Thwarting the Diseased Will: Ulysses Contracts, the Self and Addiction

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Ulysses contracts are a particular type of advance directive that has been advocated for use in mental health settings and addictions treatment. Taking their name from the legend of Ulysses, such contracts are distinctive insofar as they are designed to thwart certain anticipated future wishes rather than realize them. In this paper, I consider what Ulysses contracts reveal about contemporary conceptions of addiction and the self. Drawing on discussions of Ulysses contracts in the psychiatric and addictions literature, as well as historical and contemporary examples of such, I show that Ulysses contracts are premised on a split between the present 'rational' self and the future 'irrational' self, thereby reproducing a very particular notion of addiction--one that serves to naturalize certain ways of thinking about freedom, choice, coercion, and the self.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)380-98
Number of pages19
JournalCulture, medicine and psychiatry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2015


  • Advance Directives
  • Behavior, Addictive
  • Coercion
  • Freedom
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Psychotherapy, Rational-Emotive
  • Journal Article

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