Cognitive enhancement is the improvement of one’s mental capacity and or mental attributes such as personality, where it is considered optional and not medically necessary (Schmidt-Felzmann, 2012). Enhancement is different to treatment as treatment is linked to the curing of an illness, whereas enhancement is merely improving an already medically healthy body or mind, however, at times it is quite difficult to draw a line between the two (Schmidt-Felzmann, 2012). Types of enhancements include improving one’s athletic abilities through the use of steroids, undergoing cosmetic surgery which is deemed medically unnecessary, or, reducing one’s need to sleep through the consumption of drugs such as Provigil. Enhancements can even encompass things that are commonly availed of every day, such as the consumption of caffeine (Schmidt-Felzmann, 2012). There are many ethical and practical concerns in relation to cognitive enhancement and whether or not it should be allowed such as Authenticity (Keeping true to oneself), which is a key concern , with both proponents and opponents of cognitive enhancement interpreting authenticity in different ways (Parens, 2005). Two ethical frameworks have developed which try to answer the questions raised by cognitive enhancement and indeed enhancement in general, these frameworks are known as the existentialist model (Self creation) and the Rousseauean model (Gratitude) (Parens, 2005). These frameworks differ on whether or not cognitive enhancement should be allowed, the existentialist model being in favour of cognitive enhancement and the Rousseauean model opposed to the application of it (Schmidt-Felzmann, 2012). Along with authenticity there are other major ethical concerns that could arise from the widespread use of cognitive enhancing methods, namely drugs (Butcher, 2003). Such concerns include a possible increase in the gap between rich and poor and the possibility of the loss of values, namely the value of hard work, which helps make a human being what they are (Butcher, 2003). Philosophers and indeed people in general who favour the existentialist model value autonomy greatly and therefore believe that so long as a human being does not harm another, they should be free to do with their body or mind what they please. If these things may be quite ridiculous and inadvisable, existentialist still believe that they should be condoned, so long as the person in question is well informed on the issue (Schmidt-Felzmann, 2012). There is also a view that Humans not only have the ability but may also have the responsibility to enhance their condition, not only through normal everyday enhancements but also through artificial means, which are not seen as qualitatively different (within existentialist circles) to everyday enhancements (Schmidt-Felzmann, 2012). There are, however, some problems with this framework. For instance, in many cases the individual who is given a cognitive enhancement, is not always fully autonomous (Schmidt-Felzmann, 2012). This is the case in many poor urban areas in the United States, in many schools in these areas up to a third of boys now take Ritalin, even though a large portion of them do not suffer from ADHD (Farah et al. 2004). Using enhancements to simply subdue easily distracted and unruly children could be seen as ethically wrong, this is because a large percentage of children simply are naturally unruly and easily distracted (Farah et al. 2004). To change this, could be seen as changing the personality of the child in question to such an extent that they are essentially no longer the same child, here we see the question of authenticity rise again (Parens, 2005). It is in situations such as these that we see a clear divide between the two frameworks. Most proponents of framework one (self-creation) would be in favour of this sort of cognitive enhancement as they would view the child as essentially the same person, only improved, while the opponents of this framework hold a different belief (Parens, 2005). Proponents of framework two, or the Rousseauean model, place huge importance in the value of “the given” (Schmidt-Felzmann, 2012). In other words, they believe we should not tamper past our natural potential. This however gives rise to problematic questions, such as, where can we draw the line between natural and artificial enhancements? (Schmidt-Felzmann, 2012). Framework two argues that cognitive enhancement ignores fundamental facts about the human mind and its limits, it asserts that these limits should be respected. These beliefs could also be seen as a breach of authenticity. When we think of the effects that cognitive enhancement could have on human authenticity we think of the effects it might have on the identity of an individual. While this is important, it is also important to look at the human race as a whole and how cognitive enhancement and enhancement in general might affect its authenticity. From the Stone Age right up to the current social age, humans have constantly strove to improve themselves and their quality of life. In recognition of this, it could be argued that to not enhance our current state of being would be in violation of our nature and of our identity as human beings. When this view is taken it becomes clear that the Rousseauean model can also lead to a breach in authenticity, this, along with other reasons is perhaps why a large portion of philosophers show a certain level of ambivalence towards the two frameworks when it comes to major ethical matters (Parens, 2005). Enhancement, cognitive enhancement in particular, raises many ethical concerns. As already discussed, authenticity is a prime concern, however there are also other important matters which need to be considered before any decision is made on whether or not cognitive enhancement should be allowed. For instance, the introduction of cognitive enhancing drugs could lead to a widening in the gap between rich and poor (Butcher, 2003). This would be that case as such drugs would likely be out of reach (financially) to the lower classes of society. In the long term further problems would arise, as the poor would likely have little or no access to these cognitive enhancing drugs, the upper class would essentially develop into generally more intelligent beings. This would make it far harder for a member of the lower class to compete for college places or jobs (Butcher, 2003). It has been argued, however, that the risk of a widening of the gap between the wealthy and the poor should not be a factor to stand against the introduction of cognitive enhancers as enhancers such as third level education already do this (Butcher, 2003). Another ethical issue is the possibility of the loss of the value of hard work (Butcher, 2003). While this may not seem like such a pressing issue, one must first fully consider the implications this may have in the long term. Humans may use there increased level of intelligence irresponsibly due to a lack of experience gained from having to work hard to overcome obstacles. Along with these issues the safety of such drugs is also an important matter (Farah et al. 2004). It is clear from these observations that the possibility of distribution of cognitive enhancers amongst the public is a very contentious issue, which makes the question “Should cognitive enhancement be allowed?” a very difficult one to answer. In my opinion, cognitive enhancement should be allowed, although only under certain conditions. The production of such enhancers should be undertaken only by the government so as to ensure the fair and equal distribution of cognitive enhancers amongst all social classes. Drugs should be extensively tested before mainstream introduction in order to assure the safety of the product. These measures may, however, not be enough. Governments would have the means to manipulate the public by introducing other properties to cognitive enhancing drugs, For instance they could use certain ingredients to create a more patriotic and docile population this would be a prime concern in politically unstable countries or in those of communist leanings. Should the entire population of a country regularly take a drug, which was deemed essential to take, untold damage could be done to the human condition. A world without free will could develop, with the world population under the control of one drug, and those who produced it. Perhaps the cognition of the human race is not yet evolved enough to consider its enhancement.
Parens, Erik. (2005) “Authenticity and Ambivalence: Toward Understanding the Enhancement debate” Hastings Center Report, Vol. 35, Number 3, May-June, pp. 34-41. Schmidt-Felzmann, Heike. (2010) “Personal Identity and Human Nature: The Enhancement Debate, Heike Schmidt-Felzmann 12/10/12.” Philosophical questions & issues. [online.] Available at: https://nuigalway.blackboard.com/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_31108_1%26url%3D%252Fwebapps%252Fblackboard%252Fexecute%252FdisplayIndividualContent%253Fmode%253Dview%2526content_id%253D_419734_1%2526course_id%253D_31108_1 (Accessed: 03/12/12.) Butcher, James. (2003) “Cognitive enhancement raises ethical concerns” The Lancet, Vol 362 (9378) p.p 132–133. Farah, Martha J. Illes, Judy. Cook-Deegan, Robert. Gardner, Howard. Kandel, Eric. King, Patricia. Parens, Eric. Sahakian, Barbara & Root Wolpe, Paul. (2004) “Neurocognitive enhancement: what can we do and what should we do?” Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Vol: 5. P.p 421-425.