In which I am tentatively (not vigilantly) pro-provigil

Dan, you said you were interested in hearing from your fellow bloggers about pharmaceutical cognitive enhancement. And I have been quiet over the last day or two (finally done teaching for the semester! Hooray!). Enhancement is a hot issue, I understand, in bioethics right now. And I'm not familiar with the literature. But I think I am in principle, if not in practice, in favor of cognitive enhancement drugs.

I hear what you're saying, Dan. I agree that not knowing the long term effects is unnerving and warrants caution. And there is something a bit unfair about it. Plenty of people in academia are using it. I'm not, because I'm a female of childbearing age, and that puts me at a disadvantage. So on that level, I think it sucks.

But let's say we are assured that the drugs are safe over the long term. Is there anything wrong with taking them? Even in the case of athletes using steroids, I'm not so sure that there is. We have no problem with athletes eating certain diets, taking certain vitamins, following certain exercise regimes to enhance their performance. The dividing line (at least one that should make a moral difference) between those actions and taking a steroid is not at all clear to me. I took a fish oil supplement while I was pregnant with the intention of enhancing my son's cognitive development, and no one seemed to have a moral problem with that. In fact, it's encouraged. What's the principled difference between that and provigil? That fish oil is closer to a natural source doesn't tell me anything about a moral difference - both fish oil pills and pharmaceuticals require some work from humans.

Many people argue that there is something to admire in the achievement in the athlete that is missing when we find out he is taking a drug. You seem to be saying this. I'm not sure that's warranted. Lance Armstrong didn't deserve to be born with his athletic talents, any more than I deserve my complete lack of ability at volleyball. He also was gifted with a certain temperament that led him to be driven enough to develop those talents, the parents who raised him reasonably well, his socio-economic class, etc. Most, if not all, of Lance Armstrong's performance cannot actually be attributed to Lance Armstrong, or rather, factors that Lance Armstrong chose. A steroid would just be one more thing Lance Armstrong did not generate himself that makes his performance top notch.

Let's say though, that there is still something less to admire in sports when someone takes a drug. What we value in academia (and presumably medicine) is not some performance of human achievement. We value results. It's all well and good to read Kant and admire just how freaking smart he is. But what's valuable are the insights he made. He made progress in philosophy. Suppose some drug came along that was proven reasonably safe, and made more people have insights such as Kant's. I might admire their achievements slightly less. But philosophy would be improved. I don't think that's a bad thing.

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