Lance Armstrong and the Philosophy of Making Bad Decisions

Evan Selinger in The Atlantic:

RTXSJ9S-615Lance Armstrong's decision not to fight the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has drawn mixed response: supporters and detractors wasted no time before airing their views. While some supporters maintain lack of incriminating evidence is key, others have stated that Armstrong still deserves our sympathy even if he is guilty of using banned substances. It is crucial to understand why this might be the case, as the implications of the judgment extend well beyond feelings directed at a high-profile athlete.

The sympathy-for-a-possible-cheater argument is expressed clearly in “Pillorying Armstrong: Complete Nonsense,” a piece co-written by Arthur Caplan — one of the most famous bioethicists in the U.S. — and two other NYU professors. The authors write: “Shouldn't Armstrong, especially because of the inspiration he is to cancer survivors or anyone on the short end of the advantage stick, get a pass for being no more dirty, but a whole lot better than everyone else in his sport? Armstrong isn't being investigated as the only cheater. He is in all likelihood just the best, most talented one.” In other words, we should feel bad for Armstrong because LiveStrong promotes so much social good that it blunts part of the cheating stain, and because professional cycling is rotten to the core, filled with so many cheaters that breaking the rules is the only viable way to compete.

For the sake of argument, let's say this assessment of the state of cycling is correct. Why should its constraints incline us to be sympathetic for a cheater? Why shouldn't we instead appeal to the lesson about individual responsibility and peer pressure that we learned in Kindergarten — the one that ends with not jumping off a bridge because Johnny did?

More here.