What If? The Farther Shores of Neuroethics: Commentary on “Neuroscience May Supersede Ethics and Law”


Publish Date:
August 25, 2012
Publication Title:
Science and Engineering Ethics
Journal Article Volume 18 Pages 439
  • Henry T. Greely, What If? The Farther Shores of Neuroethics : Commentary on "Neuroscience May Supersede Ethics and Law", 18 Science and Engineering Ethics 439 (2012).
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Neuroscience is clearly making enormous progress toward understanding how human brains work. The implications of this progress for ethics, law, society, and culture are much less clear. Some have argued that neuroscience will lead to vast changes, superseding much of law and ethics. The likely limits to the explanatory power of neuroscience argue against that position, as do the limits to the social relevance of what neuroscience will be able to explain. At the same time neuroscience is likely to change societies through increasing their abilities to predict future behavior, to infer subjective mental states by observing physical brain states (“read minds”), to provide evidence in some cases relevant to criminal responsibility, to provide new ways to intervene to “treat antisocial brains,” and to enhance healthy brains. Neuroscience should make important cultural changes in our special, and specially negative, views of “mental” versus “physical” illness by showing that mental illness is a dysfunction of a physical organ. It will not likely change our beliefs, implicit or explicit, in free will, or spark a new conflict between science and religion akin to the creationism controversy.