Enhancing the Nature-of-Activities Account of Enhancement

Abstract

Many find it intuitive that those who use enhancements like steroids and Adderall in Olympic weightlifting and education are due less praise than those who perform equally well without using these enhancements. Nonetheless, it is not easy to coherently explain why one might be justifiably due less praise for using these technologies to enhance one’s performance. Justifications for this intuition which rely on concerns regarding authenticity, cheating, or shifts in who is responsible for the performance face serious problems. Santoni de Sio et al., however, have recently defended a justification for this intuition which avoids the problems competing justifications face; the nature-of-activities justification. This justification relies on a conceptual analysis of the nature of activities and does not require the defense of any particular ethical stance concerning the use of enhancements. Santoni de Sio et al. claim that the success of the nature-of-activities account requires distinguishing between practice-oriented activities and goal-directed activities. I, however, show that this distinction is both deeply problematic and unnecessary. After exposing the weaknesses of Santoni de Sio et al.’s original account, I defend a simpler and less problematic version of the nature-of-activities account. The revised account is capable of both justifying this intuition of less praise and allowing one to determine when enhancements should be deemed permissible, impermissible, or obligatory for a given activity.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The enhanced individuals, not the creators of the enhancement, are the ones who actually perform the praiseworthy action and the activities that led to their accomplishments (e.g. practice). Enhancements do not strip the enhancer of their contributions to the action which they performed [3]. Furthermore, enhancements do not bring about a change in one’s numerical identity such that we should consider the enhanced individual to be a different person [4,5,6].

  2. 2.

    It is possible that the LPI may be justified even when enhancement is unintentional or not the result of a blameworthy action. Additionally, if everyone could enhance, then enhancement would not be unfair. So, if an unequal playing field is the worry, then we could simply allow enhancement and the problem would be solved [6, 7].

  3. 3.

    Santoni de Sio [8] employs the same nature-of-activities approach when discussing the ethics of care robots, using the same examples and general descriptions to draw out the relevant distinctions. Murray [9] also discusses the importance of identifying the point, or goal, of an activity when determining whether to permit or prohibit certain enhancements in sports.

  4. 4.

    Of course, as Santoni de Sio et al. discuss, some rules are arbitrary and which rules are considered constitutive can be a matter of how finely we’d like to describe the nature of the activity. These rules can change with time, and when they do change the point of the activity will change as well.

  5. 5.

    Of course, if it is required that Bob play professional football in order for him to make money, then once it is discovered that he is violating a constitutive rule of the sport, he will likely no longer make money. Nonetheless, this failure to make money is not a conceptual consequence of his use of enhancements, as his failure to play professional football would be.

  6. 6.

    It is important to note that I am not claiming that the nature-of-activities justification tracks what generates or best explains our intuitions regarding enhancement and praise. It is possible that our intuitions about the praiseworthiness of enhanced individuals are the result of an array of factors which are unrelated to the constitutive rules of an activity.

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Correspondence to Jay Spitzley.

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Spitzley, J. Enhancing the Nature-of-Activities Account of Enhancement. Neuroethics 11, 323–335 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12152-018-9368-5

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Keywords

  • Praise
  • Enhancement
  • Nature-of-activities
  • Responsibility
  • Authenticity
  • Cheating