Nils-Frederic Wagner
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
According to several recent studies, a big chunk of college students in North America and Europe uses so called ‘smart drugs' to enhance their cognitive capacities aiming at improving their academic performance. With these practices, there comes a certain moral unease. This unease is shared by many, yet it is difficult to pinpoint and in need of justification. Other than simply pointing to the medical risks coming along with using non-prescribed medication, the salient moral question is whether these practices are troubling in and of themselves. In due consideration of empirical insights into the concrete effects of smart drugs on brain and behavior, our attempt is to articulate wherein this moral unease consists and to argue for why the authors believe cognitive enhancement to be morally objectionable. The authors will contend that the moral problem with these practices lies less in the end it seeks, than in the underlying human disposition it expresses and promotes. Some might ask, what is wrong with molding our cognitive capacities to achieve excellence, get a competitive edge, or, as the whim takes us? In all of these occasions, the usage of smart drugs serves a certain goal, a telos. The goal is, broadly speaking, this: outsmarting opponents in an arms race for limited resources and thereby yielding a competitive edge. In plain words: competition is valued higher than cooperation or solidarity. What is wrong with striving for this goal? The authors submit that the question whether people really want to live in a society that promotes the mentality ‘individual competition over societal cooperation' deserves serious consideration. In developing their answer, the authors draw on an ‘Ethics of Constraint' framework, arguing that widespread off-label use of smart drugs bears the risk of negative neural/behavioral consequences for the individual that might, in the long run, be accompanied by changing social value orientations for the worse.
Keywords Smart Drugs  Neuroenhancement  Cognitive Enhancement
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