Neuroethics and the Neuroscientific Turn

In L. Syd M. Johnson & Karen S. Rommelfanger (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Neuroethics. New York City, New York, USA: pp. 14-32 (2017)

Authors
Jon Leefmann
Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Abstract
Stimulated by a general salience of neuroscientific research and the declaration of neuroscience as one of the leading disciplines of the current century, a diversity of disciplines from the social sciences and the humanities have engaged in discussions about the role of the brain in various social and cultural phenomena. The general importance assigned to the brain in so many areas of academic and social life nowadays has been called the ‘neuroscientific turn’. One of the fields that gained particular attention in this context is neuroethics. It is, however, not clear if neuroethics should be regarded simply as an indicator of a change toward a brain-centered anthropological outlook in Western societies or as an entity that itself plays a crucial role in the development and promotion of this outlook. In this chapter, we present two perspectives on the ‘neuroscientific turn’, sketch a landscape of neuroethics, and scrutinize the current state and development of neuroethics as one of the new fields at the intersection between the neurosciences and the humanities. We will ask to what extent neuroethics is itself a product or a booster of a cultural turn toward neuroscience and which interpretations of neuroscientific knowledge and which public expectations of the potential of neuroscience have actually been put to work in the formation of neuroethics. As our analysis underlines, the interactions of neuroscience and ethics in the field of neuroethics are complex and multidirectional. On the one hand, philosophical and anthropological discourse has favored certain theoretical assumptions about the role of the brain for human self-understanding. On the other hand, neuroscience has stimulated many discourses in ethical theory, as well as in society, of which neuroethics can be regarded as a recent derivative. Finally, neuroethics itself occasionally functions as an amplifier of the assumption that neuroscience provides relevant information to help us understand the nature of human morality and the nature of good social norms and institutions.
Keywords Neuroethics
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