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Two Problematic Foundations of Neuroethics and Pragmatist Reconstructions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 September 2018


Common understandings of neuroethics, that is, of its distinctive nature, are premised on two distinct sets of claims: (1) neuroscience can change views about the nature of ethics itself and neuroethics is dedicated to reaping such an understanding of ethics, and (2) neuroscience poses challenges distinct from other areas of medicine and science and neuroethics tackles those issues. Critiques have rightfully challenged both claims, stressing how the first may lead to problematic forms of reductionism whereas the second relies on debatable assumptions about the nature of bioethics specialization and development. Informed by philosophical pragmatism and our experience in neuroethics, we argue that these claims are ill founded and should give way to pragmatist reconstructions; namely, that neuroscience, much like other areas of empirical research on morality, can provide useful information about the nature of morally problematic situations, but does not need to promise radical and sweeping changes to ethics based on neuroscientism. Furthermore, the rationale for the development of neuroethics as a specialized field need not to be premised on the distinctive nature of the issues it tackles or of neurotechnologies. Rather, it can espouse an understanding of neuroethics as both a scholarly and a practical endeavor dedicated to resolving a series of problematic situations raised by neurological and psychiatric conditions.

Symposium: Competing Identities of Neuroethics
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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The writing of this article was supported by a career award from the Fonds de recherche du Québec–Santé (ER) and a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Fonds de recherche du Québec–Santé in collaboration with ERANET: NEURON (ER). We would like to thank Sonja Chu for helpful feedback on a previous version of this manuscript and for editorial assistance.



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