Enhancement in sport

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L159-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2020
Retrieved April 22, 2021, from

5 A positive case for enhancement?

The claim that enhancements should be permitted in sport is distinct from the claim that it is morally desirable for enhancements to be used in sport.

Some might be inclined to think that the use of enhancement in sport is morally neutral, rather than positively desirable. After all, the benefits that athletes gain from enhancing their performance seem to be zero-sum; when their chances of victory improve, their opponents’ chances of victory correspondingly decline. So while it can be in an individual’s athlete’s self-interest to enhance their performance, doing so might not seem to be valuable, from an impartial, moral perspective.

However, there are two main ways that a positive moral case for the use of enhancement in sport could be made.

First, we might appeal to the intrinsic value of athletic achievements, which enhancements would help bring about. Some philosophers believe that the production of great art, music, and scientific knowledge are valuable in and of themselves. If they are right, then perhaps athletic accomplishments – like running a race in record time – have intrinsic value as well.

Alternatively, the case for enhancement could be made on welfarist grounds. Many common effects of performance-enhancing drugs – like reduction of fatigue and relief of pain – seem to improve athletes’ wellbeing. And for athletes who deeply enjoy participating in high-level sport, but are past their physical ‘prime’, enhancements can make it possible for them to continue participating – when their bodies would have otherwise given up. We might also appeal to the enjoyment that spectators get from watching sport. Perhaps fans derive more pleasure from watching the spectacular athletic feats that enhancements make possible, than they would derive from watching less-extraordinary, enhancement-free performances. The increase in fan viewership of professional baseball that was brought about by the steroid-fuelled explosion of homerun hitting in the 1990s (Ham, 2011: 229) supports this hypothesis.

Citing this article:
Thau, Tena. 5 A positive case for enhancement?. Enhancement in sport, 2020, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L159-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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