Marriage is not well served by its defenders. The loudest and best reported of them are often fundamentalist bigots. It’s a shame, for marriage has a lot going for it.
Even if you think that marriage is an anachronistic/bourgeois/theologically contaminated institution, you’ll probably agree that the breakdown of marriages is best avoided. Of course incurably dysfunctional marriages should be ended, but most people aspire to enduring relationships, and the wrench of marital dislocation is emotionally and financially traumatic. If there are children, marriage breakup is painful for the parents and can be enduringly damaging for the children. There are, in short and quite uncontroversially, some significant harms associated with the breakdown of marriages.
How can marriage breakdown – and hence those harms – be avoided? Continue reading
Hilary Greaves, University of Oxford
Ashley Madison is an online extramarital dating service, running with the succinct subtitle “Life is short. Have an affair.” On July 20, 2015, the service announced that hackers had breached its data security defences, and obtained identifying details for the site’s 37 million members. In the months that have since past, the newspapers have reported case after case of divorce, resignation from top jobs, blackmail and, tragically, suicide.
Reactions to the Ashley Madison scandal have been many and various, ranging from unreserved sympathy for the ‘victims’ to the view that subscribers to Ashley Madison were stupid and ‘therefore’ deserve everything they get. My own reaction to any case of family trauma caused by infidelity is rather one of sadness: the sadness of witnessing suffering that seems, in many or most cases, so eminently avoidable.
I do not mean that the suffering would have been avoided if the straying parties had kept strictly to their vows of monogamy, true though that may be. What strikes me most is rather the frequency of the refrain that what really hurt the wronged partner was “not the sex, but the betrayal of trust”. This raises the urgent question of why the vows of monogamy were made in the first place. Of course, once a promise is made, (a) it should be kept and (b) one feels cheated, even humiliated, if one is on the receiving end of a promise-breaking; but those observations imply nothing about which promises are good ones to make. If one’s partner really, really likes strawberries, to the point at which he or she would find them a source of great temptation if they became forbidden fruit, it would be a bad idea to make one’s relationship conditional on an oath of strawberry-abstinence, and then to be torn apart by the betrayal of trust when said oath is inevitably broken. The advocate of monogamy should take a long, hard look at whether the arguments for insisting on sexual abstinence are any stronger than the arguments for insisting on strawberry abstinence.
Just out today is a podcast interview for Smart Drug Smarts between host Jesse Lawler and interviewee Brian D. Earp on “The Medicalization of Love” (title taken from a recent paper with Anders Sandberg and Julian Savulescu, available from the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, here).
Below is the abstract and link to the interview:
What is love? A loaded question with the potential to lead us down multiple rabbit holes (and, if you grew up in the 90s, evoke memories of the Haddaway song). In episode #95, Jesse welcomes Brian D. Earp on board for a thought-provoking conversation about the possibilities and ethics of making biochemical tweaks to this most celebrated of human emotions. With a topic like “manipulating love,” the discussion moves between the realms of neuroscience, psychology and transhumanist philosophy.
Earp, B. D., Sandberg, A., & Savulescu, J. (2015). The medicalization of love. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, Vol. 24, No. 3, 323–336.
Following the death of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who committed suicide after forced “conversion therapy,” President Barack Obama called for a nationwide ban on psychotherapy aimed at changing sexual orientation or gender identity. The administration argued that because conversion therapy causes substantial psychological harm to minors, it is neither medically nor ethically appropriate.
We fully agree with the President and believe that this is a step in the right direction. Of course, in addition to being unsafe as well as ethically unsound, current conversion therapy approaches aren’t actually effective at doing what they claim to do – changing sexual orientation.
But we also worry that this may be a short-term legislative solution to what is really a conceptual problem.
The question we ought to be asking is “what will happen if and when scientists do end up developing safe and effective technologies that can alter sexual orientation?”
This is a brief note to alert the readers of Practical Ethics that research by myself, Anders Sandberg, and Julian Savulescu on the potential therapeutic uses of “love drugs” and “anti-love drugs” has recently been featured in an interview for the national Canadian broadcast program, “Q” with Jian Ghomeshi (airing on National Public Radio in the United States).
Readers may also be interested in checking out a new website, “Love in the Age of Enhancement” which collects the various academic essays, magazine articles, and media coverage of these arguments concerning the neuroenhancement of human relationships.
Love drugs and science reporting in the media: Setting the record straight
Love. It makes the world go round. It is the reason we have survived as a species. It is the subject of our art, literature, and music—and it is largely the product of chemical reactions within the brain.
No wonder science is starting to unravel the ways in which we can influence it, and perhaps even control it.
Just as Darwin’s finding that we are descended from apes shocked people in the nineteenth century, so people will be shocked to find that our most lofty social ideal is something we share with our mammalian cousins and which is the subject of scientific scrutiny and even chemistry-book manipulation.
In 2008, two of us (Julian Savulescu and Anders Sandberg) published an article in the journal Neuroethics on the topic of “love drugs” – a term we use to refer to pharmacological interventions based on existing and future bio-technologies that could work to strengthen the bond between romantic partners. All three of us have an article just published in the journal Philosophy & Technology in which we build upon that earlier work. Interested readers will take the time to study those papers in full, but we have a feeling that much of the population will stop at a handful of media reports that have recently summarized our ideas, including at least one article that we think has the potential to mislead. Let us set the record straight.
I am desperate to start a sexual relationship with an old acquaintance but his wife, who has no interest in sex, would be appalled if she knew. Does that matter?
I read this in the Guardian’s ‘Life & Style’ section. Every week, a reader can present a dilemma she/he is faced with in her/his ‘private’ life and ask other readers for advice.
The full story goes like this:
I recently reconnected with an old classmate from my teens, and we fell in love almost immediately. We are in our early 50s and both in long marriages to good people whom we love. Leaving our spouses is not an option [….] Despite our desire for each other and the fact that his wife and my husband may be asexual, my friend and I have not slept with each other. My husband has given me permission to have a lover, but my friend’s wife would be appalled if he asked for the same set-up. Shouldn’t someone with no interest in sex and minimal romantic attachment to their spouse (they are like roommates) allow that spouse to fulfil her or his needs for stimulation and affection (discreetly) elsewhere without calling it “cheating”? My friend and I are moral people, but life is short.
Some of the readers’ replies are:
Whose word do we have for it that his wife is asexual?…Oh, only his… What a surprise.
Of course it is ok! Go and fuck with everyone in sight and don’t bother!
Fortunately, other replies are more sophisticated. Most people seem to acknowledge the dilemma is real. None of the proposed options are ideal. For example, those who suggest asexual married couples should never have extramarital sexual relationships at the same time acknowledge that this solution is not ideal as sexual frustration may build up and may have devastating effects on the marriage. Those who suggest the individuals who are attracted to each other (henceforth ‘sexual’ individuals) should be honest about it to their partners, and that the ‘affair’ (consented to by all parties concerned) may be justified, realise this will make their ‘asexual’ partners unhappy, with potentially devastating effects for both marriages. Perhaps some will find it obvious that one of these alternatives is better than the other, but surely we must except that whichever option one chooses, there is some harm, or risk of harm.
Could what Savulescu and Sandberg, in their 2008 paper, have called ‘love drugs’ help resolve the dilemma?
By Brian Earp
Rick Santorum, birth control, and “playing God”
Rick Santorum thinks that birth control is immoral. Santorum, a former Senator from Pennsylvania, is one of two human beings – if the polls have it right – likeliest to become the Republication nominee for President of the United States this election cycle.
By Brian Earp
Love and other drugs, or why parents should chemically enhance their marriages
Valentine’s day has passed, and along with it the usual rush of articles on “the neuroscience of love” – such as this one from Parade magazine. The penner of this particular piece, Judith Newman, sums up the relevant research like this:
It turns out that love truly is a chemical reaction. Researchers using MRIs to look at the brain activity of the smitten have found that an interplay of hormones and neurotransmitters create the state we call love.
My humble reckoning is that there’s more to “the state we call love” than hormones and neurotransmitters, but it’s true that brain chemistry is heavily involved in shaping our experience of amour. In fact, we’re beginning to understand quite a bit about the cerebral circuitry involved in love, lust, and human attachment—so much so that a couple of Oxford philosophers have been inspired to suggest something pretty radical.
They think that it’s time we shifted from merely describing this circuitry, and actually intervened in it directly—by altering our brains pharmacologically, through the use of what they call “love drugs.”
By Brian Earp (Follow Brian on Twitter by clicking here.)
What do gay marriage and polygamy have in common?
To find out, watch this exchange between US Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, and a New Hampshire college student. Here’s an edit to give the gist:
Student: How about the ideas that all men are created equal, and the rights to happiness and liberty? [Applause.]
Santorum: Ok, so — Are we saying that everyone should have the right to marry?
Audience: Yes! Yes!
Santorum: Everyone? Ok, so, anybody can marry anybody else.
Audience: Yes, yes!
Santorum: So anyone can marry several people? …