In an interview on Huffington Post with Tom Morris, Peg O’Connor explains how the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein is useful in ordinary life. Tom’s interview with the Professor of Philosophy and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies at Gustavus Adolphus College includes these remarks:
Tom: I’m always preaching the usefulness of philosophy. Any examples from Wittgenstein that would help make the case?
Peg: One of the most obvious is his concept, or notion, of a “form of life,” which he uses in two different, though not entirely unrelated, ways. The first way is to mark off the differences between human beings and other animals. The other is to delineate different fundamental orientations, ways of living, or world-views among us humans. Naturalistic evolutionary biologists and fundamentalist Christians, for example, could be said to have two different forms of life. Where the scientist sees the earth and its inhabitants as products of evolution extending over millions of years, with blind chance mutations and adaptations as the driving force, a fundamentalist Christian sees God’s authorship and workmanship. An evolutionary biologist and a fundamentalist may see the same chimpanzee sitting in a cage, but in another important way, they do not. And they may approach the details of their lives in very different ways.
Tom: You’re suggesting that there is a sense in which, on Wittgenstein’s view, people with different enough world-views just live in different worlds, layered on top of a very basic world they share in common.
Peg: Yes, that’s what Wittgenstein sought to understand. In many ways, I think active alcoholics have a form of life different from that of recovered alcoholics, as well as from that of non-alcoholics. The world we all share is the same in important respects. But in some deep ways, the lived world and its meanings are radically different. Consider some differences between people with long-term sobriety and those who are actively alcoholic, or even newly entering a recovery program. An unrecovered alcoholic often can’t even understand the alcoholic who says, “Your life will be better without alcohol. You will like yourself more. You will have more friends and a lot more fun.” To the unrecovered, people in recovery can seem preachy and sanctimonious. Early on, no matter how many times and in how many ways a long-timer says this, what the unrecovered person hears is more like, “Blah, blah, serenity. Blah, blah, blah, serenity,” as a great Gary Larson cartoon reminds us.
Read the whole thing.
The critical side of Wittgenstein’s philosophy — his emphasis on philosophy as a practice of liberation from faulty ways of seeing the world and being in it — is one of the most influential sources for postmodern thought.
At the same time, it lays the groundwork for the emergence of post-postmodern thought such as Ken Wilber’s which is not content to assert the existence of discrete “forms of life” without simultaneously locating those forms within a provisional (a.k.a partial) attempt at a systematic meta-map of all such forms.
O’Connor seems to view alcoholics as living in different worldviews, each with a fundamentally different orientation; but at the same time she acknowledges that recovery meetings can produce genuine development through their various activities, especially the telling of stories which reframe life experiences and allow for greater clarity.
But how does Wittgenstein really help her to make sense of the contours of the common patterns underlying the recovery process of alcoholics? Do all addicts recover in a virtually infinite number of different ways with no commonalities, or are there models which can guide us in understanding how different “forms of life” are arrayed into nested patterns of relationship?
A more Integral worldview clearly makes room for development in approaches to recovery. My own book Soulfully Gay contains a short section articulating a hierarchy of developmental models including traditional 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (amber), rational recovery and cognitive therapies (orange), and pluralistic self-empowerment groups (green).
Today, pioneers such as John Dupuy are forging new understandings of post-postmodern or Integral approaches to recovery. According to the Integral Recovery website, its insights are informed by Integral Life Practice (ILP) as well as a brain entrainment technology called Holosync.