Yesterday the Guardian ran an intriguing article by Amelia Hill about the rise of drugs that could enhance our moral sensibilities. And by "moral," what is generally meant is non-violent and empathetic to strangers, as well as future generations. Here's a chunk of interesting observations from it:
Researchers have become very interested in developing biomedical technologies capable of intervening in the biological processes that affect moral behaviour and moral thinking, according to Dr Tom Douglas, a Wellcome Trust research fellow at Oxford University's Uehiro Centre. "It is a very hot area of scientific study right now."
He is co-author of Enhancing Human Capacities, published on Monday, which includes a chapter on moral enhancement.
Drugs that affect our moral thinking and behaviour already exist, but we tend not to think of them in that way. [Prozac] lowers aggression and bitterness against environment and so could be said to make people more agreeable. Or Oxytocin, the so-called love hormone ... increases feelings of social bonding and empathy while reducing anxiety," he said.
"Scientists will develop more of these drugs and create new ways of taking drugs we already know about. We can already, for example, take prescribed doses of Oxytocin as a nasal spray," he said.
But would pharmacologically-induced altruism, for example, amount to genuine moral behaviour? Guy Kahane, deputy director of the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics and a Wellcome Trust biomedical ethics award winner, said: "We can change people's emotional responses but quite whether that improves their moral behaviour is not something science can answer."
He also admitted that it was unlikely people would "rush to take a pill that would make them morally better.
"Becoming more trusting, nicer, less aggressive and less violent can make you more vulnerable to exploitation," he said. "On the other hand, it could improve your relationships or help your career."
Kahane does not advocate putting morality drugs in the water supply, but he suggests that if administered widely they might help humanity to tackle global issues.
"Relating to the plight of people on other side of the world or of future generations is not in our nature," he said. "This new body of drugs could make possible feelings of global affiliation and of abstract empathy for future generations."
Read the rest of the article, via The Guardian.