PHIL 4780: Neuroenhancement

Neuroenhancement is a topic of increasing prominence in the field of neuroethics, and this course offers you an opportunity to develop a more in-depth engagement with this exciting current topic.

Following Adina Roskies, the field of neuroethics has typically been divided into two sub-fields: neuroscience of ethics and ethics of neuroscience. The neuroscience of ethics is usually described as something akin to the empirically-informed study of morality – in this case, a study of morality informed by the mind sciences. For instance, the study of what goes on in the brain when a human decides a moral dilemma, which has often involved the study of individuals with various pathologies, since studying a “broken” moral agent and comparing them to a “well functioning” moral agent, is thought to have the potential to reveal the brain-based mechanisms upon which moral judgment relies. On the other hand, the ethics of neuroscience is usually described as a branch of applied ethics or bioethics. In this sense, neuroethics examines the moral quandaries – sometimes problems, other times solutions that spring from new opportunities – brought about through neuroscientific research, discoveries, technologies, and so on. Examples of ethics-of-neuroscience questions might include what should be done about incidental findings from imaging studies, or what kinds of brain treatments is it ok to administer to different kinds of people.

In this course, though, we will endeavor to develop an appreciation for how a study of the myriad ways in which the human brain (and thus, the human mind) can be modified, sheds light on a range of ideas that have typically played weighty roles in ethical and political debates. For instance, the nature and value of inter-personal relationships; what constitutes a good life; the nature of responsibility and competence; the self, personal identity, and authenticity; and notions like liberty, equality, fairness, and justice. That is, we will attempt to bridge the gap between these two branches of neuroethics – i.e. ethics of neuroscience and neuroscience of ethics – by reflecting on how our views change about key ideas like the ones listed above when we acquire the possibility to modify aspects of our or other people’s brains. The Class Schedule on the next two pages lists the topics that will be investigated in order to shed light on these ideas.

Given the mix of students enrolled in this course – both graduates and undergraduates from philosophy and neuroscience – classes will take the form of interactive seminars. Students will be expected to engage one another and me in discussion, in order to both understand the content of the set readings, as well as to develop a critical standpoint on those readings. Classes will also play a key role in helping you to prepare your assessment, and so it is critical that you not miss classes.

There is no set textbook for this course. Articles, chapters, videos, podcasts, and other relevant material will be made available on BrightSpace. Some of the readings listed in the Course Syllabus may be taken off the reading list, others might be swapped for different items, so please check for announcements.