Ethics, evolution and drugs

We’re using to taking drugs to combat physical illness, and we’re quite comfortable with the idea of taking them to improve an individual’s mental health. Would it be strange to take drugs to improve your relationships? 

Earp, Sandberg and Savulescu argue that there may even be a moral obligation to take drugs to improve relationships: 

While individual couples should be free to use pharmacological interventions to sustain  and improve their romantic connection, we suggest that they may have an obligation to do so as well, in certain cases

They go on to argue that people that value commitment, and have chosen to have children, may have a moral obligation for the kids’ sake. 

There were a couple of things I liked about the paper. One was that they clearly outline how they’re seeing the evolutionary angle – they very clearly articulate that they’re understanding how it might influence behaviour, but not making an appeal to nature.* I also liked that they carefully caveated their view. Particularly in relation to the idea of preserving a relationship – they outline the cases where it’s not appropriate (abuse, etc.), but argue for a more limited, middle of the road set of circumstances. 

Having said that, I almost felt as though they were tackling two separate questions. One was on the responsibility of parents to preserve a relationship for their childrens’ sake – the same argument made for drugs could apply to counselling and a few other steps. This is probably controversial, but reasonably clearly a moral conversation. 

The other question is about taking drugs to enhance a relationship – whether that’s somehow inappropriate or … false, I suppose? They don’t really address this issue; I felt they could perhaps have more clearly articulated the viewpoint they were inherently disagreeing with (I would guess it’s something like ‘there is value in relationships being genuine, and you can’t fake them with drugs’, in its simplest form). That’s also an interesting one, but perhaps a different conversation. 

Regardless, it’s an interesting read on an interesting question, and it’s a nice cross over between contemporary research and the philosophy of ethics. As a bonus, it’s not behind a paywall (and you can read an interview with the authors on the Atlantic).

* I thought the term for this fallacy was the naturalistic fallacy, but apparently that term describes a different logical error. 

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