Ethics and cognitive freedom

…and now I’m awake again, and already wondering what kind of work has been done on this sort of thing.

What kinds of altering one’s consciousness do we have moral permission for?  Would a neurotypical person have the moral right to use memory-enhancing drugs?  Would a person with a mental illness have the moral right to use ‘corrective’ (antipsychotic, antidepressive, etc.) drugs?  For that matter, would a person with a mental illness have some duty to use corrective drugs?  Is there a right and/or duty to use psychedelics?  What about the moral right to use memory-suppressing drugs following a traumatic experience?  Does it matter whether one hacks his own brain for the purpose of entertainment rather than success or service to humanity?  Does it matter whether one alters or extends one’s cognitive functions by nanotechnology, chemical supplements, or simply reading thought-provoking books?

If I were to get into philosophy on my own, I think this would be an area of interest.  I’ll have to come up with a suitably outrageous scenario to illustrate the topic, of course.  Perhaps a society of music lovers has kidnapped a great violinist and wishes to force her to take experimental but effective drugs that will make her into the greatest violinist that the world has ever known, for the purpose of benefiting humanity by creating transcendently beautiful recordings that will stimulate a new burst of interest in the fine arts.  Would she have the moral right to refuse to do so?  Later, when she had been released, if she reconsidered the idea, would she have the moral right to take the same drugs?  What if the motive were merely to profit by selling the recordings?

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Ethics and cognitive freedom

  1. danasdream

    Interesting questions, Ben. Some of them overlap into psychology / counseling. Then there’s the question of what the conclusion that someone has a “moral right” means. Some people would argue that a moral right is negative, in that it prevents others (the government/society) from interfering in the right. Some might argue that a right means little without the government helping provide it.

    With regard to legal issues, the Supreme Court here has ruled that there is no religious right to use psychedlics even if they are part of established religious ceremonies. (Link here: http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/empdiv.html)

    Obviously, a mentally ill person can be confined against their will if they are a “danger to self or others.” This is called being “Baker Acted” here in FL. The person may have to be med-compliant in order to be released if there is medicine which helps their illness.

    Just a few thoughts.

    I’ve enjoyed the last few posts.

    Dana

  2. sylvar

    Well, I’m definitely trying to avoid the legal meaning of ‘right’; what I had in mind is something like ‘it would be permissible, from an ethical standpoint, to do so’. What THAT means is a whole different story; some say that there’s an actual meaning to terms like ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and others say that when you say “it is wrong to do that”, you’re really just saying “I personally disapprove of it”.

  3. danasdream

    Well, my take is there is definitely a “right” and “wrong.” And obviously, the “legal” definitions of things are informed by the moral thinking of the decision makers involved (or at least they should be).

  4. loucheroo

    I’ve been having problems wrapping my mind around this particular entry. Understanding wht it is you’re trying to question. I thought maybe it was just tired on my part, but I think the issue I’m having is this: I don’t feel that moral permisson needs to be worried about in instances where it doesn’t negatively affect others. As Dana mentioned, there is the Baker Act. I think that’s an important thing. But if you’re not going to cause harm to others then why would it be morally improper to, say, use a memory enhancer? As for people with a mental illness, I think that there’s definitely a moral “right” to use what you term corrective drugs. As for a duty… Hmmm…. I think that, again, as long as you don’t do harm to others you should have the choice. The problem is that with certain illnesses, I think the person has difficulty realizing the danger he or she may be.

    Does it matter whether one hacks his own brain for the purpose of entertainment rather than success or service to humanity? Does it matter whether one alters or extends one’s cognitive functions by nanotechnology, chemical supplements, or simply reading thought-provoking books?

    why should it?

    As for your outrageous scenario… Personally I think she has the moral right to refuse because it has the possibility of harming her. Regardless it alters her and one shouldn’t be forced into that. By the same token, in my opinion, she would still have the right to take the same drugs should she change her mind, regardless of the purpose.

    Again, these are just my thoughts on the subject… definitely made me think….

  5. sylvar

    I don’t feel that moral permission needs to be worried about in instances where it doesn’t negatively affect others.

    I think I agree with you about that in general, though there are usually exceptions.

    Let’s say that, this afternoon, you see a driver in front of you hit and kill a bicyclist who was, for some reason, riding straight toward the car. The police arrive and you explain what you saw. You now want to get that scene out of your head. The driver will probably never kill anyone again; it was a freak occurrence. If you take propranolol quickly, you’ll be able to avoid remembering what happened. You’ll also be unable to testify in the case. Do you have a duty to society to retain a traumatic memory in order to testify? Do you have a duty to the driver to testify on his behalf?

  6. loucheroo

    Hmmm…. if you’ve explained the whole thing to police right when it happened… is that admissable as evidence in the case? I don’t know…. it’s a tough question.

  7. danasdream

    Legally, it might be admissible as an exception to the hearsay rule depending on circumstances.

    But Ben isn’t really asking about the legalities. Though, to the extent that your prior testimony might be admissible, it might increase the “rightness” of your deciding not to testify and erasing your memory.

    Dana

  8. loucheroo

    I know he’s not talking about the legality, but I’d feel ok about it if my testimony worked without me there…

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