The Glass Bead Game as Addiction Recovery: A Metaphor for an Integrated and Philosophical Approach

Guy du Plessis
Published in
6 min readMar 4, 2023


Image by Santa from Pixabay

No one can build the bridge on which you in particular will have to cross the river of life — no one but yourself. Of course there are countless paths and bridges and demigods ready to carry you over the river, but only at the price of your own self. In all the world, there is one specific way that no one but you can take. — Friedrich Nietzsche

Addiction recovery is a complex and multifaceted process, and as I have argued in several publications it requires a multifaceted approach where knowledge and practices from a variety of fields are drawn upon to create a personalized treatment plan for each individual (Du Plessis, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2019, 2022, 2023).

Additionally, I have proposed that “philosophy as a way of life is a compelling and legitimate recovery pathway for individuals in addiction recovery, as one of many pathways” (Du Plessis, 2022, 160). The approach of ‘philosophy as a way of life for addiction recovery,’ simply put, emphasizes the importance of personal growth and self-discovery and sees philosophy as a practice that can help individuals live better, more fulfilling lives.

All of these above mentioned ideas can be elegantly encapsulated when the Glass Bead Game is used a metaphor for an integrated and philosophical approach for addiction recovery.

The Glass Bead Game, also known as Magister Ludi, is a novel written by the German-Swiss author Hermann Hesse. First published in 1943, the book is set in an unspecified future time period and explores the nature of intellectual and spiritual enlightenment through a game of the same name. The game is played by scholars who use glass beads to symbolize various fields of knowledge, and who synthesize knowledge from a wide range of disciplines to create new intellectual connections and associations. The Glass Bead Game emphasizes the value of interdisciplinary thinking in developing a deeper understanding of complex issues. As noted by Tavinor (2018), the game reflects the idea that knowledge is not divided into isolated disciplines but is interconnected and interdependent, and players draw on knowledge from a variety of fields to create new associations and connections.

Hinck and Brandenburg (2019) note that the Glass Bead Game is a metaphor for the search for personal meaning and the journey of self-discovery. By emphasizing the interconnectedness of knowledge and the importance of personal growth, the Glass Bead Game provides a powerful metaphor for understanding the nature of intellectual and spiritual enlightenment. This emphasis on personal growth and exploration is critical in addiction recovery, where individuals must take an active role in their own learning and healing.

The interdisciplinary nature of the Glass Bead Game resonates with the complexity of addiction recovery, which involves drawing on a diverse range of knowledge and practices, including physical, emotional, intellectual, social, environmental, and existential. As noted by Lea and colleagues (2019), addiction recovery requires a multifaceted approach. Drawing on different disciplines allows individuals to address the many facets of addiction and create new connections and associations between different aspects of their lives (Du Plessis, 2015, 2018). Moreover, successful addiction recovery is highly individualized. As noted by Cheavens and colleagues (2017), individualized approaches take into account an individual’s unique needs and circumstances and are more effective than a one-size-fits-all approach. This personalized approach allows individuals to tailor their recovery to their own needs and explore different strategies until they find what works best for them (Du Plessis, 2019).

Addiction recovery, like the Glass Bead Game, emphasizes a sense of mastery and control, as individuals progress through their recovery by building new connections and associations. This process helps individuals gain a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them, leading to a greater sense of control over their lives and their recovery. As noted by Ryan and Deci (2017), self-determination and autonomy are important factors in addiction recovery, with individuals who feel in control of their recovery are more likely to succeed.

Addiction recovery is a lifelong journey of learning and growth. Like the game itself, recovery requires ongoing effort and dedication to maintain, and individuals must continue to explore new ideas and perspectives to stay engaged and motivated. As noted by Kelly and colleagues (2017), long-term recovery is a process that involves continuous learning and growth, with individuals who engage in ongoing self-exploration and personal growth being more likely to maintain their sobriety.

The Glass Bead Game and the idea of ‘philosophy as a way of life’ share a common thread in that they both emphasize the importance of personal growth and self-discovery, and the interconnectedness of knowledge. ‘Philosophy as a way of life’ is an idea and practice that can be traced back to ancient Greece where “philosophy was a mode of existing-in-the-world, which had to be practiced at each instant, and the goal of which was to transform the whole of the individual’s life” and “a method of spiritual progress which demanded a radical conversion and transformation of the individual’s way of being” (Hadot, Davidson & Chase, 1995, 265). Simply put, the notion of ‘philosophy as a way of life’ is a view that emphasizes philosophy’s practical and transformative features — as an art of living and a life guided by reason (ex ducts rations vivre). Hadot’s concept of philosophy as a way of life involves the practice of spiritual exercises that cultivate personal transformation, such as meditation and self-reflection. Both approaches recognize that knowledge is not just about acquiring information, but about developing a deep understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

In conclusion, in addiction recovery, individuals must draw on a diverse range of practices and knowledge to create new connections and associations between different experiences, ideas, and philosophical worldviews. By emphasizing interdisciplinary thinking, individualized approaches, a sense of mastery, and practical wisdom (phronesis), addiction recovery as a Glass Bead Game offers a powerful metaphor for understanding and overcoming addiction.


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Du Plessis, G. (2018). An Integral Foundation for Addiction and its Treatment: Beyond the Biopsychosocial Model. Integral Publishers.

Du Plessis, G. (2022). Philosophy as a way of life for addiction recovery: A logic-based therapy case study. International Journal of Applied Philosophy, 35(1), 68–87.

Du Plessis, G. (2019). An existential perspective on addiction treatment: A logic-based therapy case study. International Journal of Philosophical Practice. 5(1), 1–32.

Du Plessis, G. (2018). An Integral Foundation for Addiction and its Treatment: Beyond the Biopsychosocial Model. Integral Publishers.

Du Plessis, G. (2015). An Integral Guide to Recovery: Twelve Steps and Beyond. Integral Publishers.

Du Plessis, G. (2012). Integrated recovery therapy: Toward an integrally informed individual psychotherapy for addicted populations. Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, 7(1), 124–148.

Kelly, J. F., Bergman, B. G., Hoeppner, B. B., Vilsaint, C. L., & White, W. L. (2017). Prevalence, pathways, and predictors of recovery from drug and alcohol problems in the United States population: Implications for practice, research, and policy. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 181, 162–169.

Hesse, H. (1943). The Glass Bead Game. Henry Holt and Company.

Hinck, E., & Brandenburg, J. (2019). Reflections on a glass bead game: On the relationship between intellectual and spiritual growth. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 51(1), 75–83.

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Lea, T., Costa, D. S., Mooney-Somers, J., Maher, L., & Treloar, C. (2019). Challenges to implementing Australia’s national alcohol and other drug treatment guidelines in residential rehabilitation settings. BMC Health Services Research, 19.

Tavinor, G. (2018). Interdisciplinary understanding and the glass bead game. Philosophy and Literature, 42(1), 215–232.



Guy du Plessis

Guy is a researcher at the I-System Institute for Transdisciplinary studies, Utah State University. He has published in the fields of psychology and philosophy.