Neurorights as Hohfeldian Privileges

Neuroethics 16 (1):1-12 (2023)
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This paper argues that calls for neurorights propose an overcomplicated approach. It does this through analysis of ‘rights’ using the influential framework provided by Wesley Hohfeld, whose analytic jurisprudence is still well regarded in its clarificatory approach to discussions of rights. Having disentangled some unclarities in talk about rights, the paper proposes the idea of ‘novel human rights’ is not appropriate for what is deemed worth protecting in terms of mental integrity and cognitive liberty. That is best thought of in terms of Hohfeld’s account of ‘right’ as privilege. It goes on to argue that as privileges, legal protections are not well suited to these cases. As such, they cannot be ‘novel human rights’. Instead, protections for mental integrity and cognitive liberty are best accounted for in terms of familiar and established rational and discursive norms. Mental integrity is best thought of as evaluable in terms of familiar rational norms, and cognitive freedom is constrained by appraisals of sense-making. Concerns about how neurotechnologies might pose particular challenges to mental integrity and cognitive liberty are best protected through careful use of existing legislation on data protection, not novel rights, as it is via data that risks to integrity and liberty are manifested.



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Stephen Rainey
Oxford University