Are you morally modified? The moral effects of widely used pharmaceuticals

Neil Levy, Thomas Douglas, Guy Kahane, Sylvia Terbeck, Philip J. Cowen, Miles Hewstone, Julian Savulescu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

19 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

A number of concerns have been raised about the possible future use of pharmaceuticals designed to enhance cognitive, affective, and motivational processes, particularly where the aim is to produce morally better decisions or behavior. In this article, we draw attention to what is arguably a more worrying possibility: that pharmaceuticals currently in widespread therapeutic use are already having unintended effects on these processes, and thus on moral decision making and morally significant behavior. We review current evidence on the moral effects of three widely used drugs or drug types: (i) propranolol, (ii) selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and (iii) drugs that effect oxytocin physiology. This evidence suggests that the alterations to moral decision making and behavior caused by these agents may have important and difficult-to-evaluate consequences, at least at the population level. We argue that the moral effects of these and other widely used pharmaceuticals warrant further empirical research and ethical analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-125
Number of pages15
JournalPhilosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology
Volume21
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Moral decision making
  • Moral enhancement
  • Moral judgment
  • Moral psychology
  • Oxytocin
  • Propranolol
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors

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