Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Doping arguments

thanks for your interesting contribution Carl. I'd like to see the reference for the full piece. You cite Miller Brown's wonderful summary of the doping and anti doping arguments and I agree pretty much with his conclusion that thinking through the ideas of athletic excellence will require us also to think about what constitutes human excellence. I have tried to do something a little like this in my latest (and long overdue) book on virtue ethics in sports.

I take a really simple line - beneath the arguments about doping are arguments about sportspershonship and (if you will forgive the crudity that follows) that requires some thinking about personhood. I tried this at my first PSSS conference organised by Bill Morgan when he was at Tennessee (1991 I believe). I had the great good fortune to have the paper responded to by Scott Kretchmar who said a lot of nice things but felt essentially the line I had taken (following Charles Taylor) was too cognitively biased. Being the wise-young PhD student I was back then, I promptly ignored the advice. When I came to revising the paper for the book (last year) I was forced to concede that the ever-modest Professor saw it right all along and that I had to soften up the position and concede that, useful an idea as strong evaluation is (the capacity to choose evaluatively among ends), if we make this the benchmark for all persons, then infants, those in Persistent Vegitative States, severely mentally disabled (among others) don't count - and to lump them in a category of non-persons is just unacceptable.

Nevertheless, there is something in the idea that a full blown ideal of a sportsperson is someone who can stand outside of ego and economic incentives to realise that a fair contest is at the heart of sports. This does not mean that all inequalities can or ought to be wiped away. Sigmund Loland gave a great keynote at the last British Philosophy of Sport Association Conference last week in Denmark (a long story and one for anohter blog) where he reminded us that we are all interested in athletic inequalities so long as they are demonstrated by way of fair opportunity (a line reminiscent of Warren Fraleigh before him).

So the fairness will apply to the contest and certain aspects of the pre-contest (no genetic tests just yet though please). It will be conceded by anyone that certain inequalities are present which it is unreasonable to ask sports institutions to eliminate (your country's level of altitude, your parental genetic stock, and so on) but doping is something we can and ought to take a stand on for a variety of harm and sports-integrity reasons as applied sensitively to the heterogeneity of cases that occur.

I offer in the book a virtue theoretical critique (based in the vices of greed (well, pleonexia in the greek catalogue -a sort of unjust greed not mere gluttony) and the loss of shame (aidos) by those who simply "prepare badly" their pharmacological regime. But these virtue based arguments add to but do not clinch the argument necessarily. I offer further more technical ones in the shape of slippery slopes and a refutation of the ambiguity of doping rules based on arguments from the conceptual vaguess literature.

But a more simple and provocative one comes often to mind. We know that people speed when driving their cars. We know we won't stop (all of) them.
Driving too fast will not always harm others or ourselves.
Yet we think that posting a limit is a posture to settle an ideal - if you drive more than (say) 30mph near a built up area you may end up killing careless pedestrians; if you drive more than say 80mph and have a tyre blow out you may very well kill yourself.

People drive faster than this. Sometimes they do it with reckless disregard to their person, sometimes to other persons.

The rules present a rationally defensible ideal, that it is impossible always to enforce, but which is an ethically justified pursuit nonenetheless. And so it is with sport.

See what you think. Sorry about the egregious plug.


1 comment:

Carl Thomen said...

Mike, thanks for your reply. I must admit to not knowing who Miller Brown is; I didn't think I was citing anyone. As an elite athlete, I have personally come across all the possible justifications for doping, as well as some pretty impossible ones. As such, I thought I was just pointing out the obvious. We can't say (some) performance enhancing drugs are unfair because they enhance performance AND condone the use of (some) technology, for instance the LZR suit, which does exactly the same thing. This suit vastly improves performance – perhaps more than some banned drugs might do. Furthermore, some swimmers do not have access to it, not being sponsored by Speedo (see article in the Mail & Guardian to which I refer to in my blog post). This is obviously unfair - so why do we (or rather those in charge of sporting policy) allow it?

So now the question becomes: Is certain technology an inequality like altitude or genetic stock? I think not. If we cannot deem performance enhancing suits like the LZR unfair, then we are just discriminating against pill-shaped technology on an aesthetic or intuitive level. Even if all swimmers had access to it, the suit is helping them perform “above” themselves, or at least, better than they would have if they were just wearing a standard “jock-strap” costume. Isn’t this what performance enhancing drugs do? I must reiterate, I am not for these drugs any more than I am for this type of technology – it just seems a blatant double standard to condemn the one on the grounds of “unfair advantage” and not to condemn the other for the same reason.

All that aside, I think there are some very good arguments for keeping drugs out of sport; arguments which consider the health of the athlete as well as arguments from autonomy are very promising here. I think it is hard though to go argue convincingly from an equal opportunity or fairness angle without first taking a serious look at the impact of technology on sport.

Again, thanks for the comments. When I have some time outside of my thesis work, I will definitely be picking up your book.