To the Editors:

It was objected that Adderall use is unfair since it gives to its users an academic advantage not had by those who don't use it. But it seems to me that many people naturally have advantages due to things that others don't have access to, and that we don't judge these advantages to be unfair.

For instance, those who are naturally very intelligent clearly have an academic advantage due to something that the less intelligent don't have access to. But simply because one person has access to greater intelligence than another doesn't mean that it's unfair for the more intelligent person to achieve greater success due to his intelligence.

The obvious difference is that the person who is naturally very intelligent gains an academic advantage from his genes, whereas the person who takes Adderall gains an advantage from something not internal. I fail to see the moral relevance of this distinction.

Consider two economics 101 classes taught by two different professors that assign the same problem sets and give the same exams. One professor teaches the material so well that his students never have to read the textbook and never have to go to office hours or study groups.

The other professor teaches the class so poorly that his students have to read the textbook very thoroughly and go to office hours and study groups regularly. The students with the good professor clearly have an external academic advantage that the students of the other economics 101 class don't have.

Should we conclude that it's unfair for the students of the good professor to perform better than the students of the bad professor? I'm inclined to say "No."

If I'm right that the distinction between an internal versus an external advantage is not morally relevant, then we should reject the idea that it is unfair for one person to achieve success due to access to something that another doesn't have access to.


Anthony Colabella '11