A group of educators and scientists are all in favor of cognitive enhancing drugs like Ritalin and Adderall:
Many people have doubts about the moral status of enhancement drugs for reasons ranging from the pragmatic to the philosophical, including concerns about short-circuiting personal agency and undermining the value of human effort . . . Such arguments have been persuasively rejected. Three arguments against the use of cognitive enhancement by the healthy quickly bubble to the surface in most discussions: that it is cheating, that it is unnatural and that it amounts to drug abuse.
In the context of sports, pharmacological performance enhancement is indeed cheating. But, of course, it is cheating because it is against the rules. Any good set of rules would need to distinguish today’s allowed cognitive enhancements, from private tutors to double espressos, from the newer methods, if they are to be banned.
As for an appeal to the ‘natural’, the lives of almost all living humans are deeply unnatural; our homes, our clothes and our food — to say nothing of the medical care we enjoy — bear little relation to our species’ ‘natural’ state. Given the many cognitive-enhancing tools we accept already, from writing to laptop computers, why draw the line here and say, thus far but no further?
As for enhancers’ status as drugs, drug abuse is a major social ill, and both medicinal and recreational drugs are regulated because of possible harms to the individual and society. But drugs are regulated on a scale that subjectively judges the potential for harm from the very dangerous (heroin) to the relatively harmless (caffeine). Given such regulation, the mere fact that cognitive enhancers are drugs is no reason to outlaw them.
I know very little about cognitive enhancing drugs, but I am well-versed in the PED debate as it relates to baseball. One of the things that has struck me about the PED debates, such as they are, is the near dearth of analysis that goes beyond the “steroids are against the rules, so steroids are bad, mmm-kay” argument. I think the more in-depth aspects of the debate — such as whether the costs outweigh the benefits and whether PEDs are somehow different in kind from acceptable training methods rather than merely different in degree — are avoided because, let’s face it, they’re difficult. For the most part it’s sportswriters doing the debating in the first place, and how can most of them be expected to wrap their brains around nuanced topics such as these? That is, if they even want to in the first place.
So while I’m not really that interested in whether college kids without ADD should be allowed to take Ritalin, I am interested in the parameters of the debate, because it may shed some light on steroids and, more significantly, the fun new genetic games that are just around the corner for the sporting world.
(link via Sullivan)