For this case, I will be using Kantian ethics to pinpoint the rationally correct action to take. Before discussing Kantian ethics in relation to the case, we must first explore what Kantian ethics is. Kantian ethics comes from the deontological school of thought, which focuses on the moral correctness of the act in itself (Johnson, 2013). This means that the judgment on the act is done a priori. This is contrasted to the consequentialist school of thought, which focuses on the results of an act as the factor that would qualify the rightness or wrongness of an action (Sinnott-Armstrong, 2012).
A consequentialist would make a judgment on an act a posteriori. Kant utilized a concept called the Categorical Imperative, which states that that which is moral is that which is rational (Johnson, 2013). Therefore, a moral act is one that follows from a rational agent. An immoral act, as it follows, is that which is irrational (Johnson, 2013). Another significant factor to consider in Kantian ethics is that the most important value that they seek to preserve is autonomy. Contrasted to a Utilitarian, a Kantian would promote autonomy rather than happiness. The Categorical Imperative contains three main elements.
One element of the Categorical Imperative is the formula of universalizable maxims. The formula of universalizable maxims states that a right action is that which can be universalizable (Johnson, 2013). The question here would be: would an action be acceptable if everyone did it? To test this, a person would need to imagine a twin world wherein that action is the norm for everyone. Then that person would need to see if such a world is conceivable and rational. Another important factor for this experiment would be to see if the universalized act would inhibit other people’s freedom.
If the universalized act or maxim doesn’t infringe on other’s freedom then this act is acceptable (Johnson, 2013). Another element under the Categorical Imperative is the Humanity Formula. This concept states that humanity is a means in itself and should never be treated merely as a means to an end (Johnson, 2013). This means that each human being must be respected because he or she has his or her own inherent autonomy and dignity (Johnson, 2013). This formula stipulates that a person may not be manipulated by another as a means to achieve a particular goal.
Realistically, though, you cannot help but use people as means to an end (Johnson, 2013). This happens everyday, for example, when we use shop clerks to purchase food. In this example, we are using the shop clerks as a means to get the ends, which is food. The reason as to why this particular case of using a person as a means to an end is acceptable is because of the idea of consent. A shop clerk has freely chosen to pursue his or her own line of work and this entails being a means through which people can purchase food. Thus, the shop clerk consents to being a means to this particular end.
The third element under the Categorical Imperative is the Kingdom of Ends Formula. This formulation states that an agent exists in a community that is made up of equally rational agents who have just as much say in the maxims that become universalized (Johnson, 2013). The universalized maxims become the law and every agent in this community agrees to conform his or her actions to the law. B. DISCUSSION OF CASE For this particular case, we are dealing with the maxim of taking cognitive enhancing drugs to increase productivity output.
If we were to test this particular maxim using the formula of universalizability, we would have to imagine a world wherein every person would do this particular action. In this world, everyone would use cognitive enhancing drugs to meet deadlines or to finish their work faster. In the face of stress, instead of overcoming the obstacle through the person’s own hard work and will, he would only merely need to pop a pill. As mentioned in the case, this kind of accepted behavior could create a new kind of neuro-society. This new neuro-society would be filled with people popping pills like Adderall or Ritalin to focus on their work on hand.
There is essentially nothing wrong with increasing the ability of a person to focus on a particular task. The downside of this kind of society would be that it would become a society of drug dependency. Designer drugs like the ones previously mentioned would act as a quick fix for people. Instead of relying on their own wills and capacities, people would be relying merely on the drug to be able to produce an output. This dependency goes against the value the Kantian holds above everything else: autonomy. By allowing a drug-dependent society to prosper, we would be limiting our own freedom by slowly becoming more dependent on drugs.
In this world where using cognitive enhancing drugs is the norm, imagine if the drug would suddenly be taken away. People would not know how to focus or get their work done without the drug. In the face of stress, people wouldn’t know how to act since they have lost the drug that previously did all the work for them. This is because they supplemented their own shortcomings with the drug instead of developing themselves into becoming fully functioning and autonomous adults who could deal with their problems. This maxim being universalized would stunt our own development and would, in turn, create an infantilized society.
This thought experiment aims to show that the maxim of using cognitive enhancing drugs does not pass the test of universalizability. Secondly, in this world with this universalized maxim, the using of cognitive enhancing drugs may become a norm not only for college students or adults, but also for children. Children are vulnerable in the sense that their autonomy is still limited. Because a Kantian would uphold autonomy as the most important value, he or she would feel an obligation to protect vulnerable parties who have limited autonomy.
In this world, there may be over-achieving parents who want their children to be competitive in the world of academics. If the using of cognitive enhancing drugs becomes the norm, then these kinds of parents might try to get their children to take these kinds of drugs to get ahead in their studies. A Kantian would see that the children must be protected from these kinds of actions since they cannot utilize their autonomy in the full capacity. Another point for this argument is that if children are put on cognitive enhancing drugs from an early age, then they will grow up never knowing what it is like to function without these drugs.
Furthermore, they will become extremely dependent and they will never be able to realize their own full potential and capacity. This means that their autonomies will always be somewhat limited. Therefore, a world wherein cognitive enhancing drugs are the norm, not just for adults but also for children, must be avoided. Therefore, based on the twin world test, the use of cognitive enhancing drugs should not become a norm since it creates a dependent society and it creates an opportunity for vulnerable parties to remain vulnerable and never reach their full autonomies.
Thirdly, another reason as to why this particular maxim would not be acceptable for a Kantian is because it goes against another element of the Categorical Imperative: the Human Formula. As previously stated, this formulation asserts that humans should not be used merely as means to an end. This formulation includes disallowing agents in using themselves as a means to an end (Manninen, 2006). The act of taking cognitive enhancing drugs reduces the person to merely a means to an end.
Instead of respecting one’s own capacity to achieve one’s full potential, a person merely reduces himself to something akin to a machine that will produce output in the quickest way possible. Instead of the person using his or her own capacity in facing the challenge, the act of using a cognitive enhancing drug will circumvent the process of self-development and will skip the opportunity for personal growth. In this manner, the person will accomplish the short-term goal of churning out an output without actually developing his or her own talents.
As noted in a journal article by Manninen (2006), when drugs are treated as a miracle solution to the stressful emotions an agent is feeling, this stops the agent from growing and overcoming the stress by himself or herself. This sacrifices an important aspect of being human: the capacity to engage in personal development. This stunts personal growth and, in turn, society is left with people who do not know how to deal with problems by themselves. Instead, they turn to using drugs as an emotional crutch. In conclusion, we see how a Kantian would view the maxim of using cognitive enhancing pills in response to stress or a heavy workload.
Since the most important value for the Kantian is autonomy and the development of this, he or she would see this maxim as something that limits and stunts autonomy. Therefore, to make this maxim into a universalized law would be irrational. In my opinion, I think that Kantian ethics did pinpoint the morally correct response in this case. This is because the using of cognitive enhancing drugs would reduce the agent to a mere means. This is not morally correct since human beings are not mere means nor machines but rather rational agents who deserve respect and the chance to grow.
References: Johnson, R. (2013). Kant’s Moral Philosophy. In E. Zalta (Ed. ), The stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Retrieved from http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/kant-moral/ Manninen, B. A. (2006). Medicating the mind: A kantian analysis of overprescribing psychoactive drugs. Journal of medical ethics, 32(2), 100-105. Sinnott-Armstrong, W. (2012). Consequentialism. In E. Zalta (Ed. ), The stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Retrieved from http://plato. stanford. edu/cgi-bin/encyclopedia/archinfo. cgi? entry=consequentialism.
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