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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L162-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2020
Retrieved March 07, 2021, from

Article Summary

Neuroenhancement is generally defined as the improvement of mental capacities. Such an improvement can be effected via traditional (e.g. education) or biomedical means. The use of the latter, in particular, is fiercely debated in various contexts. This entry focuses on neuroenhancement by means of biomedical technology, and on its use by competent adults in a non-military context, for non-therapeutic purposes.

There are two main categories of neuroenhancement: cognitive and affective. Cognitive enhancement includes the use of psychoactive drugs like methylphenidate and modafinil to enhance wakefulness and concentration. Other capacities targeted for neuroenhancement include memory and learning, although there is still controversy about the impact of such substances on real-life (e.g. academic) performance. More recent and sophisticated instances of neuroenhancement include interventions such as electrical brain stimulation, and more speculative ones like brain implants. Affective enhancement comprises the modification of personality in socially rewarded ways, the improvement of mood, the removal or blunting of unpleasant memories, the enhancement of motivation, and the modulation of romantic bonds between people.

Prevalence estimates of neuroenhancement are highly variable according to technology, population, and environment, but provide a springboard for thinking about why individuals choose to engage in neuroenhancement. First, there is limited evidence to support safety and efficacy of existing neuroenhancement technologies. Chronic use of psychostimulants, for instance, can present health risks and lead to tolerance. Studies show that even if neuroenhancement technologies were efficacious, there can be limitations to their effects (due for instance to cognitive trade-offs). Second, neuroenhancement raises pressing ethical issues. The issue of fairness looms large in the ethical debate raising the question of what forms of improvement constitute “cheating”, as well as highlighting the need to ensure equitable access to any competitive advantages that neuroenhancement might confer. Several different concerns about neuroenhancement fall under the umbrella of “authenticity”, which pertain to now neuroenhancement affects one’s identity, sense of self, true nature, and sense of achievement. Finally, there is disagreement as to whether the availability of neuroenhancement promotes personal autonomy or contributes to the rise of coercion to enhance.

Citing this article:
Erler, Alexandre and Cynthia Forlini. Neuroenhancement, 2020, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L162-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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