A recent study in the journal Bioethics finds that "moral enhancement technologies" are neither feasible nor wise, based on an assessment of existing research into these technologies.
The idea behind moral enhancement is to use biomedical techniques to make people more moral. Drugs, surgical techniques or neurological interventions are often mentioned as examples.
"There are existing ways that people have explored to manipulate morality, but the question we address in this paper is whether manipulating morality actually improves it," says Veljko Dubljevic, of North Caroline State University.
Dubljevic and co-author Eric Racine, of Montreal Clinical Research Institute, reviewed research on moral enhancement technologies to assess their effects and how they may apply in real-world circumstances. They examined four types of pharmaceutical interventions and three neurostimulation techniques:
"In short, moral enhancement is not feasible -- and even if it were, history shows us that using science to in an attempt to manipulate morality is not wise," Dubljevic says.
The researchers found different problems for each of the pharmaceutical approaches.
"Oxytocin does promote trust, but only in the in-group," Dubljevic notes. "And it can decrease cooperation with out-group members of society, such as racial minorities, and selectively promote ethnocentrism, favouritism, and parochialism."
The researchers also found that amphetamines boost motivation for all types of behaviour, not just moral behaviour. Moreover, there are significant risks of addiction associated with amphetamines. Beta blockers were found not only to decrease racism, but to blunt all emotional response which puts their usefulness into doubt. SSRIs reduce aggression, but have serious side-effects, including an increased risk of suicide.
In addition to physical side effects, the researchers also found a common problem with using either TMS or TCDS technologies.
"Even if we could find a way to make these technologies work consistently, there are significant questions about whether being more utilitarian in one's decision-making actually makes one more moral," Dubljevic says.
Lastly, the researchers found no evidence that deep brain stimulation had any effect whatsoever on moral behavior.
"Our goal here is to share a cautionary note with those who are discussing different techniques for moral enhancement," Dubljevic says. "I am in favour of research that is done responsibly, but against dangerous social experiments."
Saturday, May 20, 2017
The Economist is the world’s best news magazine. Its stylish, intelligent and well-informed coverage has made it the Bible of the global elite. “I used to think. Now I just read The Economist,” the former CEO of Oracle, Larry Ellison, once said.
Part of its appeal is its ideological consistency. Ever since 1843 The Economist has argued that aim of public policy should be to promote the market economy as the best way of achieving prosperity and democracy. A light touch of government regulation is needed only to ensure fairness and legal certainty. Thus it embodies the “classical 19th-century Liberal ideas” which made Britain, and later the United States, a bulwark of capitalism.
Whatever the merits of this ideology in framing public policy for economics and finance, it is ill-suited to questions of personal behaviour.
In principle The Economist supports all autonomous action which is either harmless (in its view) or profitable. Hence, in recent years it has thrown its considerable prestige behind campaigns for the legalisation and regulation of drugs, pornography, prostitution, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage.
And this month it has taken up cudgels in favour of an international market in surrogate mothers and babies. “Carrying a child for someone else should be celebrated—and paid”, is the defiant headline of its editorial. Given the magazine’s influence, this is a significant development. What do you think of it?
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