in Buddhism, in its conscious evolutionary recognition of the emergence in non-dual states of a ‘unique personal perspective’, and/or a relative individuation within the whole. This differentiation has formerly been interpreted through an ‘impersonal’ lens as an egoic holdover, and potentially inhibits ethical action in the world, as distinct from the ethical import and potential fruits stemming from the ontological affirmation of the person.

Original languageEnglish
Article number893
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • Contemplative traditions
  • Developmental psychology
  • Ego
  • Epistemology
  • Fourth Turning in Buddhism
  • Ontology
  • Transcendental reductionism
  • Unique personhood
  • Western En-lightenment


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