Enduring Questions and the Ethics of Memory Blunting
Forthcoming. Journal of the American Philosophical Association
Abstract: Memory blunting is a pharmacological intervention that decreases the emotional salience of memories. The technique promises a brighter future for those suffering from memory-related disorders such as PTSD, but also raises normative questions about the limits of its permissibility. So far, neuroethicists have staked out two primary camps in response to these questions. In this paper, I argue both are problematic. I then argue for an alternative approach to memory blunting, one that can accommodate the considerations that motivate its rivals even while avoiding the problems these rivals face. In addition to arguing for this primary thesis, the paper also aims to suggest something about neuroethics generally: despite what some neuroethicists claim, new discoveries in neuroscience may not typically upend traditional views of morality. Rather, discoveries in neuroscience often provide us with a new occasion to reflect on enduring questions about what it means to be human.
Why Narrative Identity Matters: Preserving Authenticity in Neurosurgical Interventions
Forthcoming. American Journal of Bioethics: Neuroscience
Three Kinds of Agency and Closed-Loop Neural Devices
2017. American Journal of Bioethics: Neuroscience 8(2): 90-91.
Abstract: Goering and colleagues (2017) acknowledge closed-loop neural devices have the potential to undermine agency. Indeed, the authors observe that “the agent using the device may . . . sometimes doubt whether she is the author of her action, given that the device may operate in ways that are not transparent to her” (65). Still, the authors ultimately argue that closed-loop neural devices may be construed as supporting agency, especially when we view agency from a relational perspective. The reason? We often manifest our agency in relation with others. For example, family and close friends sometimes step in to support us in setting and achieving our aims. In a similar way, then, the authors argue that “we can imagine [a closed-loop] device stepping in to support the user in achieving her aim” (67). Closed-loop neural devices, in other words, can be construed as supporting one’s agency in much the same way as other people can be seen as supporting one’s agency. The authors thus conclude that when we view agents from a relational perspective, closed-loop neural devices may be viewed as supporting rather than undermining agency. I largely agree with the authors’ conclusion. I also believe, however, that their discussion can be clarified by distinguishing three kinds of agency and viewing closed-loop neural devices from the perspective of each. By thinking carefully about agency, we can see more clearly the ways in which it is undermined by closed-loop neural devices, as well as the way in which these devices may support agency.
Personhood and Natural Kinds: Why Cognitive Status Need not Affect Moral Status
2017. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 42(3): 261-277
Abstract: Lockean accounts of personhood propose that an individual is a person just in case that individual is characterized by some advanced cognitive capacity. On these accounts, humans with severe cognitive impairment are therefore not persons. Some accept this result – I do not. In this paper, I therefore advance and defend an account of personhood that secures personhood for humans who are cognitively impaired. On the account for which I argue, an individual is a person just in case that individual belongs to a natural kind that is normally characterized by advanced cognitive capacities. Since ‘human’ is just such a natural kind, individual humans can therefore be persons even when they do not themselves have advanced cognitive capacities.
Is Neuroscience Relevant to Our Moral Responsibility Practices?
2014. Journal of Cognition and Neuroethics 2(2): 61-82.
Abstract: Some psychologists and philosophers have argued that neuroscience is importantly relevant to our moral responsibility practices, especially to our practices of praise and blame. For consider: on an unprecedented scale, contemporary neuroscience presents us with a mechanistic account of human action. Furthermore, influential studies – most notoriously, Libet et al. (1983) – seem to show that the brain decides to do things (so to speak) before we consciously make a decision. In light of these findings, then – or so some have argued – we ought to revise our practices of praise and blame. In the current paper, I argue that this conclusion is unwarranted. The reason is that the argument for it depends on controversial non-empirical premises, premises we need not accept. I suggest, however, that neuroscience does bear on our moral responsibility practices in one important, if less revisionary, way. In particular, neuroscience offers a new kind of evidence for determining when agents should be held exempt from our normal moral responsibility practices.
Recent and Upcoming Presentations
Is Death Metaphysically Indeterminate?
American Medical Student Association, November 15.
Why Neuroscience hasn't Undermined Free Will (Yet)
Loyola Neuroscience Seminar.
Learning by Listening in the CORE Classroom, with Yiran Zhang
Focus on Teaching and Learning Conference, Loyola University Chicago, August 16.
How Sparse Properties Save Nicod's Principle
American Philosophical Association--Pacific Division--Main Program. April 12-15, 2017
Abstract: Nicod’s Principle says that observations of Fs that are Gs confirm ‘all Fs are Gs.’ As Hempel observed, however, it follows from Nicod’s Principle that the sentence ‘all ravens are black’ is confirmed by my observation of a red rose. Generally, it follows from Nicod’s Principle that my observation of any non-F non-G confirms ‘all Fs are Gs.’ This implication is counterintuitive and counts as a strike against Nicod’s Principle—call the strike Hempel’s Challenge. To meet Hempel’s Challenge, most philosophers have (understandably) developed more sophisticated theories of induction. In this paper, however, I suggest that Hempel’s Challenge can alternatively be met by doing some metaphysics. Specifically, I argue that we can save Nicod’s Principle by scrutinizing our metaphysics of properties, that anyone who endorses a sparse conception of properties gains a principled strategy for resolving Hempel’s Challenge.