William Ratoff


A number of moral philosophers and legal scholars have now recognized that we possess a natural, or moral, right to mental autonomy. This right is standardly characterized as our right against significant, nonconsensual interference with our minds. However, the precise scope of this right remains under-theorized: what makes some ways of influencing someone’s thinking—rational argumentation, say—permissible, but other ways—pharmacological manipulation—impermissible? Here I argue that the right to mental autonomy should be analyzed as the right to form attitudes in light of reasons. Once understood this way, we can see how this right protects us against all “nonrational” interventions on our thinking—including, but not limited to, nonconsensual neurosurgery, pharmacological manipulations, science fiction mind control, subliminal messaging, and non-reason-giving advertising or nudging. Rather, the only fully permissible ways to seek to influence someone’s thinking are through methods that seek to engage their rational faculties. This result, I claim, accords with our moral intuitions concerning the matter.