Next week I'm going to take part in a panel discussion in Bristol on whether "students should take smart drugs". A fairly common view on the subject seems to be that using cognitive enhancers such as Adderall, Dexedrine, or Ritalin in order to boost one's ability to concentrate and stay awake is somehow morally dubious, mainly because it is deemed "unfair". But why exactly should it be unfair? Well, smart drugs cost money, and perhaps not everyone is rich enough to afford them. However, a couple of pills currently don't cost more than a pint of beer, so should be affordable to pretty much every student. And even if they really were so expensive that some students simply can't afford them, then it wouldn't really be the act of taking those drugs that is unfair, but rather their costliness. Reduce the price and the unfairness disappears. And given that arguably the effect of a private school education, which is far more expensive, on a student's abilities and achievements is a lot greater than anything that a smart drug can get you, it is strange that we should make so much fuss about this when it comes to cognitive enhancement drugs.
If coffee and cigarettes aren't unfair, then so-called smart drugs aren't either. If private schools are unfair, then smart drugs are a lot less unfair. And if it is unfair that some people find it easier to learn than others, then smart drugs can even increase fairness.