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Anger and Forgiveness"Are You There Alone?"10 Good Questions about Life and DeathA Casebook of Ethical Challenges in NeuropsychologyA Companion to BioethicsA Companion to BioethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Companion to Muslim EthicsA Cooperative SpeciesA Critique of the Moral Defense of VegetarianismA Delicate BalanceA Fragile LifeA Life for a LifeA Life-Centered Approach to BioethicsA Matter of SecurityA Natural History of Human MoralityA Philosophical DiseaseA Practical Guide to Clinical Ethics ConsultingA Question of TrustA Sentimentalist Theory of the MindA Short Stay in SwitzerlandA Tapestry of ValuesA Very Bad WizardA World Without ValuesAction and ResponsibilityAction Theory, Rationality and CompulsionActs of ConscienceAddiction and ResponsibilityAddiction NeuroethicsAdvance Directives in Mental HealthAfter HarmAftermathAgainst AutonomyAgainst BioethicsAgainst HealthAgainst Moral ResponsibilityAgency and AnswerabilityAgency and ResponsibilityAgency, 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Neuroscience, as a branch of science where psychology and biology intersect, deals with probably what is the most complex organ of the human body and the location and driver of what makes us who we are, namely the human brain. New advances in neuroscience and neurotechnologies bring new and, in some cases, unique ethical challenges. Martha J. Farah makes clear in her illuminating book Neuroethics: an Introduction with Readings, that neuroethics is more than classical bioethics applied to neuroscience. This might not be the first book that has discussed neuroethics, but this book remains one of a few in which, by combining a single author and a reader format, attempts to introduce and to clarify issues, as well as to facilitate the teaching of neuroethics. All these are at the core of Farah's Neuroethics.
Farah shows a remarkable job as the editor of this book by gathering an outstanding selection of relevant, instructive and insightful papers to accompany each chapter, covering from different perspectives the issues analysed in each section. Moreover, in cases where the readings needed editing in order to maintain the focus and consistency of each one of the chapters, Farah's successfully accomplished it. Thus, the book has an accessible style which makes it a good introduction to those who are already involved or interested in neuroscience and want to learn how this field of study could impact their lives and the ethical and social issues that it carries along. It can also be seen as a good academic tool for facilitating the teaching of neuroethics. In a wider sense, this book is a meaningful contribution for both scientists and non-scientists, since it provides a good overview of the different ways in which the different ethical issues brought forward by neuroscience go beyond the clinical settings to issues involving the law, education and society in general.
The book compromises six different sections, which represent the areas that the author believes are the most socially relevant and intellectually challenging of neuroethics. With the exception of the first section, the chapter that precedes each set of readings provides (1) the relevant context needed for understanding the key ethical and social issues to be discussed in the readings; (2) an overview of the readings clarifying the relations among the issues; (3) a selection of the cross-cutting issues mentioned in the readings; and (4) a section of questions for discussion.
The book begins with an overview of neuroethics. In this section Farah outlines the importance of this new field of ethical enquiry and sorts out the issues that are similar to other classical bioethical issues from those that are "relatively novel and emerge primarily because of the very special status of the brain in human life" (p.7). The later set of ethical issues being the focus of the book.
The second chapter focuses on the all-too-human desire for Better Brains. In particular, the focus is on the current and near-term ways to enhance our brains, namely psycho-pharmacology. The five readings accompanying this chapter, discuss the social and ethical issues of brain and cognitive enhancement. Issues ranging from safety, coercion, fairness, freedom and medicalization are discussed. The readings are a good balance between those that would still feel uncomfortable with brain enhancement even if we could address the main ethical concerns, and those that see brain enhancements as beneficial, albeit under the right policy settings.
Farah moves in chapter three, to discuss issues involving psychopharmacology, but this time on the ways in which it "can alter core aspects of our identity, through manipulation of our memories and our feelings about them, and through manipulation of our personalities" (p.79). Farah introduces the reader to the connections between identity, memory and the brain, and the neurochemistry of personality. The four readings accompanying the section focus on a specific concern related to the dampening of our memories and the enhancement of our personalities, namely that such modifications would threaten our authentic self.
Chapter four focuses on the idea of brain reading. Farah introduces the different methods for brain imaging, and explains how we went from imaging to brain reading. The readings accompanying this chapter review some actual and potential uses of brain imaging, such as establishing the neural correlates of emotion, personality, intelligence, the detection of intentional deception (also known as lie detection), and the prediction of unconscious attitudes (such as group identity). The readings also cover some of the most pressing ethical, social and legal concerns raised by brain reading, such as mental privacy and uncritical use of the imaging methods.
The next chapter, five, focuses on the intersection between neuroscience and justice. Farah begins this chapter with an overview of the neuroscience of responsible behavior. The increasingly detailed explanations of human behavior provided by neuroscience, as she remarks, have made the understanding of human misbehavior an ever more relevant area. The five readings that follow address the implications of neuroscience for our understanding of legal and moral responsibility (in particular in cases associated with diminished self-control), for the assessment of an individual's degree of criminal responsibility, and for the rehabilitation of offenders. The different authors bring different and sometime opposite views to the analyzed issues, which gives the reader a balanced overview on the different positions. Such different perspectives can be the result, as Farah points out, of the issues discuss in this section being "probably the most challenging conceptually" (p.214), as they involve different metaphysical distinctions (such as free will and determinism), specific legal principles and precedents, and similar language to express quite different issues.
Farah's closing chapter 'Brains and Persons' deals with one of the most difficult bioethical questions, namely who or what is a person. She starts the chapter with a brief review on personhood and some ways in which neuroscience has and could help to reach a set of objective observable criteria for personhood. The accompanying five readings deal with cases ranging from clarifying the differences between humans who may not be persons and non-humans who may be persons, evidence from neuroscience suggesting that we are innately predisposed to divide the world into persons and non persons; and theological perspectives on personhood.
Thus, the book being an introductory book to a very interesting and at the same time challenging topic, leaves the reader, hopefully, with a craving for gaining more insight about the issues discussed in the book, as well as those issues that new advances in neuroscience are likely to bring to the fore.
Neuroethics: an Introduction with Readings is a very welcome and readable addition to the literature covering this new and challenging field of ethical inquiry. It is not only a book that provides ethical awareness concerning the issues that appear as a consequence of understanding more about our brains, it is also a book that engages the brain of the reader and as such deserves to be read by those interested in gaining more insight into what makes us who we are.
© 2010 Laura Cabera
Laura Cabrera, Charles Sturt University, is a PhD research student in ethics and emergent technologies in the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University. Laura received a BSc in Electrical and Communication Engineering from ITESM University in Mexico City, and a MA in Applied Ethics from Linköping University in Sweden. Her current research focuses on nanotechnology and neurotechnology, human enhancement, posthumanity, and the ethical dimensions of emerging technology especially those connected to medical issues and individual/social perspectives.