|Yogi Berra, philosopher|
Andrew Sullivan seems to have re-ignited discussion about last December's article in Nature that advocated the use of "cognitive-enhancing drugs." On Sunday he linked approvingly to a rebuttal by Justin Barnard that uses a long analogy to baseball's drug issues.
Steroids, says Barnard, maximize a single good (hitting the ball harder) at the expense of "violat[ing] the integral relationship that exists among all of the game's goods considered as a whole ...." [emphasis in the original]
[T]hose who advocate the "responsible use" of cognitive-enhancing drugs among the healthy falsely presuppose that one or two cognitive goods among many are the most important goods among the many that constitute the life of the mind considered as a whole. They presume, in other words, that cognitive improvement (and by extension, human improvement) is exclusively a function "adding" information and "better" information processing.
This presumption is simply false. For while the capacities to procure and to process information are indeed goods of human life, they are neither the highest of human goods nor are they ends in themselves. ... Proponents of cognitive enhancement may still protest that benefits would accrue to "both the individual and society." But such benefits may come at the expense of individuals and societies that are uniquely human in nature.
Then on Monday, Sullivan linked to a follow-up by Will Wilkinson of the Cato Institute that trashes Barnard for using "scare quotes" and flatly denies his premise:
Who presupposes this? No one, I hazard. So what's the point of this exercise?
Wilkinson's commenters overwhelmingly support him, often with ridicule even stronger than his own (Leon Kass gets dragged into it). Which is unfortunate, since a well-reasoned libertarian objection might be interesting. Barnard's may be a religious take (he's a philosopher at a Christian institution), but the baseball analogy makes for an interesting communitarian argument.
Barnard has a pretty good point about why steroids are bad for baseball -- the overall good of the game is more important than the individual stats of a star. We do expect players to work out, to eat well, and so on, but also to stay within limits, and those limits have slippery definitions. Some infractions (using spitballs, for example) are part of the game, though punished if caught; others are flatly unacceptable. Maybe baseball really is a good metaphor for life.
Previously on Biopolitical Times:
Posted in Bioethics, Pete Shanks's Blog Posts
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