Compulsory administration of oxytocin does not result in genuine moral enhancement


The question will be raised whether oxytocin can serve as an effective moral enhancer. Different types of moral enhancement will be addressed, one of them being compulsory moral enhancement. It will be argued that oxytocin cannot serve as an effective moral enhancer if its use is being made compulsory. Hence, compulsory administration of oxytocin does not result in genuine moral enhancement. In order to demonstrate this, a stipulation of the main potentially beneficial outcomes of using oxytocin as a moral enhancer will be offered, as well as a discussion of objections to the notion that oxytocin can be an effective moral enhancer. It will be concluded that mandatory administration of oxytocin is ineffective because of a combination of two reasons: (1) mandatory administration of oxytocin renders moral reflection practically superfluous; (2) without moral reflection the beneficial outcomes of the use of oxytocin do not outweigh its drawbacks to the degree that we could speak of effective moral enhancement.

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  1. 1.

    Moral compulsion I define as the act of forcing an agent to act in a morally desirable manner in a way that violates that agent’s moral agency (for a similar formulation, see Simkulet 2012, p. 17).

  2. 2.

    “Practical” will be used in this paper as an antonym of “theoretical”. The meaning of “practically superfluous” comes close to “functionally superfluous”. It denotes something that is unusable.

  3. 3.

    Persson and Savulescu define ultimate harm as an event or series of events that make worthwhile life on this planet forever impossible (Persson and Savulescu 2008, p. 174). They argue in one way or another that, regardless of how one defines “moral enhancement”, an agent’s freedom to do wrong must be compulsorily curtailed, as failure to do so will inevitably lead to ultimate harm.

  4. 4.

    The reasoning can also be stated as follows: (1) Compulsory administration of oxytocin renders the role of moral reflection practically superfluous, which implies that options (a) and (b) are being retained (reflecting the same, acting the same and reflecting the same, acting differently). (2) As with a practically superfluous role of moral reflection we cannot use oxytocin as an effective moral enhancer, only option a) remains (reflecting the same, acting the same). (3) As option (a) is not a case of moral enhancement, we cannot use oxytocin as an effective moral enhancer if we make its administration compulsory.

  5. 5.

    Serotonin is a case in point in that regard. For an analysis of the detrimental outcomes of the use of Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), see Wiseman (2014).

  6. 6.

    For example, oxytocin can help romantically attached couples by decreasing their anxiety during periods of separation (Marazziti et al. 2006). If a couple is separated for a long period of time, the fear of betrayal might increase. A lack of physical intimacy can augment this fear. If we believe that we risk being exposed to betrayal, we may respond in kind. As this is likely to hurt our partner, it is not morally right. More trust will make us less likely to hurt our partner.

  7. 7.

    In one study, intranasal oxytocin apparently caused men in a monogamous relationship to increase the distance between themselves and an attractive woman during a first encounter by more than 10–15 centimeters. Single men did not increase this distance (Scheele et al. 2012). This implies that oxytocin might stimulate fidelity. An anonymous reviewer rightly noted however that increased fidelity might be harmful if it is unearned.

  8. 8.

    One version of the trolley thought experiment is the following. A runaway trolley is about to kill five people who lie tied up on its track, unable to move. You can help. All you have to do is pull a hand lever to switch tracks, saving the five people. But there is a problem. Someone stands on the sidetrack unto which you can divert the trolley. There is no time to warn him. Hence, by pulling the hand lever and guiding the trolley to safety you will save five people, but at the same time have an active role in killing one person. A variety of complex moral issues arise when we think about which action is the morally justified one to take.

  9. 9.

    Similar points can be made about the adaptiveness/maladaptiveness of romantic attachment.

  10. 10.

    See; retrieved on 23 January 2017.

  11. 11.

    I am indebted to Harris Wiseman for certain segments in this discussion.


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Rakić, V. Compulsory administration of oxytocin does not result in genuine moral enhancement. Med Health Care and Philos 20, 291–297 (2017).

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  • Moral enhancement
  • Oxytocin
  • Benefits
  • Objections
  • Moral reflection
  • Moral behavior
  • Outcomes
  • Compulsion
  • Effectiveness