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Description: One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small and the one that mother gave you doesn’t do anything at all. …… feed your head….. These (like the latter bit of the title of this post) are lyrics from a 1967 song called ‘White Rabbit’ by Jefferson Airplane. They reflect the huge interest in mind altering, mind expanding substances in the 1960’s. So where are we four decades later in terms of experimentation with mind altering or expanding drugs? Well one way to look at it is to see it as now part of mainstream research and psychological and ethical speculation and debate. The article linked below is an interesting example of the fascinating discussions that have arisen in recent years from the burgeoning field of neuroscience. Specifically, if drugs were found that seemed to “make people more moral” (less aggressive, more social, more sympathetic, more nurturing…) would that be a good thing to do?  The idea is that “moral bioenhancement” (MB for short) would make the word a better place. What do you think? Do not just think about whether this is a good or bad idea. Think, as well, about how the question and its constituent concepts are composed. Are we asking the right questions? Are we asking enough questions?

Source: What if you could take a pill for a better, more moral, you? Neuroethicists ponder the panacea.  Sharon Kirkey, National Post

Date: December 30, 2016

Photo Credit:  National Post

Links:  Article Link —

Undoubtedly, human behaviour, feelings, and thoughts are grounded in the brain and thus in the neuroscience domain of enquiry. The question of what people need to ‘be more moral’ is a very complex one and one which needs to be simplified a bit if it is even to be tangentially addressed from a neuroscience perspective. Is being more sympathetic important? Do we need to be more averse to harming others? More cooperative. Less critical, more sensitive? More trusting? There are drugs that research suggests may influence all of these things. But would their use at the individual level be a cure for some of our current broader scale social woes? Now that is an interesting ethical question. In addition, it was fascinating to see the argument that ADHD is no longer considered the moral failing it once was since it has been medicalized and to a certain extent treated neuropharmacologically. Such a summary statement belies the older historical fact that ADHD was first raised as a moral failing in the context of formal schooling settings and further that categorically viewing ADHD as a brain based neurochemical issue ignores the role of self-regulation and individual differences in both understanding and coping with behaviours linked to ADHD. I am not sure where this debate is going but I am pretty sure that the emerging field of Neuroethics is going to see some significant growth in the years and decades to come.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What does it mean to suggest that our morality is brain-based?
  2. What is your appraisal of the candidate characteristics marked in the article as open to neuro-chemical “adjustment”?
  3. What is your current position on the ethics of neuro-chemical moral adjustment??

References (Read Further):

Schlag, S. (2016). The Tragedy of Biomedical Moral Enhancement. Neuroethics, 1-13.

Danaher, J. (2016). Why Internal Moral Enhancement Might Be politically Better than External Moral Enhancement. Neuroethics, 1-16.

Zarpentine, C. (2013). ‘The Thorny and Arduous Path of Moral Progress’: Moral Psychology and Moral Enhancement. Neuroethics, 6(1), 141-153.

Persson, I., & Savulescu, J. (2016). Moral Bioenhancement, Freedom and Reason. Neuroethics, 9(3), 263-268.

Actually the whole journal Neuroethics, is fascinating.