Human dignity and the manipulation of the sense of happiness: from the viewpoint of bioethics and philosophy of life

Journal of Philosophy of Life 2 (1):1-14 (2012)
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Abstract
If our sense of happiness is closely connected to brain functions, it might become possible to manipulate our brain in a much more refined and effective way than current methods allow. In this paper I will make some remarks on the manipulation of the sense of happiness and illuminate the relationship between human dignity and happiness. The President’s Council on Bioethics discusses this topic in the 2003 report Beyond Therapy, and concludes that the use of SSRIs might make us “feel happy for no good reason at all, or happy even when there remains much in one’s life to be truly unhappy about.” I will extend their line of thought through two thought experiments. In the first, a “perfect happiness” drug is given to a person, and in the second a happiness device with an on/off switch is placed inside a person. The first case leads us to conclude that a life with dignity means a life free from domination by the sense of happiness and the sense of unhappiness. The second case leads us to conclude that a life with dignity requires substantive freedom to choose unhappiness. At the end of this paper, I present a new interpretation of “human dignity,” that is, “a life with dignity means a life in which we are able to explore our own life, equipped with both happiness and unhappiness, without regret, through relationships with others, without being exploited by the desires of anyone, and without being dominated by our own desires.”.
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