The Ethics of Neuroenhancement
Recent reports indicate that an increasing number of scientists are researching various brain enhancement technologies. This development poses many ethical issues for those who work in the field, as well as for all of us.
There are three main challenges for ethical standards due to the burgeoning use of neuroenhancement technologies.
First, there is the concern that individual choices regarding mind improvement will negatively affect society and the well-being of others.
Second, there is a broader concern about the welfare of the people involved. Some of these technologies can be used for exploitation if they fall into the wrong hands.
And finally, there is the issue of whether these technologies will slowly affect people's thoughts and actions, without their being aware of the changes. Many researchers believe that neuroenhancement may have the potential to alter the way people think about important ethical issues.
Research into the ethics of neuroenhancement has tended to emphasize individual choices and the use of technologies to enhance or improve brain performance, or promote knowledge acquisition, with such activities being termed "participatory enhancement" or "enhancement by choice."
It is true that brain-based technologies may not affect individual choices or decision-making capacities. However, the unknown goals (if any) can also be achieved through persuasion, and participants may not be aware of the changes.
For example, we want to buy new gadgets because they perform various functions that we consider to be important. We want to purchase a particular product because we think that it is better than other products which are available on the market. But this form of reason is a form of persuasion, because it relies on our confidence that the other products are not an option. Believing that a product is of higher quality leads to a greater likelihood that we will buy it.
Since brain processes involved in reasoning work this way, they are very likely to have a huge impact on the way people think and act. However, since neuroenhancement technologies are so new, and there is so little information available on how they actually work, it is difficult to assess their effect on people's behavior. Therefore, neuroscience may be able to impose moral and legal sanctions upon us in the future, while also providing evidence that our moral values are malleable.
Seeking moral values.
One of the key issues is the role of human behavior in figuring out what is good and what is bad. Our actions and beliefs will influence and determine our future behaviors. And our behavior has a significant impact on our beliefs as well.
For example, if I knowingly and willingly and repeatedly have to engage in a behavior that is unacceptable to me, my beliefs about what is acceptable and what is not will change. However, since my beliefs have given me a basis for refusing to engage in the unacceptable behavior, they may also limit the kinds of behaviors I am prepared to engage in.
So, beliefs can shape the "praxis" of our moral lives. We may object to an event or experience, but still participate in it through some form of action or thought. On the other hand, we may reduce our ability to do certain things if we believe that others will judge us for our actions.