Home › Dialogue Page › Human Redesign: Pharmaceuticals, Bioelectronics, and Genetics › Moral Enhancement
April 14, 2016 at 3:28 am #5878
Realistically this post could go under just about any of the subheadings, but I’m finding myself against the idea of a outright ban on moral enhancement technology. So far we have largely suggested that we should reject even the pursuit of such a capability, however there would seem to be at least some purpose to following this road. First of all, some of the most important advances in the technology of modern society were not exactly foreseen as all that big a deal. The internet was initially designed for strictly communication purposes, and the origins of the PC were not immediately seen as the next big thing. This is not to say that no unforeseen harm has ever come from the development of technology, but it seems foolish to make a universal statement against all development.
Secondly, there are some foreseeable benefits to this field. A “morality pill”, or some such modification, could certainly be useful in research in a number of regards. Public policy and the ability to establish clearer moral guidelines stand out as potential candidates. And if the effect was only temporary, it could even be used as a teaching device of some kind.
Alternatively, I would be interested to hear what people think about the idea of prescribing something like a “morality pill” to convicted criminals. Not to serve as a treatment of some kind, but potentially to get people out of prison sooner. While a pill might limit autonomy, so does a prison cell, so I could theoretically see this having a feasible legal use.
April 14, 2016 at 10:16 pm #5882
I agree that an outright ban on a morality pill before testing it and seeing effects is not the right path. While there are obvious drawbacks, it is important to see it in real life if available to be opened up to unforeseen consequences and effects. The fear of limiting autonomy is real, and our humanity should continue to be at the forefront, and it would be diminished without true autonomy. The idea of offering it to criminals as a way for early release is interesting, but I think it should be carefully screened and only offered to select candidates. For example, someone who has shown no remorse and is only taking it to get out should not be eligible, as they truly do not wish to get better. On the other hand, those who truly are remorseful and want to better themselves while doing good for the world should be eligible, even it limits autonomy. This is because they are making an autonomous choice before, which negates the costs of the pill. In addition, they are reaching for something that they are not able to achieve without help, and while it is certainly not on the same level, it is somewhat akin to someone taking a drug to help with their ADD.
April 14, 2016 at 11:25 pm #5885
I would like to respectfully disagree. I disagree with the whole notion of a morality pill. Morality is a highly subjective topic in which one cannot create a pharmaceutical that can help you determine “right” and “wrong”. I do think that through dopamine, serotonin and other neurotransmitters we can alter mental states indirectly influencing the probability of an outcome, but the notion of a morality pill is highly problematic. First of all, let’s dismantle the notion of the morality pill in the water phenomenon. This strips citizens of the lack of choice over their own mental states, having an ideological concept of morality or betterment of society forced upon them. This undermines individual rights. Second of all, I mentioned earlier that morality is subjective. Ideas of morality change depending on contextual information. Time, place, culture and various factors contribute to what is moral and what is not moral. For instance, in the United States it was considered immoral to marry someone of a different race, immoral to be gay, immoral to have an abortion. Morality is not a construct in which there is a solution that will accommodate the ideas of all individuals, and if something to this nature arises I think it would be best to steer clear. However, if we abandon the term ‘morality’ the discussion changes completely.
April 15, 2016 at 3:17 am #5892
Any bans on moral enhancement would have to come from the government, and I don’t really see them having interest in imposing this ban. In fact, it would probably be in the best interest of the government to promote the dispersal of the enhancement because of its sheer utility. The enhancement would definitely reduce crime rates, and it’s not unreasonable to think it will impact other facets of society in a positive manner. Of course there is the unpredictability aspect of the technology to consider and also the philosophical implications, but from the point governance, I think any governing body would see moral enhancement as a general uplifting of society and, at the same time, making their own jobs easier, which highly incentivizes the widespread use of moral enhancements from their perspective.
Prescribing a morality pill to convicted criminals is a pretty interesting point. The prison system is technically supposed to serve in both a remedial and punitive capacity. Prescribing the morality pill probably shouldn’t be used to get people out early because you would be bypassing both functions of the penal system. I think if you are going to be let out early on parole, it should be qualified by things such as good behavior and an evident change in character, which are not easy things to gauge. Saying that a criminal should be let out earlier just because you can prescribe a morality pill that can “fix” him isn’t good justification for early release. It forces people to act more moral after their release, but that equates crime with immorality, which isn’t the case. Early parole and then staying out on parole, is dependent on the condition that you do not break any laws, not that you are a good person. So I don’t think the morality pill fits into the purpose of the penal system in its current state.
April 15, 2016 at 3:50 am #5897
weissae1, I completely agree with your idea of abandoning the idea of morality in these conversations on modifying mental state. The vagueness of the term forces the conversation into what we should be classifying as ethical behavior in the first place, and even if a consensus is somehow reached, beginning to process how it could be incorporated into some modification of brain functions enters the realm of pure memory and opinion manipulation, which raises an entirely new set of ethical concerns.
I do, however, disagree with your dismissal of adding mental state modifiers to a public water supply. The dissolution of both choice and perceived choice is a massive negative factor, but we should not rule out the possibility of the positive influences caused by the drugs outweighing the loss of choice. In no way am I arguing universally in favor of forced mood modifiers, but there could present a scenario where, with a reasonable degree of certainty, a particular mood modification would have a net positive impact. The changes caused by the drugs could possibly be beneficial enough for people to accept relinquishing free choice in that one regard. As a very mild example, fluoride has already been introduced into most water supplies.
April 15, 2016 at 4:07 am #5898
In my opinion the utility of a morality pill is not what should be in question. What we should first consider is why we value morality in the first place. Is it only because a society that is moral is better off? I think the value of morality lies deeper than that, because true morality sometimes requires you to do something that is bad for you or people you care about in order to preserve something ephemeral but infinitely valuable. For example, if violating the right to free speech could have some profound positive impact on society, most would still say the moral course of action is to protect that right. Also, in some cases killing a dangerous criminal right after they were caught could be what is tangibly best for society, yet morality dictates that we as a society give up that benefit in order to protect that person’s fundamental freedoms. In my opinion, what is valuable about morality is that it is sometimes difficult to determine, and that in being moral we are able to overcome baser instincts in order to fight for a higher ideal. If that struggle is removed completely, then the morality is empty and valueless. I won’t speak to the question of should the government step in, but in my opinion using a morality pill compromises the value entirely.
April 15, 2016 at 4:09 pm #5920
The politics of morality make it difficult to find evidence for a completely fair notion of morality that any citizens could agree upon. As weissae1 said, it is impossible to create a drug to help people determine between “right” and “wrong” because of the sheer undeniable subjectivity of right and wrong (the basis of morality). I would argue that the first form of a “morality pill” (or other bioenhancement created to control morality) would actually come in the form of a medicine or enhancement that would wipe clean the slate of morality in the human brain to create fearless killers for the military. Popular media commonly references the creation of “super soldiers” as a legitimate possibility and the best way to combat enemies that cannot be targeted from air fire.
I doubt that there will ever be a marketed pill from a pharmaceutical company that completely controls one’s morality, and I doubt that humans will ever really choose to take them if they do. By taking a pill of morality, our free will and the value of the moral action will be diminished because we would no longer choose to do the right thing but instead be programmed to do so. However, the issue of the politics of morality, and what will be seen as right and wrong or fair and just by these enhanced humans will be dependent on the political views of the enhancement’s developers. Because morality is so subjective, no one will have the objective “right” answer, and therefore people have to be able to make the moral decision based on their personal views, even if those views do not correspond with our own.
April 15, 2016 at 6:52 pm #5948
I do not think anyone should ever be subject to a “morality pill” nor should anyone have the ability to take one of these. I will start with why it would be wrong for someone to be subject to a morality pill, such as prisoners. You put forward the argument that, although a morality pill could limit someone’s autonomy, so does a prison cell. A prison cell, however, does not affect one’s mind in the same way as a cure-all do-good pill would. If a person is bad and they do something that warrants punishment, such as going to prison, the answer should not be to provide a drug that would prevent that behavior from happening again. Now I am totally speculating how this drug would work since its implementation would likely not occur for an extremely long time, but I have a problem with this pill crossing the bounds of a person’s individual identity. Society at large says the wrongdoer’s behavior must be changed, so they give him a pill to make that change. If, following his incarceration/punishment, this person still feels as though he has done no wrong nor feels any remorse, would we not be fundamentally changing this person’s intrinsic personality? Even if the choice to take this pill was optional, why would the person do it? Is he really free if he has left the prison cell but offered his mind up to a drug-induced mental prison? I do not respect the person who would willingly compromise his selfhood, should he be unwilling to reform his ways, just to gain physical freedom of movement. Obviously I would want him to change his ways because whatever he was doing was inherently wrong, but I do not want him to do it in a way that would compromise his free will. My overall opinion is that the implementation of a morality pill is immoral and those who would choose to use are immoral as well because it sets precedent that limitations of free will are acceptable if done so for the benefit of society at large.
April 15, 2016 at 7:49 pm #5964
@buttermilkman definitely an interesting proposition, as there is certainly something intrinsically different about altering a persons brain in comparison to a sitting in a cell. That being said, many of the detention centers for criminals, at least in the US, are described as “correctional facilities” rather than jail/prison. The goal of these centers is generally to attempt to rehabilitate a person, hence the reward for good behavior. Would a “morality pill”, or some other corrective technology, not offer the ability to do just this?
Additionally, this is not a technology that would inherently need to be forced on criminals, but as an optional alternative to a cell. If they desired to change their nature or avoid this sort of punishment, would this really be all that different from the example from the Happiness Hypothesis? Or at a lower level, would it be that different from a patient with major depression taking an anti-depressant? After all, a depressed patient is certainly choosing to change there nature, hoping that it makes them happier and more functional. Likewise, a criminal would be choosing to change their nature, in hopes that it makes them happier (by avoiding prison, committing crimes, or what ever their motivation may actually be) and more functional in society.
Regardless of the arguments above, I think it is excessively strong to suggest that “those who would choose to use are immoral as well because it sets precedent that limitations of free will are acceptable if done so for the benefit of society at large”, because this condemnation itself limits the autonomy of any person who might choose to do so.
Also I want to give a quick shoutout to @btb. I wholeheartedly agree with the extension of the original thread.
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