The Ethics of Cognitive Enhancement

3 March 2017

Achievement is valued highly in our society. Coaches want their players to give 110 percent, professors encourage their students to study harder, and parents want to see their children become the best person they can be. Not only do we want to “keep up with the Joneses,” we want to surpass them. In the pursuit of excellence, some people will take drugs as an enhancement for their cognitive abilities. What makes this path to excellence ethically questionable? There are two large issues to using cognitive enhancements: fairness and the pressure to use them.

While there may be nothing intrinsically wrong with using cognitive enhancers, the use of these drugs will likely have major side-effects on society which need to be taken into consideration. Cognitive enhancements have been proven to increase mental capacity in healthy people. This gives them an advantage over their peers who are not using these drugs. This will apply pressure on normal people to use enhancements in order to gain this advantage. If nobody in a workplace is using enhancements, the temptation to start using them will exist to gain an edge.

The Ethics of Cognitive Enhancement Essay Example

If everyone in a workplace is using enhancements, then those coming into that workplace would also need to use them in order to be competitive. If cognitive enhancements were made legal for all people, the use would become very widespread and some companies may even make it mandatory to increase productivity. There would probably not be an issue with most people using cognitive enhancements if they came with no side effects and it was the cultural norm. One of the concerns that come up with using these drugs is the availability factor. Unless cognitive enhancements are available to everyone, they should not be legalized.

If enhancements are expensive, this will give the wealthy population another advantage over the poor. Wealthy students already have an advantage in being able to afford tutors, attend private schools, go to college, etc. Leon Kass speaks of this unfair advantage in his article and says that it is especially unfair by participants in competitive activities such as school and work. The division between the wealthy and the poor communities would become even larger with cognitive enhancements. Anyone that did not use them may be seen as a lower class in the social order.

Students seem to be getting lazier as the years go on which presents a huge problem for society. I understand that technology has made things easier for people to do things, which some people argue is the reason why people are considered “lazier”. For example, if you want to know how fast a cheetah could run, you can find it instantly by going to Google and typing it in. Twenty years ago, you would have to go to the library, find a book or encyclopedia, and look it up to find this information. Yet, I do not think that technology is the problem here.

There is much more to education than just learning facts. Students who are more than capable of learning without medication are too lazy to put in the time and effort, which is a huge concern. If they could take a pill and learn with less effort, this would further increase laziness in our society. If cognitive enhancement drugs became widespread, students would no longer see the value that they obtain from education and working hard for something. Healthy people who are using cognitive enhancements for improved performance are seeking an unfair advantage over those students who are honest.

An honest student who works hard and does what is viewed as “the right way to do things” would not be rewarded for his effort. If stimulants were provided to those without disorders, the standard for what is considered “normal” performance would rise. This, which Carl Elliot calls the problem of “relative ends”, would lead to many hard-working, honest people not being considered normal anymore. Performance enhancers, such as steroids or human growth hormone, make sports less entertaining for everyone. An athlete that uses enhancers that are illegal for normal people gains an unfair advantage over the other athletes who do not use enhancers.

The respect is lost for the athlete who cheats by using enhancers. Was it Barry Bonds who hit 762 homeruns over his career or was it the steroids? Should we admire someone who finds a way to increase performance in a way that is condemned by most people? I know I wouldn’t be as proud of an achievement if it was drug enhanced. I would see myself as a cheater and wonder if my success was because of the drug and not me. It seems as if an athlete on performance enhancing drugs goes from being well-liked and a role model to being despised by most once they are caught using the drug.

If they are never caught or nobody knows about their use of enhancers, all is well for the athlete, the sport, and the fans. Other athletes do not want to see their competitors using this unfair advantage because it makes them look inferior comparatively. Sports fans also do not want to see someone succeed that cheats by using enhancers. They want to see someone who works hard and earns what they are trying to accomplish. Enhancement drugs in sports should be discouraged by everyone. However, I see enhancements in sports as less of a problem to society than enhancements for the brain.

This is because there is less of an impact on society for the use of enhancement drugs in sports than there would be with mind enhancing drugs. Enhancing drugs would not only change society, but it would change how we think, who we are and who we become as an individual. Would we really be happy if our success depended on taking drugs? Will we even know who we are? Our strengths and weaknesses help make us become the person we are. Artificially enhancing the way a person thinks and learns will change who they are.

With the drug, they may not have learned to study correctly, to work hard, to focus, or to persevere through tough times. By popping a pill they are not given the opportunity to become a better person and learn these virtues. It is one thing to try hard and do your best, but it is quite another to have to use a drug to be your best. The drug enhanced you is different from the real you. Imagine if everyone did this. One area where I think cognitive enhancements should be encouraged is in the military, especially during critical situations like war.

Alertness is necessary at all times during war and these drugs can help achieve this. This is a situation where human’s lives are on the line and troops rely on one another to stay alive. They often times have no control over their environment and work with little sleep and a high degree of stress. It’s not necessarily about improving a soldier’s performance, but maintaining a level that the individual would not be able to maintain if it were not for the drug. Normal people that are not in the military and use cognitive enhancements do not need cognitive enhancements to stay alive, whereas those in the military sometimes do.

In conclusion, the use of cognitive enhancements is wrong because it provides the people that are using the drugs with an unfair advantage, widens the gap between the wealthy and the poor, and fails to recognize the importance of effort in society. It is selfish for normal people to use a drug that was made to aid individuals who have a disability and use it to enhance themselves. Competition is a huge part of society and encouraging the use of cognitive enhancements would lead to chaos and the loss of human dignity.

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