CSULB Center for Applied Ethics: Julie Tannenbaum's "The Promise and Peril of the Pharmacological Enhancer Modafinil"

April 11, 2011

The CSULB Center for Applied Ethics presents the final installment of the colloquium series for 2011-2012.  Dr. Julie Tannenbaum from the Department of Philosophy at Pomona College presents

“The Promise and Peril of the Pharmacological Enhancer Modafinil”

The drug Modafinil promises to enable people without sleep disorders to stay awake longer (up to four days straight) without sacrificing clarity of thought, suffering any serious side effects, or inducing addiction. As of now, Modafinil is legally available only as a treatment for a narrow range of disorders. Should a drug like this be widely available not only for treatment, but also for enhancement? Discussions of this question have focused on a narrow range of concerns, such as whether the wide-release would exacerbate the already unjust distribution of goods in society and the risks of long-term negative health effects. In this paper, I want to take a step back and address some key issues that are necessary, but not sufficient, for addressing the question concerning the legalization of Modafinil. What is missing from these discussions, I suggest, is a clear picture of which kind of goods Modafinil enables its users to obtain, as well as the conditions that must be met in order for these goods–whether it be experiences, activities, or objects–to remain good and make one’s life better. When such conditions are not met, not only does Modafinil fail to give one access to the kind of goods that would improve his or her quality of life, but also makes life worse for both users and non-users.

Dr. Tannenbaum received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).  She is the author of several important articles on ethical theory. She previously taught at CSU, Northridge and UC Santa Cruz, and she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Clinical Bioethics Department at the National Institutes of Health from 2006-2007.