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May 2018
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A Review on “Could Neuroenhancement be an Ethical Approach in Social Practice?”

Neuroethics is an interdisciplinary field of research aimed at understanding the consciousness and the mind through the relationship between it and the brain’s physical support. Among other things, the ethical perspective refers to the acceptability of the practices used to modify human behavior through interventions on the nervous system. In this paper, the researchers Antonio Sandu and Elena Unguru are presenting a theoretical perspective on the possible implications of neuroethics in the practice of social services.


The term neuroethics was introduced by William Safire (2002), who defines neuroethics as being the evaluation of what is good or bad in the treatment of nervous system disorders, and also the improvement of cognitive capacities, through either medicine or the emerging medical technologies (Roskies, 2016). Humans have always tried to simplify their lives through the means of technology. Human enhancement, conducted through means of medication or medical technology, is a new step in this continuous process of progress of the humanity. The neuroethical perspective which is centred on the analysis of the alterations of biological substrate of the ethical decision often interferes with the traditional ethics that postulates the moral consciousness as a fundament of the ethical action. But could we actually transfer the self consciousness and the personality of an individual in the digital environment? The researchers state that this would be possible and it could be seen as a solution for preserving the individual’s identity, a pseudo-immortality, achieved when the biological support is deteriorated, when it requires a specifically long time to subsist the human individuality, like in the case of interstellar travelling. The analysis of the neural substrate of human behavior leads to the emergence of new ethical constructs and the redefinition of some already consecrated in bioethical literature, such as the autonomy.

When we talk about neuroenhancement, Adina Roskies (2016) believes that the ethics of improving cognitive performance is a predominant field of neuroetics. For increasing cognitive competitiveness neurodegenerative therapies have been used, as well as drugs for increasing self-perception and self-expression for people that suffer from attention-deficit-hyperactivity therapy (ADHD). The research undertaken since 1030 up to nowadays, although it demonstrates the partial success of psychopharmacological neuroenhancement, it is extremely limited in the case of clinically healthy people, and deficitary in patients with cognitive psychiatric disorders, which is why, in the opinion of the cited authors, pharmacological optimism hypothesis and neuroenhance prevalence hypotheses must be rejected. A series of philosophers, among whom one of the most important is Julian Savulescu (2001, 2006) considers that human enhancement, including that through genetic engineering, is a true release of the species from its biological limitations. If technology gives us the opportunity to evolve as humans, then why not use it? The authors talk about transhumanism and about the issue of the dignity of the human species.

The authors also bring in discussion the authonomy seen through the neuroethic’s perspective. Authonomy as authenticity is the capacity of the individual to be consistent with his own decisions, expressing his true will, a certain consistency in making decisions being observed. Many authentic decisions, consistent with oneself, are taken without an explicit reflection upon the moral content of the decision. The deviant anticipatory socialization can manage the illegitimate access to resources through a process of social construction of an „alternative moral value”. The social acceptability and control are determined in order to manage the relational autonomy.

Next the authors talk about whether or not Direct Brain Interventions (DBIs) should be used. They give the example of Douglas, which believes that the interventions of altering the behavior of people who have committed crimes are justified, following the subject’s agreement to undergo the procedures, may underlie its parole release. On the contrary, Craig Jaed argues that Direct Brain Interventions (DBIs) infriges the right to the individual’s psychic integrity, and its excercise of autonomous human agency. Ahlskog considers that at the moment, there is a limited understanding of the moral behavior, and this limits possibility of effective intervention through neurotherapies. He points out that moral enhancement should be achieved by targeting therapy to modifying motivational drivers of individual’s behavior by diminishing selfish motivation, and not by trying to increase prosocial attitudes (Ahlskog, 2017). The arguments against moral enchancment enhancement are related to the violation of autonomy, but especially the diminishing of the individuals’ capacity to face certain situations in which aggresiveness is legitimate, justified and necessary (Croitor, 2017).

In conclusion, the authors agree that moral neuroenhancement processes can be useful to a certain extent in order to remove the various cognitive vulnerabilities of individuals. Excessive use of enhancement, medicine or medical technology can be negative, for that it can limit one’s authenticity and autonomy.

Ecaterina Filimon