Topic: Neuroethics. As research into the brain and the mind has advanced, distinctive ethical issues have arisen in neuroscience, neurology, and neural engineering. These issues are part of a growing field of inquiry known as neuroethics, described by Adina Roskies as “the ethics of neuroscience, and the neuroscience of ethics.” The ethics of neuroscience includes 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. We will focus on these ethical issues in this course. The neuroscience of ethics refers to the perspectives neuroscientific research can give us on moral thought and moral action and is closely allied with moral psychology. We will touch on some of these scientific approaches to ethics throughout the semester, particularly in the context of philosophy of mind, although they will not be our focus.
More broadly, neuroethics is one branch of biomedical ethics—the study of ethical issues in biological and medical research and clinical practice. When compared with biomedical ethics as a field, neuroethics has a number of features that distinguish it as an area of concern. In particular, neuroethics deals with issues of identity, authenticity, autonomy, free will, and enhancement—that is, with questions about how new neuroscientific technologies affect who we are, how we understand ourselves, what we can do, and who we can become. While this course will address other more foundational bioethical issues, such as research with human subjects, we will focus on the ethical issues distinctive to neuroethics.