Are You Morally Modified?: The Moral Effects of Widely Used Pharmaceuticals


A number of concerns have been raised about the possible future use of pharmaceuticals designed to enhance cognitive, affective, and motivational processes, particularly where the aim is to produce morally better decisions or behavior. In this article, we draw attention to what is arguably a more worrying possibility: that pharmaceuticals currently in widespread therapeutic use are already having unintended effects on these processes, and thus on moral decision making and morally significant behavior. We review current evidence on the moral effects of three widely used drugs or drug types: (i) propranolol, (ii) selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and (iii) drugs that effect oxytocin physiology. This evidence suggests that the alterations to moral decision making and behavior caused by these agents may have important and difficult-to-evaluate consequences, at least at the population level. We argue that the moral effects of these and other widely used pharmaceuticals warrant further empirical research and ethical analysis.