We are all inherently unequal to begin with, each born with different mental capacities. It can be argued that the advantages we’re born with are not the same from the advantages gained by taking drugs, because we cannot actively control what we are born with, but we can actively control what drugs we take. With the availability of neuro-enhancement drugs, it is wrong to take these in the classroom setting? Has taking Adderall to study for exams become so prevalent that it is coercive?

If 99% of people in classroom are taking neuro-enhancers to do well on tests, then wouldn’t the 1% that isn’t being coerced into taking it too just to keep up with the rest? Although this depends on people’s different moral objections, where individuals can choose to take the “righteous path” and fail when competing, most people still might feel coerced to do so. But about using the same argument for caffeine intake? People have argued that drinking coffee or taking caffeine pill could become coercive if it gives people the advantage of wakefulness. What is inherently different and okay with caffeine that is not okay with neuro-enhancers?

With courses and exams that are supposed to gauge your own intellectual abilities and work ethics, taking neuro-enhancement drugs might take away those aspects, such that it is devaluing hard work. If you want to succeed in a class, you would just take neuro-enhancers before studying. However, a counterargument would be that you don’t necessarily develop a “drugged brain” when on neuro-enhancers. Knowledge you learn while on neuro-enhancers will still be there afterwards. There is no substitute for hard work. Someone still must put in the work to prepare for exams even if he or she is on neuro-enhancers. Taking the pill won’t do the work for you, just like drinking coffee won’t automatically give you a good grade.

However, if everyone is taking neuro-enhancers, we would essentially be medicalizing equality. But if you have ability to boost and equalize the un-equalities that we are born with, then why is it morally wrong? It’s not necessarily immoral if everyone has the ability to reduce the disadvantages inherited from the genetic lottery. One argument could be that neuro-enhancement drugs can be made so that only a certain percentage of people can afford them, so it is inherently unfair because it can potentially widen the socioeconomic gap. But drugs have always been around to all socioeconomic statuses; it might happen either way – people will start taking these drugs if they are available. But just because it’s the way it is, does it mean that it’s the way it has to be?

Something to think about: When taking neuro-enhancers, is it you taking the test or a different version of you or someone entirely different?

Ban Wang
banwang@jhu.edu

 

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