The Morality Pill

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This topic contains 6 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  bobbymallon 7 months ago.

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  • #5893


    The vignette at the opening of chapter eleven presents three scenarios in which an old woman is being robbed at gunpoint and describes the possible responses of both a morally “enhanced” and “unenhanced” bystander. This brief narrative serves to demonstrate the larger point that moral character should also incorporate the concepts of intention and choice, which is a reasonable criticism to the argument from Persson and Savulescu. However, I find that the scenarios depicted do not adequately convey Bess’s point.

    Morality consistently proves to be a difficult concept to define, but its use in the vignette goes beyond what most people would consider a reasonable interpretation. The “morally enhanced” person feels the urge to step between the gunman and the woman, thereby inserting himself into danger for an opportunity to stop the robbery and possible murder. I struggle to believe an interpretation of morality where the optimal behavior involves endangering your own life for a slight chance of helping another. The action requires a person to place a much higher value on the safety of another person over himself. While a selfless act should generally be considered moral behavior, self preservation should not be considered immoral to the point that self-sacrifice becomes ethically mandatory. The vignette then becomes, “Should this sometimes unfavorable interpretation of moral behavior be forced on a population?” The overwhelming response would most likely be that it should not, but the value behind choosing to save the woman barely comes into play. The ethical value of choosing the moral option gets confused with not wanting to involuntarily step in front of a gun.

    Perhaps a more fair scenario would involve an old woman being mugged by a small and obviously unarmed person. In order for the bystander to not intervene, he must value his own well being far more than that of others. The position to not intervene would then more definitively represent immoral behavior.

  • #5923


    I agree with the OP on this issue. I think there is inherent altruism in saving a person who is being mugged. However, I do not think it would be immoral to care about your own self-preservation and run away. In fact, if we are being forced to take a pill that could endanger ourselves, then that pill should certainly not be called a “morality pill.” I think it would be immoral for a pill like that to be forced upon a population. It would take away a population’s autonomy and endanger the population.

    However, this begs the question: if we were not forced to take the pill, then would taking it make our actions less moral, because we would not have to make the decision whether to act morally or immorally in the moment? I think the answer is no. By taking such a pill, we are aware of the dangers associated with it, as well as the obvious enhanced moral inclination, which makes taking the pill a morally upright decision in itself.

  • #5928


    I agree with the OP in saying that Bess’s example of the morality pill coming into play in the situation of the woman and the mugger seems to be slightly misconstrued. Certainly a morality pill would make an individual more empathetic towards others and more likely to help in any given situation. However, I believe that humans would still possess a certain utilitarian way of thinking in their actions. By jumping in front of the gunman after taking a morality pill Bess is saying that said pill would force us to value others lives more than our own, which I would not believe would be the case. Certainly the person in this situation would be more inclined to help and pursue preventative actions rather than running away, but this would not necessarily mean that the morality pill would override every sentiment of self-preservation, forcing them to throw themselves in front of an armed man. Bess’s vignette fails to capture this aspect of our own utilitarian notion of society which would certainly continue to play a factor in our decision making along with the increased empathy from the morality pill.

  • #5932


    This was my issue with the vignette. The presence of a lethal weapon changes the scenario from being moral and altruistic to one where the morally enhanced individual now values the safety others to the point where he is willing to risk his life for another. Scenarios like this aren’t totally uncommon, but when they do occur they are treated as exceptional and newsworthy. So the questions of the morality pill can be whether or not you want to create morally exceptional people and what does a morally exceptional person look like. Equating exceptionality with self-sacrifice is foolish, and I think you make a great point when you say that self-preservation should not be treated as immoral. There has to be an upper limit on what the morality pill compels the individual to do and the vignette showed a scenario where the upper limit is too high, and what is perceived as morality is recklessness. If a morality pill is possible, perhaps it should just truncate the our ability to act in morally reprehensible ways rather than overextending our moral faculties, as shown in the vignette.

  • #5935

    Gavin Gill

    The Morality Pill is a hard chapter to swallow (forgive the pun. Or don’t. I’m not a cop) for me in a lot of ways because it seems to override Bess’ usual focus on the nuances of emergent properties like morality. We usually stress the limitations of genes, in that they can only code for protein production, yet there seems to be this idea that increasing empathy by supplementing the presence of a single neurotransmitter is a satisfactory mechanism to change human behavior positively. This is really problematic. Morality is not juxtaposed to self-protection, nor is it separate from calculation and rationality. One can evaluate the moral response to a situation without exerting an emotional attachment to the individuals present therein. Additionally, empathy can actually get in the way of rational moral judgement. Throwing oneself into the fray of a situation where the outcome of a compliant old woman is only the loss of currency risks multiple lives. The tradeoff is nonsensical, considering the threat of violence over property. Increased empathy, Bess seems to say, would increase the likelihood of an individual risking life over someone else’s stuff. It would be more apparent how bad of a moral decision that is if Bess were to simulate the outcome of the altruistic individual or the old woman getting shot because of the intervention. Not only is oxytocin the opposite of a surefire way to increase morality, it risks corrupting moral judgement and risk assessment in lieu of an overbearing empathetic response.

  • #5942


    While I agree that the vignette was difficult to completely digest, I think that Prof. Bess sets up a valid and meaningful question, if an extreme version of it, through the vignette: if we have the opportunity to increase our empathy, or morality, etc. through medication, but know that our own well-being may be compromised, would we do it, and should we do it? I believe that central question is still present in the vignette.

    That being said, I think the ideal “morality pill” would not necessarily strip us of our autonomy or agency. It would simply increase our capacity to see the immoral consequences of choices we may make–not force us to make those choices. It would, in other words, increase our own personal capacity to be moral based on our definition of morality–not the manufacturer’s. In short, it would hopefully be us on a good day when we’re feeling especially empathetic–whatever that means for us individually.

    Even if this “pill” were possible, though, I don’t think it would be implemented or should be implemented on a wide scale. Perhaps making it an option would be a viable and reasonable decision, but in general, I think that making us cognizant of immoral consequences could, to some people, be considered an affront to our individual agency–even if it’s just making us realize our individual moral potential. Everyone has a different definition of autonomy, and I believe that even changing how we perceive situations in a subtle way could be considered a stripping of our agency.

  • #5955


    I agree with several drawbacks that you bring up about the morality pill. Another major drawback that I believe is very important to consider is that those that take the morality pill will be easy to be taken advantage of. When someone knows what another is going to do then they can be taken advantage of. This is evident in several aspects of life. In football, if the defense knows what play the offense is going to run, they can call a blitz or coverage designed to stop that specific play. In betting, if one knows exactly what someone is going to do, then they can bet for them to do that and will win. If someone takes the morality pill, you know that they are going to act selflessly. Thus, people can manipulate them in various ways for their own self-interest. They can get them to do things for them or potentially get them to donate money for a “charity”, which could really just be a scheme where they just pocket the money. There are several other ways one can be manipulated if they are predictable, thus one must consider whether or not the increase in good deeds and morally correct decisions outweigh the potential to be exploited.

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