So, we have established that if, in fact, holding warm beverages makes you nicer, going out of your way to find a warm beverage before interacting with an annoying person is acceptable to you. Seems fairly reasonable, though (I think) clearly in a closer-to-ideal world we wouldn’t need such crutches, but we all of us bear far heavier sins than leaning on chocolate from time to time, for whatever reason.
What if there was a drug that made you kinder, more charitable, more forgiving? Let’s say even that it has some negative side effects– how about all the side effects of amphetamines, drugs commonly prescribed to treat psychology/behavior (as opposed to the way, say, morphine treats the body, or even how antibiotics treat infections– hopefully the distinction I’m making is clear?).
From my perspective, it seems obvious that it’s wrong to take the drug. I’m wondering if you agree? My “conclusion” is also way more intuitive than logical. It’s not as though the drug eradicates free will– it’s kind of like soft paternalism, but in your head. Does that meaningfully devalue our moral agency, and does an atheist care if it achieves her ends?
I’m really torn. I can’t tell whether my discomfort with temperament modification through pharmaceuticals as opposed to through talk therapy or experience or really focused discussions of metaphysics is just an ‘eeew!’ reaction to anything that seems artificial. I know I’m much more hesitant about this course of action than I am about the others.
Plenty of that is motivated by the low level of faith I have in the pharmacological industry and a possibly misplaced confidence in my own moral conduct. Although there are a wide range of issues that are productively dealt with by chemical adjustment (paralyzing depression, schizophrenia, etc), psychopharmacology seems a lot more suited to pruning back particularly destructive deviations than fostering some idealized behavior. The definition of normal or stable they use is much too limited to be of much help to people who fall sufficiently close to acceptable, as I imagine I do. (If you want to know more about the way psychiatrists have a tendency to project one mode of behavior on everyone, check out Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche).
Even if those problems were resolved, I run into the same problem that troubles Tristyn. I value my own will and my choices to direct it towards its proper functioning. Medicating myself better seems like cheating and valuing correct behavior over correct attitude towards behavior. I’m also running into the strange problems of persistence of identity through time. If my attitudes towards others improves by a jump discontinuity rather than according to the normal course of events, it feel a little like I’ve annihilated myself to allow space for an upgraded version.
Should my metaphysical qualms really stop me from forcing myself to treat others better? To what extent should I permit myself to inflict my bad and hurtful behavior on others for the sake of preserving my own moral agency? Could I be called to sacrifice my agency and my personal moral development for the sake of others? Could I ethically put myself in situations where I would burden or hurt others for the sake of the moral development it would cause me?
I’m not really sure, and I’d be interested in your perspectives. And for one special bonus question for Christians like Tristyn: are any of you profoundly uncomfortable with a pharmacological fix but comfortable with the famous “May I kill it?” passage in C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce? (The scene I’m referring to is available here). Both involve being freed of immoral tendencies by consenting to profound alteration. Thoughts?