Neuroethics is widely described as the ethics of neuroscience and the neuroscience of ethics. The ethics of neuroscience includes the ethical, legal and social implications of research and new technologies, particular issues with how neuroscientific research is carried out with animal or human subjects, and structural concerns about transparent funding for research or fair distribution of research outcomes. The neuroscience of ethics refers to insight from neuroscientific research on moral thought and moral action and is closely allied with moral psychology. More broadly, neuroethics is one branch of biomedical ethics – the study of ethical issues in biological and medical research and clinical practice. Neuroethics deals with issues of identity, authenticity, autonomy, free will and enhancement – that is, with questions about how our understandings of neuroscience and new technologies affect who we are, how we understand ourselves, what we can do and who we can become.

Key Concepts

  • Deep brain stimulation involves ethical questions about the nature and value of human identity.
  • Neurotechnology can support, enhance or constrain autonomy, understood as an individual's capacities to self‐determine, that is to reflect on and to make significant life choices.
  • Neuroscience may call into question responsibility and free will, as it provides more information about how humans form intentions and make conscious decisions.
  • The ability to cognitively enhance individuals raises concerns about social equality, fairness and what it means to be a human being.
  • Neurological interventions are relevant to justice when their benefits and burdens fall disproportionately on different members of society or when relevant stakeholders are not consulted in the development of novel technology that will affect their lives.

Keywords: neuroethics; identity; deep brain stimulation; autonomy; free will; moral responsibility; cognitive enhancement; moral enhancement; justice; cochlear implants


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Further Reading

Chatterjee A and Farah M (2013) Neuroethics in Practice: Medicine, Mind and Society. New York: Oxford University Press.

Clausen J and Levy N (eds) (2015) Handbook of Neuroethics. New York: Springer.

Illes J and Sahakian B (eds) (2011) Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics. New York: Oxford University Press.

Johnson S and Rommelfanger K (2017) Routledge Handbook of Neuroethics. New York: Routledge.

Klaming L and Haselager P (2013) Did my brain implant make me do it? Questions raised by DBS regarding psychological continuity, responsibility for action and mental competence. Neuroethics 6 (3): 527–539.

Racine E and Aspler J (2017) Debates about Neuroethics: Perspectives on its Development, Focus and Future. New York: Springer.

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Sullivan, Laura Specker, and Goering, Sara(Aug 2017) Neuroethics. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0027184]