J Med Ethics 32:100-105 doi:10.1136/jme.2005.013540
  • Neuroethics

Medicating the mind: a Kantian analysis of overprescribing psychoactive drugs

  1. B A Manninen
  1. Correspondence to:
 Bertha Alvarez Manninen
 Department of Philosophy, Purdue University, 100 N University Street, Beering Hall 7137, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA; balvarez{at}
  • Received 8 July 2005
  • Accepted 8 September 2005
  • Revised 7 September 2005


Psychoactive drugs are being prescribed to millions of Americans at an increasing rate. In many cases these drugs are necessary in order to overcome debilitating emotional problems. Yet in other instances, these drugs are used to supplant, not supplement, interpersonal therapy. The process of overcoming emotional obstacles by introspection and the attainment of self knowledge is gradually being eroded via the gratuitous use of psychoactive medication in order to rapidly attain a release from the common problems that life inevitably presents us with. In this paper, I argue that Kant’s formula of humanity, which maintains that persons ought never to treat others or themselves soley as a means to an end, proscribes this. Moreover, Kant argues that we have an imperfect duty of self development, and I argue that we fail to adhere to such a duty whenever we seek to evade the process of introspection and self knowledge in favour of the expedient results that drugs may provide us with as we attempt to overcome the emotional hurdles in our lives.


  • i The study did show, however, that when dealing with the long term consequences of both therapy and psychiatric drugs, the patients who were treated with the former had fewer relapses two years after their treatment than those treated with drugs alone.

  • i The contradiction that arises would be something like the following. According to Kant, nature has given all persons talents that require development. Therefore it cannot be the case that a law of nature exists that commands that we not cultivate the talents given to us by nature in the first place; nature would have simultaneously given us talents to cultivate and made it impossible to cultivate them. Thus, forgoing developing our talents in order to have more time to seek pleasure cannot be universally willed.