Higher and Friendly Powers: Transforming Addiction and Suffering

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An expansive alternative for those who have struggled with the “higher power” of AA’s 12-step program, Higher and Friendly Powers offers a sense of human decency, moral ideals, and even a better version of oneself.     

In Higher and Friendly Powers, Peg O’Connor addresses an audience much like herself: those in recovery who have struggled with the Christian-centric God at the heart of Alcoholics Anonymous. She brings our attention to a little-known fact: the term “higher power,” a touchstone in the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, was coined by William James, philosopher, psychologist, and intellectual giant of the early 20th century.  

By acting as our personal field guide through the world of William James, Peg shows that “higher power” as James conceived it is far more expansive than we might imagine. The book, which combines Peg’s deep personal wisdom with James’s adventurous intellect, has the power to transform the way we live. 

Wildhouse Publications
ISBN (print): 978-1-7360750-6-7
ISBN (e-book): 978-1-7360750-7-4

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Praise for Higher and Friendly Powers

“Compulsively readable, clear, and humane.”

— Carl Erik Fisher, author of Urge: Our History of Addiction

“O’Connor with the help of William James recasts the meaning of being saved from addiction. If you pick up this book, I promise you need to read it to the end.”

— John Kaag, Author of Sick Souls, Healthy Minds: How William James Can Save Your Life 

“Newcomers taking their first steps, old-timers far along their journeys, this book offers something for everyone in the ever-evolving search for the role of faith along the road from addiction to recovery and beyond. An invaluable resource for anyone who knows the journey of recovery depends on an intimate relation with a power greater than themselves.”

— William Cope Moyers, author of Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption and Now What? An Insider’s Guide to Addiction and Recovery


“Peg O’Connor speaks to the heart of the struggles that get in the way of spirituality and recovery, and how to move through them. Her work is important not only for people with addiction but also in helping those who love them find their own recovery and spiritual connection.” 

— P. Casey Arrillaga, author of Realistic Hope: The Family Survival Guide for Facing Alcoholism and Other Addictions and host of “Addiction and the Family” Podcast 

“Peg O’Connor brings together the poignant writing of philosopher and psychologist William James and her own deep insights into addiction and recovery in this joyfully readable and timely book.  Using James’ own case studies as an overall framework, O’Connor vividly describes the depths and shallows that sufferers of addiction may experience, and the many ways in which conversion and change can happen.” 

— Candice Shelby, author of Addiction: A Philosophical Perspective 

“Peg O’Connor’s Higher and Friendly Powers shows the way to freedom from addiction without requiring belief in the God or gods of any sectarian tradition. A brilliant and important book!” 

— Owen Flanagan, Professor Emeritus, Duke University 

“With a light touch and lucid prose, Peg O’Connor finds in the writings of William James a much-needed corrective to the heavy-handed religiosity that permeates so much understanding of addiction and recovery — in AA and elsewhere — while yet finding room for experiences of suffering, conversion, renunciation, communion, connection, and even faith. Part philosophy and part guide to life, this eclectic and deeply humane book puts the individual psychology of addiction back where it belongs, on center stage.”  

— Hanna Pickard, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Bioethics, Johns Hopkins University 

“O’Connor wisely navigates a course between the William James “advocates” in academia and 12 Step “Big book thumpers,” each of whom are possessive of their own intellectual history.  This book will satisfy both and allow both to learn and grow.”   

— Paul Schulte, author of Cravings for Deliverance: How William James, the Father of American Psychology, Inspired Alcoholics Anonymous 

About the Author

Peg O’Connor is a Professor of Philosophy at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN, recovering alcoholic of 35 years, and author of Higher and Friendly Powers: Transforming Addiction and Suffering (Wildhouse Publications, 2022) and Life on the Rocks: Finding Meaning in Addiction and Recovery (Central Recovery Press, 2016). She writes the column “Philosophy Stirred, Not Shaken” for psychologytoday.com

In her free time, Peg is an avid tennis player and a black belt in taekwondo. She has worked in dog rescue for about 10 years and finds that her faith in humanity can be simultaneously shattered by meeting mistreated animals and restored by colleagues who are fiercely loving and caring advocates. Her own dog, Clooney, is a rescue and they spend their days together in the great Minneapolis area.

Books by Peg O'Connor

Exploring Addiction and Creating Recovery (Wildhouse Publications, 2023)

Transforming Addiction and Suffering (Wildhouse Publications, 2022)

Finding meaning in addiction and recovery (Central Recovery Press, 2016)

Feminist Wittgensteinian metaethics (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008)

A Wittgensteinian approach to social practices and moral theory (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008)

Theoretical perspectives on racism, sexism, and heterosexism, co-written with Lisa Heldke (McGraw-Hill, 2004)

(Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002)



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