An ethical dilemma that I’ve experienced ever since I’ve entered college was the use of amphetamines such as Adderall and Vyvanse, in order to study longer and get better grades. Through middle school and high school, I studied for hours to earn straight A’s and get into a private university. After struggling my freshman year in college, I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. I changed my study habits, joined study groups, and obtained tutoring, but I could never do as well as other students. I knew my peers used “study drugs” to stay up longer and remain focused, but I never wanted to stoop so low. It’s extremely frustrating to study for days before the exam and then receive a B, when other kids cram the night before using amphetamines and get an A. It’s distressing when I apply to jobs but hear nothing, while students who use drugs get offers from Goldman Sachs and Deloitte. I have morals that my parents taught me, but it is really hard to stick to them when I don’t benefit from doing “the right thing.”

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About John Hooker

T. Jerome Holleran Professor of Business Ethics and Social Responsibility Tepper School of Business Carnegie Mellon University

4 responses »

  1. Jennifer says:

    Students use study drugs because (a) they want good grades and (b) they want to have a “bright” future. You, too, have these wants but choose not to partake in this sort of activity.

    If everyone who wanted to succeed used study drugs, they would no longer have a reason for taking them. Everyone would be getting straight As, and the grades would have nothing to do with whether a person hired by a good company. Employers would have to look at something else. Also, if everyone used study drugs, the school would have to start doing something to prevent this behavior, and students could be required to take random drug tests. If this happened, they would get caught, and their reasons for doing so in the first place would no longer apply.


    • Michael says:

      If you are making the argument that people get A’s solely because they take “study drugs,” then yes, I’d have to agree that it is unethical and ungeneralizable to take them because then everyone would get A’s and grades would be meaningless. However, I do not agree with the assumption that you are at a disadvantage because you don’t take study drugs. Focus is all about willpower and desire to succeed. If you want something bad enough you will focus hard and do the absolute best you can do. If you cut back on your time for fun (going out with friends, video games, etc) and maybe study a little more and longer, you might get A’s. The drugs themselves have no bearing on who gets an A and who doesn’t. People who cram the night before a test could and probably would fail a test or get a bad grade if they truly hadn’t studied at all for it. Drugs do not equal grades, therefore I don’t think it’s an ethical dilemma.


    • Anonymous says:

      that would just be grade inflation so in that sense you are correct. But to say that everyone who takes study drugs automatically gets an A is just wrong. The drugs do not make everyone instantly smarter, it just assists them in reaching their own personal intellectual capacity. Also, schools should theoretically be attempting to curb this behavior anyways, not just to stop kids from getting good grades because that is not their intention. The only reason these drugs are illegal is because of the physical harm it can cause to your body. People reaching their intellectual capacity is not something to be intentionally deterred.


  2. John Hooker says:

    I don’t see why using study drugs is ungeneralizable. Exams would continue to be meaningful if the whole campus is using drugs, because some students would continue to outperform others, and drug users could continue to boost their performance to the same degree.

    There is a tendency to compare taking study drugs with doping in an athletic contest, but it isn’t the same. Doping violates the rules of the game and therefore breaks a promise to abide by the rules. It may also be illegal. Promise breaking and illegal activity, carried out solely for personal gain, are ungeneralizable.

    A university education is not comparable to a race, even if many students view it as one. If study drug use violates the law or university rules, then we have a problem. Otherwise, it is hard to see why their use in a university setting is ungeneralizable.

    Study drugs raise a utilitarian issue, however, because they are unhealthy. One could raise a similar issue with frequent all-nighters or other activity that compromises health for the sake of career success. If one must abuse one’s body to prepare for a career that will save lives, then the net utilitarian payoff may be positive, but not if one is preparing for a career at Goldman Sachs.

    There may be ethical problems with priorities that lead one to use study drugs, but this is another issue. The drug use itself reduces net utility, which makes it unethical.


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