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The ethics of drug-induced happiness

Kant says that one’s duty to oneself consists in a prohibition against making oneself a plaything of mere inclinations. This is a truly persuasive argument regarding human dignity, because the essence of human dignity must be considered to be never to deal with a person as a thing. It seems that the domination of a person by drug-induced happiness should be regarded as a clear violation of human dignity, because it is equal to debasing a person to a plaything of inclinations. Hence, human dignity is taken away in exchange for a sense of happiness induced by a drug. Let us go on further. In the case of drug-induced happiness, those people are deprived of the “freedom to feel unhappiness” and are degraded to a plaything of mere inclinations; hence, they are considered to be devoid of “human dignity.” This means that a life with dignity necessarily requires that one’s “freedom to feel unhappiness” be totally guaranteed in one’s actual life. “A life with dignity” means a life that is not dominated by the sense of happiness.

A life with dignity has two characteristics: First, as has already been discussed above, a life with dignity is free from domination by a sense of happiness, regardless of whether or not it is acquired by means of drugs. Moreover, a life with dignity should also be free from domination by our own strong desire to experience that kind of happiness. The former domination comes from the outside and the latter originates from inside oneself. Second, a life with dignity is free from domination by the sense of unhappiness. This idea is more familiar to us than the first. A life with dignity should be free from the domination of negative thoughts about one’s existence or one’s own value. People sometimes fall victim to this kind of self-negation when experiencing such hardships as severe and repeated abuse, the death of loved ones, or devastating disasters. In these cases, human dignity means the belief that whatever their suffering and hardships, all human beings have a possibility to escape from domination by the sense of unhappiness and to regain the sense of self-affirmation at some point in their future life. Hence it might be allowed to use psychoactive drugs like SSRIs to medically support this recovery process for a limited period of time, paying special attention to the danger of domination by a sense of happiness.

Consider if the heart of a person who was in the depths of despair is filled with a sense of happiness caused by a perfect happiness drug. As a result, a drug-induced happiness dominates the person, and he/she is deprived of a life with dignity. A person who was dominated by despair and the sense of unhappiness becomes able to escape from that mental state and to begin an effort to regain the sense of self-affirmation. If such medication can provide the person with an opportunity to explore his/her life with a sense of affirmation, it should be considered good news. This is not deprivation of human dignity, because it enables that person to escape from the domination of the sense of unhappiness. Hence, I do not claim that the use of existing psychoactive drugs such as SSRIs immediately deprives us of human dignity, or that its use ought to be prohibited. What I raise an alarm over is the use of a hypothetical perfect happiness drug that could fill our heart with complete happiness, and what I have done so far has been a philosophical investigation of the relationship between human dignity and the manipulation of the sense of happiness, using a perfect happiness drug as an example.