Cognitive Enhancement, Rational Choice and Justification

Abstract

This paper examines the claims in the debate on cognitive enhancement in neuroethics that society wide pressure to enhance can be expected in the near future. The author uses rational choice modeling to test these claims and proceeds with the analysis of proposed types of solutions. The discourage use, laissez-faire and prohibition types of policy are scrutinized for effectiveness, legitimacy and associated costs. Special attention is given to the moderately liberal discourage use policy (and the gate-keeper and taxation approaches within this framework), as many authors presuppose that this type of policy would best serve public interest. Different more or less articulated models in the taxation approach (Tobacco regulation analogy, Coffee-shop system, Regulatory Authority for Cognitive Enhancements and Economic Disincentives Model) are analyzed from the point of view of justificatory liberalism. The author concludes that prohibition and laissez-faire types of policy would neither be effective nor justified. A moderately liberal public policy shows more promise, but not all approaches within this type of policy would be legitimate and effective. The “gate-keeper” approach and related models could not be justified whereas approach based on taxation with suitable models might be legitimate and effective.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    According one study [12], 34 % of student participants admitted that they were using ADHD stimulants illegally. Most illegal users reported using ADHD stimulants primarily in periods of high academic stress and found them to reduce fatigue while increasing reading comprehension, interest, cognition, and memory. Furthermore, most had little information about the drugs they used and found procurement to be both easy and stigma-free.

  2. 2.

    It should be noted here that the modeling strategy has to be qualitative. Namely, currently available data on prevalence varies greatly among different surveys and ranges from 5 % to 35 % (see [17]). Furthermore, the lack of adequate information on long term effects and even short term benefits (the issue how laboratory findings of improvement in cognition relate to everyday performance is far from clear) further complicates the matter. A purely quantitative rational choice modeling strategy would require reliable data, which is not available. Bearing all this in mind, numerical payoffs in the design of dilemmas could not be assigned, and we have to make do with a qualitative analysis. This also points toward the conclusion that regulatory models which could provide the missing information would be more effective, even if their preliminary assumptions turn out to be incorrect in the long run.

  3. 3.

    In this and next paragraph I draw on [20].

  4. 4.

    I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for these two points.

  5. 5.

    In this paragraph I draw on [21].

  6. 6.

    Bearing this in mind, a prolonged discussion of positions that advocate legalization of “illicit” drugs for recreational use (e.g. [22, 23]) would be misleading, as associated social problems are very different. Namely, there might be peer pressure to consume say cannabis for recreational purposes or as a life-style choice, but pressure to use CE would be felt in entirely different social milieus—competitive work and educational settings.

  7. 7.

    Rawls’s principles of justice state that: 1. Each person has an the same indefeasible claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic rights and liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme of liberties for all; (the equal liberty principle); and 2. Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions: first, they are to be attached to positions and offices open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity (the principle of fair equality of opportunity); and second, they are to be to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society (the difference principle) [24], pp. 42–43. Although these principles have had a great impact in Bioethics (see e.g. [26]), there are dissenting voices on applicability of justice to bio-medical issues (e.g. [27]).

  8. 8.

    This particular requirement (as well as other requirements in EDM) could be perfectly legitimate and acceptable to citizens. A similar requirement is accepted worldwide in the case of vehicles: in order to use them a person must pay fees for a training course and pass an exam as proof of competence. Then when the vehicle is bought, taxes should be paid. In order to use the vehicle, an appropriate insurance must be taken and both the vehicle and the driver should be registered by a government agency. Finally, while using the vehicle, taxes on fuel, tolls and appropriate fees for regular technical check-ups must be paid. Since all these measures are readily accepted there is no reason to doubt the acceptability of similar measures in EDM.

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Correspondence to Veljko Dubljević.

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Dubljević, V. Cognitive Enhancement, Rational Choice and Justification. Neuroethics 6, 179–187 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12152-012-9173-5

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Keywords

  • Cognitive enhancement
  • Public policy
  • Prisoners’ Dilemma
  • Justification
  • Neuroethics