Harris & Chatterjee debate cognitive enhancement


John Harris and Anjan Chatterjee debate cognitive enhancement over at British Medical Journal.

Harris starts things off with a ‘Yes

“Suppose a university were to set out deliberately to improve the mental capacities of its students; suppose its stated aims were to ensure that students left the university more intelligent and learned than when they arrived. Suppose they further claimed that not only could they achieve this but that their students would be more intelligent and mentally alert than any students in history. What should our reaction be?

We might be sceptical, but if the claims could be sustained, should we be pleased? Would we welcome such a breakthrough and want our children to go to such a university? We ought to want this. It is, after all, part of what education is supposed to be for. And if the gains in cognitive functioning were significant and the costs commensurate we would probably want them for our children and want to see them more widely adopted in education.”

Chatterjee replies with a ‘No‘.

“Why would anyone object to someone choosing to be smarter, better focused, and more productive? Surely cognitive enhancement has much to offer individuals and society, and legal dispensers of methylphenidate (Ritalin) should not object. Unfortunately, the case for healthy people taking this drug is not so straightforward. Doctors routinely decide whether to intervene based on a calculation of relative risks and benefits. Here, the risks outweigh the benefits.”


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