I Kant, we can –

Oct 7, 2020 – He started school anyway, and after a stint in rehab, finished the term with straight A’s. He went on to earn two undergraduate degrees over the next three years. “I’m so glad I stayed,” he says. “If I had left behind philosophy, I would probably still be using today.”

Cooney wrote his philosophy honors thesis, “Overwhelmed and Undermined: The Use of Psychoactive Substances and the Problem of Meaninglessness,” on how a lack of meaning in life can help explain addiction. “The thesis was a long, drawn-out therapy session between me and these other thinkers,” he says. “It involved a lot of self-reflection and thinking about the reason for my actions.” In the paper, Cooney describes how he was first drawn to German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s “categorical imperative,” hoping he could stay off drugs if he adhered to a supreme principle of morality. “But I found that it doesn’t work,” he says. “Human life is way too nuanced to have one formulation that can encompass human or moral life in general.” After a thorough reading of Camus, he writes, he realized that his drug use was an attempt to address a fundamental lack of meaning in life. “I began to see my story as one of the individual struggling with the absurd,” he says. “At times the recognition of the absurd can be felt very viscerally, but sometimes it is more of a constant humming that we feel or hear that we can’t put a finger on. Every person experiences it differently.” After a thorough reading of Camus, he writes, he realized that his drug use was an attempt to address a fundamental lack of meaning in life. “I began to see my story as one of the individual struggling with the absurd,” he says. “At times the recognition of the absurd can be felt very viscerally, but sometimes it is more of a constant humming that we feel or hear that we can’t put a finger on. Every person experiences it differently.”

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