Moral Epistemology Puzzle Case

Here’s a puzzle. Suppose you are investigating the ethics of cognition-enhancing drugs. You are presently not such a drug-user, and trust your abilities to think about ethical issues. You examine the issues carefully, spending as much time to gather information as one might care to specify, and you come to the conclusion that taking such drugs is permissible.

So you then take the drugs. When you are on the drugs, you think about the same issue, but while on the drugs, you judge that your earlier conclusion was mistaken: you now think that taking the drugs is wrong, and you identify a particular source of the mistake in the reasoning on behalf of the permissibility conclusion.

The drugs wear off. Then in your unenhanced state, you recall what you thought in your enhanced state, but now think what you did originally: taking the drugs is permissible and your drug-induced insights were mistaken. And you think that your enhanced self made a mistake in thinking that a mistake had been identified in one’s original reasoning for the permissibility conclusion.

So you once again take the drugs, and the process keeps getting repeated.

The puzzle is at what point, and why, irrationality of opinion sets in, for either or both selves. It is pretty clear that the original opinion can easily be rational, and that in the first drug-enhanced state, the second conclusion can be rational as well. One would think, however, that enough vascillating between opinions would undermine at least one of the opinions. But which one and why, and how much vascillation is needed to yield the result? Or maybe we just get unstable rationality no matter the track record?

I won’t say what I think yet.


Comments

Moral Epistemology Puzzle Case — 9 Comments

  1. I like the reflection principle for an explanation here. In the early rounds I form an opinion not knowing that I will later, rationally, hold the contrary opinion. After a couple rounds I do know that my future self rejects my current belief.

  2. One of the two beliefs has to be wrong. I don’t see why one of them ever need be irrational. (Especially if you build in some reason for your non-enhanced self to think your enhanced self would be more prone to a mistake in regard to the question of the permissibility of taking the drug).

  3. Carl, a couple thoughts. First, there are competing future selves, and reflection doesn’t tell you which to listen to. Second, many of the counterexamples to reflection trade on viewing a future self as being deficient or defective in some way. One such way is to be in a drug-induced state. So I think more than an appeal to reflection is needed here.

    Kraig, maybe, but your enhanced self is assumed to be aware of what your nonenhanced self thinks, so must think that the nonenhanced self is more prone to, let us say, ad hominems here.

  4. And you think that your enhanced self made a mistake in thinking that a mistake had been identified in one’s original reasoning for the permissibility conclusion.

    I find this a bit under described. Is this a judgement based on the disagreement, or does your unenhanced self have some independent reason to think your enhanced self is mistaken. If it’s the former, your unenhanced self is unjustified in his second round because he ought to treat his enhanced self as an epistemic superior.

  5. John, two things I’d say in response: firstly, about the point that reflection doesn’t tell me which self to agree with. That’s true, but I don’t see how it problematizes the claim that reflection motives the intuitive irrationality here. If I’m committed to reflection, I’m not sure which future self to agree with; but what matters for the explanation here is that I am definitely violating reflection with respect to some of my future selves.

    Secondly, about counterexamples to reflection based on deficient or impaired reasoning: If when sober I consider my drugged reasoning to be deficient or defective, then I think the intuitive feel of irrationality (for the opinion formed while sober) dissipates. Likewise, if while drugged I take my sober reasoning to be deficient by virtue of lacking my then-current enhancement, I think the intuitive feel of irrationality (for the opinion formed while drugged) dissipates. I take that to be a strength of reflection as an explanation here — if I take the future self who disagrees with me to be deficient in his reasoning, then I don’t violate reflection by disagreeing with him. It doesn’t violate any intuitively compelling version of reflection for me to disagree with my future self if that future self is expected to be falling-down drunk or otherwise deficient.

    Also, I should add that I don’t think offering reflection as an answer to what drives the intuition described in the original post requires taking reflection to be true. Whether true or not, reflection has intuitive draw, and I think that intuitive draw is what drives the intuition of irrationality in the case at issue.

  6. Couldn’t you just put down both lines of reasoning and ask someone for a thrid opinion? And maybe your conditions for permissablity of actions created a false dilemma. Turn to a meta-ethicist for help,

  7. Hello!
    In t1 my unenhanced self justifiably believes:
    Drug D is permissible (P for brevity)

    In t2 my enhanced self believe:
    (1) ~P
    (2) In t1 I believed that P
    (3) I was wrong in t1 (in that I believed that P)
    (4) I’m cognitively enhanced now

    In t3 my unenhanced self believe:
    (1*) P
    (2*) In t2 I believed that ~P
    (3*) I was cognitively enhanced in t2
    (4*) I was wrong in t2 (in that I thought I was wrong in t1)
    (5) I was right in t1

    Now, it looks like in t2 there is no inconsistent set of beliefs, while inconsistency is plainly present in t3. But don’t you think that my justified belief (3*) defeats (4*) and (5)? If that is the case, the consistency is restored and irrationality is eliminated from the scene. Let me know your thoughts, professor Kvanvig!

  8. The drugs wear off. Then in your unenhanced state, you recall what you thought in your enhanced state, but now think what you did originally: taking the drugs is permissible and your drug-induced insights were mistaken. And you think that your enhanced self made a mistake in thinking that a mistake had been identified in one’s original reasoning for the permissibility conclusion.

    We are constantly told by the Make Believe Media that we should believe the intelligent and the expert among us.

    In your drug-enhanced state you are more intelligent, since that was the objective of taking the drug. You can believe that your drug-enhanced self had a very clear reason for deciding that your non-drug enhanced self was wrong, and therefore you should refrain from further taking the drugs.

    However, even if this argument is insufficient to convince your non-drug enhanced self, then the next time you take the drugs, your drug-enhanced self will write down (or otherwise record) his reasons in terms that your non-drug-enhanced self can understand. And thus it will terminate here.

    However, it is to be expected that your drug-enhanced self would realize that your non-drug-enhanced self would fail to understand his reasoning when the drug wore off, and so, upon realising that it was wrong to take the drug, would record his argument in terms that his non-drug-enhanced self could understand.

    (These very lucid thoughts brought to you by my drug-enhanced self. My drug is more commonly known as alcohol in the form of red wine.)

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