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Theoretical Justifications for LPI

Although lay intuitions are sometimes stated in different language, they still nevertheless express the same three concerns as those we mention above— concerns that may be offered as rational justifications for LPI. Here, we demonstrate the form that these concerns take and what role they play in philosophical literature and in public debate about enhancement in sport and education.


The responsibility-shifting justification for LPI can be stated as follows: people who enhance their performance through the use of certain substances or techniques deserve less merit-based praise for their accomplishments because those accomplishments were produced by the enhancers and through the effort of their manufacturers, rather than by the agents’ actions and efforts. In the debate about doping in sport, this concern gains expression in the claim that if doping were not disallowed, then we would eventually have competitions between physicians not athletes.

The core intuition here is that enhancers, their producers, or physicians— and, importantly, not athletes—are the real agents in enhanced performance, whereas in nonenhanced performance athletes remain the real agents. But, first, in our view this intuition rests on an implausible metaphysics of action. We find it utterly mysterious why anyone would suppose that enhancement techniques strip agents of their contribution to what they achieve. Second, actual enhancing techniques just do not work like that. Enhanced cyclists must still train hard, they often pedal for hours in races, and this costs them physical and psychological effort. Likewise, enhanced students must still study, expend intellectual effort, write their own assignments, and sit their own tests. Neither enhancers nor enhancer producers do the training, the pedaling, the study, or the writing. Arguments suggesting otherwise rely on a factual mistake about what enhancers actually do (Cf. Mehlman13, pp. 492-493).

A milder version of the responsibility-shifting argument is that although enhancers do not literally strip agents of their contribution, they are nevertheless the dominant factors. Here, the claim is not that in sport, for instance, competition between scientists will literally replace competition between athletes, but that technological competition will become a prominent and decisive factor. Consequently, the argument runs, a prominent portion of praise for accomplishment must shift from athletes to scientists. However, in our view, this milder version of the responsibility-shifting argument still rests on the same factual mistake. For instance, steroids merely promote faster recovery from injury and training, but they do not replace any of the human agency. Extraordinary human effort and talent are still the decisive elements in producing outstanding athletic performance. Likewise, cyclists’ use of the hormone erythropoietin (EPO) or blood-doping techniques to increase their blood’s ability to carry oxygen to the body’s cells by increasing the red blood cell count (World Anti-Doping Association14) does not determine the result of a cyclist’s performance any more than altitude training does, regardless of the controversy that these techniques might raise in the media (e.g., Heathers15 and Mazanov16).111 They certainly do confer advantage to those who use them over those who do not, but they do not necessarily reduce the contribution of those who use them in terms of their effort, talent, and ability.

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