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“Morality Pills”: Ethicist Calls for Drugs to Solve COVID Non-Compliance

Photo credit: rottonara via Pixabay.

In an article for The Conversation, ethics professor Parker Crutchfield proposes a solution for widespread opposition and/or non-compliance to government mandates dealing with COVID-19: give people chemicals, “morality pills,” to make them more cooperative. He observes:

COVID-19 is a collective risk. It threatens everyone, and we all must cooperate to lower the chance that the coronavirus harms any one individual. Among other things, that means keeping safe social distances and wearing masks. But many people choose not to do these things, making spread of infection more likely.

Whatever one thinks about government mandates relating to the coronavirus, Crutchfield’s “solution” is worse than the problem.

The Case for “Moral Enhancement”

Crutchfield, who teaches at Western Michigan University, argues that we should employ hormones and other drugs to “morally enhance” people. The idea has been promoted widely within the transhumanist movement, a movement that wants to evolve humans to a higher level. There are many problems with this dehumanizing vision, and in the last chapter of my book, The Death of Humanity: And the Case for Life, I discuss these at length. Here is a brief run-down.

First, “moral enhancement” is based on shaky science. It is based on the idea that human behavior is genetically determined, which is a highly controversial position. Further, as Crutchfield himself explains in this article, some of the hormones might produce unintended consequences that could be more problematic than the behavior one is trying to change. Oxytocin, one of the darling hormones proposed by those pushing “moral enhancement,” seems to promote cooperation in the in-group, but hostility toward the out-group. Thus it may actually increase conformity to one’s own society, but perhaps increase racism. Do we really want to increase conformity to COVID-19 regulations, if it increases racism?

A Nietzschean Solution

Second, transhumanists have no basis for any objective morality, so whenever they talk about promoting morality, they are merely pushing for whatever they personally think is moral. If other people disagree with their moral vision, then there is no way to adjudicate (other than by reference to who has the power to impose their morality on others — the Nietzschean solution). This means that whatever “morality pills” are administered to the public will be to impose the moral vision of the technocratic elite, rather than to promote objective moral standards.

Third (and flowing from the second point), because morality is not objective, there is no such thing as “higher” morality (or “higher” anything) in the evolutionary process. “Higher” implies teleology, and if transhumanists want to be consistent with their materialistic version of evolution, they cannot embrace any notion of “higher,” because there is no goal (telos) toward which anything is moving. Once again, this means that the goals of the transhumanists are completely subjective, subject to the whim to those who can impose their will on others.

Finally, if people are really in such need of “moral enhancement,” how can we trust them to bioengineer “moral enhancement”? What if the technocrats are in need of “moral enhancement,” too? The whole idea presupposes that the technocrats who call the shots have their moral acts together and can tell everyone else how to become moral. It assumes that the intellectual elites are more moral than others in our society. Some, like myself, think the opposite is true — the intellectual elites of our society have been promoting immorality for decades, and if anyone needs “moral enhancement,” it is them.

Richard Weikart is professor of history at California State University, Stanislaus; Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture; and author of The Death of Humanity: And the Case for Life and other books.