Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Morality Pill

Apropos of Evolving Consciousness, Empathy and Advanced Hon-Human Intelligence, a post I wrote back in late April, there's a thought-provoking opinion piece in today's Globe and Mail that I recommend to everyone - Would We Swallow A Morality Pill, by Guy Kahane, who is deputy director of the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford. Kahane asks the following question: Should we use our growing scientific understanding of the basis of human morality to try to make people morally better?

Here's an excerpt:
It would be ideal if individuals could freely explore different ways to improve themselves, whether by practising mindfulness, reading moral philosophy or, yes, by taking a “morality” pill. But it’s also true that, although some people are eager to take pills that make them feel better, it’s not so obvious that people would want to take pills that would make them morally better. It’s not clear people really want to be morally better. And those who, like the psychopathic Alex [of A Clockwork Orange], need the most help are probably those who would want it least.
Well worth a look, and then consideration, less so for the idea that an actual "morality pill" might be invented than for the question that Kahane leaves the reader with:

"Will we want to take them if they ever become available? And what does it say about us if we won't."

Paul Kimball


Tony Morrill said...

This seems like such a dangerous slippery slope to go down. On the one hand, in an idealistic sense making everyone 'good' sounds like a great idea. But on the other hand you have the problem of deciding whose idea of 'good' you would want to emulate. Definitely a tricky area, thanks for the link nonetheless. This tied in perfectly with my classes discussion of the Heinz Dilemma.

Paul Kimball said...

Hi Tony,

Kahane makes it clear that the idea of forcing people to be moral, by whatever means, is a non-starter. I think it's his question about what it says about us as a species that most of us wouldn't take a morality pill freely if it was offered that is far more interesting, revealing and relevant. I think it also illustrates why any advanced, non-human intelligence that had developed a truly empathic and ethical mindset would want nothing to do with us, other than a few individuals who might be capable of transcending the selfishness that is humanity.


Paul Kimball said...

P.S. I wouldn't take a morality pill if it was offered. Shame on me...

Tony Morrill said...

Yeah I wouldn't take one either, and I can definitely see where you are coming from with this idea. It would explain why there hasn't been a landing on the White House lawn type event. Instead what we have are people that have, apparently, encountered Non-Human Intelligences and come back to teach us some new morality or philosophy. So maybe the people misunderstood the message, and thus the 'Other' has to keep coming back. They are searching for that perfect specimen that is ready for the transcendence, in whatever form that may take. Makes me really take another look at the story of Elijah from the Old Testament. Maybe he really was taken up 'into heaven by a whirlwind'. He might have been just the right kind of guy.