International Conference 2012

Abstracts Detail

"Challenging Philosophy: Interdisciplinary problems and disciplinary philosophy"

Nicola Erny

Cognitive Enhancement / Neuroenhancement as a Problem of Interdisciplinarity


Cognitive enhancement or neuroenhancement is part of human enhancement in general: the modification of the human body that is designed to improve performance and is realised through scientific-technological means.

Cognitive enhancement means the attempt to use new pharmaceuticals to improve certain aspects of our cognitive abilities (memory, concentration, attention and alertness). The aim of this kind of enhancement is to optimize them permanently in healthy subjects and to enhance the mental functions through medical or scientific-technological means. The question of whether the possibilities of cognitive enhancement can be morally justified recently elicited much passion in the discussion:

The main arguments against neuroenhancement say that they are unsafe, that they violate the distinction between therapy and enhancements, that they undermine equality, that changes caused by neuroenhancement undermine our integrity, that they prevent us from living authentic lives and that they will be used coercively. Especially the argument of the undermined equality is of genaral interest, since it touches on the point of justice in general: In the developed world we have access to genetic engineering, biological engineering, brain implants, biochemical interventions that poor people cannot get (Caplan 2006).

On the other hand there are important arguments in defense of neuroenhancement: the individual's right to determine whether to use a drug for cosmetic purposes (autonomy), the possibility of human improvement as a means to the end of problem solving, pluralism in society and the right of the pursuit of happiness. For example, Henry Greely and colleagues published a commentary in Nature 2008, where they argue that society must respond to the growing demand for cognitive enhancement: in their article they propose actions that will help society accept the benefits of enhancement, given appropriate research and evolved regulation.

Probably competitive environments play a pivotal role in neuroenhancement: people compete with others to reach a certain goal - and this goal is not available to all. neuroenhancement can be a positional good that plays an important role to decide who belongs to the winners in the society and who does not.

In my talk I wish to argue, positively, for the theses that the pros and cons in the field of neuroenhancement are not exhaustively analysable in terms of the single disciplines; we need an interdisciplinarity approach of medical, ethical, psychological, social and legal aspects of neuroenhancement that leads to an interdisciplinary debate on neuroenhancement. The upshot, then, is that we must bring the structure of interdisciplinarity into the analysis. This could lead to the development of a public discourse based on the principles of interdisciplinarity seen in their function as a means of problem solving.