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The ethics of a chemical break-up


Forthcoming talk: If I could just stop loving you: Anti-love biotechnology and the ethics of a chemical break-up

Date & Time: 30th Nov 2012 4:00pm-5:30pm

Abstract:  “Love hurts” – as the saying goes – and a certain degree of pain and difficulty in intimate relationships is unavoidable. Sometimes it may even be beneficial, since, as it is often argued, some types (and amounts) of suffering can lead to personal growth, self-discovery, and a range of other essential components of a life well-lived. But other times, love is downright dangerous. Either it can trap a person in a cycle of violence, as in some domestic abuse cases, or it can prevent a person from moving on with her life or forming healthier relationships. There other cases of problematic love as well:

• An older person’s uncontrollable sexual attraction for a child
• Unrequited love that leads to despair or suicidal thoughts and behaviors
• Romantic love for someone other than one’s spouse
• Incestuous love
• Love for a cult leader

In at least some of these cases, the feeling of love or attraction is (1) unwanted by the person experiencing it and (2) potentially gravely harmful to that person himself or to other vulnerable parties. In other cases, such as with love for a cult leader, the love may seem beneficial to the individual, but might actually be quite hazardous considered from other perspectives. How might these perilous feelings of love be diminished, so that the likelihood of the potential harms attending them (domestic violence, child abuse, suicide, adultery, incest) might likewise be reduced?

The idea of an anti-love remedy or a “cure” for love is as old as love itself. References may be found in the writings of Lucretius, Ovid, Shakespeare, and many others, and are tightly linked to the notion that love or infatuation—under certain conditions—can be just like a serious illness: bad for one’s physical and mental health and, in some cases, profoundly damaging to one’s overall well-being. But unlike these ancient remedies, modern neuroscience and bio-psycho-pharmacology create the possibility of designing a “cure” for love that could actually work, raising a number of ethical questions about their possible use. In this talk, I explore some of the potential uses and misuses of anti-love bio-technology from a scientific and ethical perspective.

Brian D. Earp is a Research Associate in the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and a Consultant working with the Institute for Science and Ethics at Oxford’s Martin School. Brian completed his MSc. in experimental psychology as a Henry Fellow of New College, Oxford; and received his undergraduate degree from Yale, where he studied cognitive science and philosophy and was elected President of the Yale Philosophy Society. Serving as Editor-in-Chief of both the international Yale Philosophy Review and the Yale Review of Undergraduate Research in Psychology, Brian also conducted extensive experimental research in a number of areas, generally touching on unconscious or automatic mental processes. With Professor Julian Savulescu, Brian is authoring a book on the neuroenhancement of love and marriage, to be completed this year. Brian is also a professional actor and singer, whose performance reel can be seen here.

Venue: Graduate Training Room, Radcliffe Humanities, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6GG (buzzer 3 ‘Philosophy’)

Further details: Booking not required, all welcome.

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