Brave New World Versus Island -- Utopian and Dystopian Views on Psychopharmacology
Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 2007 June; 10(2): 119-128
Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is a famous dystopia, frequently called upon in public discussions about new biotechnology. It is less well known that 30 years later Huxley also wrote a utopian novel, called Island. This paper will discuss both novels focussing especially on the role of psychopharmacological substances. If we see fiction as a way of imagining what the world could look like, then what can we learn from Huxley's novels about psychopharmacology and how does that relate to the discussion in the ethical and philosophical literature on this subject? The paper argues that in the current ethical discussion the dystopian vision on psychopharmacology is dominant, but that a comparison between Brave New World and Island shows that a more utopian view is possible as well. This is illustrated by a discussion of the issue of psychopharmacology and authenticity. The second part of the paper draws some further conclusions for the ethical debate on psychopharmacology and human enhancement, by comparing the novels not only with each other, but also with our present reality. It is claimed that the debate should not get stuck in an opposition of dystopian and utopian views, but should address important issues that demand attention in our real world: those of evaluation and governance of enhancing psychopharmacological substances in democratic, pluralistic societies.
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