A Gandhi Pill Can Help You Turn the Other Cheek

Researchers at the University of Sheffield in England have published an examination of the effects that mood-altering pills might have in helping people be less aggressive and improve their character.

Professor Sean Spence described a hypotheical example of a man with antisocial personality disorder who requests drugs to prevent him from harming his girlfriend. In making that request, Spence says, the man is using pharmaceuticals to exhibit “moral agency.” In other words, he is acting responsibly by taking medication in the present to protect others from his behavior in the future.

Can pharmacology enhance human morality?” Spence asks. “We should answer ‘yes.’ Sometimes it can be used as a means to this end.”

Some might argue that pharmaceuticals already do this. Ritalin, valium, and other psychotropic drugs are widely used to alter and regulate mood. The ethical implications of using pharmacology to enhance human morality take on greater urgency when we ask: “Who decides when to use it?”