“Cognitive Enhancement: Defending the Parity Principle”, St Cross Special Ethics Seminar by Neil Levy

Last Thursday Professor Neil Levy has defended his Parity Principle for analysing the ethics of cognitive enhancement at the St Cross Special Ethics Seminar. Such principle would oppose a common form of objection against enhancement which claims that there is a worrying asymmetry between enhancement and traditional means to human improvement. Conversely, Neil contends that the function is all that matters morally when comparing enhancement with traditional means and that comparing isofunctional modifications reveals that there are little unique problems with enhancement. The Parity Principle leads to a useful analysis of several proposed critiques of cognitive enhancement.

Firstly, there are safety arguments against cognitive enhancement, which appear to be dismissed by recent empirical evidence and, moreover, of little philosophical interest. Secondly, there are authenticity concerns relating to the fact cognitive enhancement implies either the imposition of an exterior disposition or a mismatch with reality. But a given traditional mean to achieve a functionally similar result to a given enhancement seems to imply these same two problems. For instance, both Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and SSRIs for treating depression can be equally said to be an exterior disposition or lead to a mismatch between one’s emotion and reality – he seems to find these unproblematic in both. Thirdly, there are social justice concerns. Some argue enhancements would only be available to the rich, which are already smarter, thus aggravating social inequality. Neil counter-argues that for such population there would be reduced effects given that cognitive enhancements produce diminishing marginal returns, that many of them are extremely cheap and that, therefore, its effects on inequality would be negligible compared to the effects of traditional means such as education.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.