Academic journal article Trames

Is Neuro-Enhancement Unnatural and Does It Morally Matter?

Academic journal article Trames

Is Neuro-Enhancement Unnatural and Does It Morally Matter?

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Neuro-enhancement refers to the use of applications of modern neurosciences to make people better--smarter, happier, more sociable etc. For example, many students (according to some studies over 5%) and their professors (according to some studies up to 20%) in the United States use drugs such as modafinil (brand name for example Provigil), metylphenidate (brand name for example Ritalin) and dextroamphetamine (brand name for example Adderall), to increase their recall, attention span, problem-solving ability, and ability to focus on cognitive tasks. The use of these drugs for neuro-enhancement is off-label; the users suffer neither from narcolepsy nor from Alzheimer disease for which the drugs were originally developed. The users just want to enhance their cognitive performance (Goodman 2010:146-148; Lane 2009). Neuro-enhancement also includes manipulation of moods and emotions. Some people who do not need antidepressants or other psychotropic drugs to sustain or restore their health use, for example, fluoxetine (brand name for example Prozac) to enhance their subjective emotional well-being and improve their social life (Kraemer 2010). The scope of the term 'neuro-enhancement' is not restricted to the use of drugs. Neuro-enhancement may, at least in theory, take place also through surgeries, and magnetic or electrical stimulations of the brain (Glannon 2006:38).

This paper consists of analyses on claims concerning unnaturalness of neuro-enhancement. In what sense, if any, is neuro-enhancement unnatural? If neuro-enhancement is unnatural, is its unnaturalness morally noteworthy? Moreover, should neuro-enhancement be, because of its unnaturalness, morally rejected or restricted?

The question about the unnaturalness of neuro-enhancement is connected to claims concerning its effects on authenticity. One of the central arguments against neuro-enhancement is that it threatens the authenticity of persons, or at least the authenticity of their minds' contents or their achievements. In other words, neuro-enhancement has been seen to violate the ideal of being true to oneself (Kraemer 2010 and Erler 2010). (1) Even though the ideal of authenticity is quite attractive, it requires further clarification which is often provided by appeals for natural and unnatural (see for example Kraemer 2010 and Erler 2010). However, the terms 'natural' and 'unnatural' are ambiguous (Cooley and Goreham 2004, Siipi 2008, and Bergin 2009), and thus in need of clarification in order to be useful in authenticity discussion.

The question concerning unnaturalness is not relevant to the ethics of neuro-enhancement merely through the authenticity discussion. Rather, the question is interesting also as such and actually quite prevalent in neuroethics (see for example Goodman 2010:155, The President's Council on Bioethics 2003, and Buchanan 2009). This is due to the methods of neuro-enhancement being, first, ethically interesting, and second, obviously quite artificial and non-natural in the sense of involving highly advanced technological and medical applications. However, since the use of highly advanced technological and medical applications is not morally undesirable as such, the crucial question is then twofold. Is there something in the context of neuro-enhancement that makes the use of highly advanced technological and medical applications morally suspect? Or is neuro-enhancement unnatural in some other way (i.e. in a way that does not refer to the use of highly advanced technological or medical applications) that is morally relevant?

2. Ambiguity of unnaturalness

The terms 'natural' and 'unnatural' are highly ambiguous. The term 'unnatural' may mean the use of highly advanced technology (Angermeier 2000:374), but it may also refer to human impact in a more general sense (McKibben 1989:55, 58-59 and Soper 1995:15). Further, unnaturalness can be interpreted, for example, as violation of nature or at least disharmony with it (Elliot 1997:117 and Verhoog et al. …

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