With performance-enhancing drugs and their alleged abuse still in the news, it may be helpful to return to this thought experiment by Justin Barnard, associate professor of philosophy at Union University:
Imagine attending a baseball game in which no human beings were participants. Imagine sitting for several hours watching a pitching machine throw to a mechanical arm swinging a bat. Can you honestly imagine being spellbound by such a game? Would you pay top dollar for seats behind home plate?You can read the whole thing here, where he looks at cognitive-enhancing drugs and arguments by those who defend them based on a pragmatic, utilitarian view of human nature.
My hypothesis is that while a thoroughly-perfected game of robotic baseball might commandeer an initial measure of fascination, it would simply fail to captivate our imaginations over time. Moreover, our intuitive reluctance in being enthusiastic about this imagined scenario is telling, not simply as an indication that something is amiss in the use of performance-enhancing drugs, but more importantly as a clue to a proper understanding of human nature.
That we find the prospect of robotic baseball uninteresting should not lead us to conclude that the skills of baseball are in no way machine-like. Indeed, the fact that baseball players hone their skills, often by means of machines in connection with machine-like repetition, is evidence of the degree to which the cultivation of such skills can be perfected by treating them mechanistically. To treat a skill mechanistically is simply to analyze it into its constituent parts with a view toward training one's body to perform the most efficient and effective sequence of parts with as much precision and accuracy as possible. Think of Tiger Woods' own success in rebuilding his golf swing.
Still, the fact that athletes achieve a certain measure of success by means of treating skills mechanistically should neither lead us to conclude that the perfection of athletic ability is a function of being as machine-like as possible nor that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is merely a means of honing one's skills that is morally equivalent to repetition of practice. For in the case of baseball, the whole point of using performance-enhancing drugs is to hit the ball harder and hence, farther. But while the ability to hit the ball well (e.g., hard) is a good, it is only one good, among many, in the game of baseball considered as a whole. And among those for whom it is morally bothersome, this is precisely what bothers fans when heroes are exposed for having violated the purity of the game.
Specifically, the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball violates the integral relationship that exists among all of the game's goods considered as a whole by virtue of employing means (i.e., performance-enhancing drugs) which, by their very nature, treat a single good as though it were an exclusive end in itself (i.e., the good of hitting the ball a very long distance or even more basically, the good of raw athletic power or strength). By their very nature, performance-enhancing drugs work so as to maximize a single good (e.g., muscles that are bigger, faster, stronger, etc.). Moreover, the use of such drugs in baseball (or in any other sport for that matter) implicitly treats the single good at which the drug aims as though it were the most important or only good of the game considered as a whole. That this is false about home-run-hitting is illustrated by the robotic baseball thought experiment. If merely hitting the ball (very far!) were the most important or only good of the game of baseball considered as a whole, why not get rid of the players and replace them with machines? After all, we already have the technology to create machines capable of hitting baseballs farther than most steroid-enhanced players alive!
Of course, the thought experiment helps us to realize that home-run-hitting, exciting and important as it is, is merely one good among many in the game of baseball considered as a whole. Activities like the use of performance-enhancing drugs trouble us morally---not merely because of the conventions of the game---but more significantly because they violate the overarching goodness of the unity of the game's goods, considered as a whole.