Essay on Nootropic and Level Playing Field

Submitted By hyut20
Words: 1582
Pages: 7

[Expositions 2.2 (2008) 153–156] doi:10.1558/expo.v2i2.153

Expositions (print) ISSN 1747-5368 Expositions (online) ISSN 1747-5376

Enhancement and Cheating
REbEccA RoAchE Future of Humanity Institute Oxford University
A common worry expressed about the use of pharmacological cognitive enhancements such as Modafinil and Ritalin is that using them constitutes cheating (Fukuyama 2002; henderson 2008). Those who enhance in this way are better placed to beat their unenhanced peers to the top educational qualifications and jobs; accordingly, enhancing is unfair. Is this worry justified? The worry about cheating is often bound up with other worries about enhancement. These include concerns about safety, addictiveness, and accessibility. These concerns can be addressed independently of the concern about cheating, and so, to avoid complicating matters, let us assume that cognitive enhancement is safe to use, that it is non-addictive, and that it is accessible to everyone, not just the rich. ought we still to be worried about the fairness of cognitive enhancement? Well, in the absence of these ancillary concerns, one of the issues that remain is that those who choose not to enhance will be at a disadvantage, left behind in the race for the best qualifications and jobs by their enhanced peers. Is this fair? Should people be free to use drugs like Modafinil and Ritalin to get ahead, or should education authorities and employers ban such enhancement, perhaps introducing urine tests to ensure that this ban is enforced, as cambridge neuroscientist Sir Gabriel horn has recently been quoted to suggest (henderson 2008)? We can start with a terminological point. Whether or not the use of cognitive enhancement drugs constitutes cheating depends on whether the use of such drugs is forbidden in the rules of the game. currently, the rules to which students and employees must adhere typically forbid activities like plagiarism, forging references, and lying about one’s educational and employment history—and those students and employees who break these rules can expect to be punished. Rules against the use of cognitive enhancement drugs are not currently widespread. ought they to be? The answer to this question depends on what we think is more important: a level playing field on which students and employees can compete equally for
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Enhancement and Cheating

qualifications and jobs, or the value of the achievements made through such competition. In some areas of life, the main purpose is to advance knowledge, and so maximizing the achievements made is plausibly more important than having a level playing field. As Anders Sandberg has commented, “that many of the theorems of the mathematician Paul Erdös were proven under the influence of amphetamines does not diminish their intellectual brilliance or importance” (Sandberg 2008). And, in the quest for a cure for cancer, if it turns out that cognitively enhanced scientists would be able to discover a cure more quickly than unenhanced scientists, then using cognitive enhancement could result in millions of lives being saved. In other areas of life, it is extremely important to remain alert and focused. For those working as airline pilots or surgeons, the consequences of a lapse in concentration could be dire. cognitive enhancement could help prevent such lapses. These examples demonstrate that, while fairness is important, avoidably slowing the advancement of scientific knowledge or reducing the alertness of airline pilots and surgeons is too high a price to pay to ensure that those who do not wish to enhance are able to compete on a level playing field. In other areas of life, however, competition is more important. A key purpose of education in schools and universities is to enable students to compete for the best qualifications. Should cognitive enhancement be banned in such contexts? There are at