Shrewder speculation: the challenge of doing anticipatory ethics well
This post is part of a series that recaps and offers perspectives on the conversations and debates that took place at the recent 2015 International Neuroethics Society meeting.
In its Gray Matters report, the United States Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues underscored the importance of integrating ethics and neuroscience early and throughout the research endeavor. In particular, the Commission declared:
“As we anticipate personal and societal implications of using such technologies, ethical considerations must be further deliberated.
Executed well, ethics integration is an iterative and reflective process that enhances both scientific and ethical rigor.”
In a recent talk at the International Neuroethics Society Annual Meeting, I reflected on this, and on the proper place of anticipation in the work that philosophers and neuroethicists do in relation to technological advance. Anticipating, speculating and keeping ahead of the technological curve are all laudable aims. It is crucial that likely problems and potential solutions are identified ahead of time, to minimize harm and avoid knee-jerk policy reactions. Keeping a step ahead inevitably requires all involved to make predictions about the way a technology will develop and about its likely mechanisms and effects. Indeed, philosophers will sometimes take leave from discussion of an actual emerging or prototype technology and extrapolate to consider the ethical challenges that its hypothetical future versions might present to society in the near future. Key features of the technology are identified, distilled and carefully subjected to analysis.
|Gray Matters report
Speculating about cognitive enhancement
Imagine that cognitive enhancer X improves a student’s performance to a level that would be achieved through having extra private tutorials. Does her use of cognitive enhancer X constitute cheating?
Imagine that cognitive enhancer Y is completely safe, and effective at remedying fatigue-related impairment. Should the surgeon be required to take cognitive enhancer Y?
Why might theoretical analysis be difficult to integrate?
|Pharmaceuticals image courtesy of Flickr user Waleed Alzuhair
However – and this is the crucial point – many of the details that are stripped away to enable the philosophical question to be carefully defined and delineated are hugely relevant to determining what we should do; but we cannot add all this detail back in after reaching our conclusions and expect them to remain the same.
What to do?
Want to cite this post?
Maslen, H. (2015). Shrewder speculation: the challenge of doing anticipatory ethics well. The Neuroethics Blog. Retrieved on , from http://www.theneuroethicsblog.com/2015/11/shrewder-speculation-challenge-of-doing.html