The past two decades have witnessed an explosion of activity in neuroscience, driven forward by the success of high resolution techniques for imaging neural activity. Thus neuroscience has made enormous advances in recent years, challenging our traditional understanding of consciousness, responsibility, well-being and morality. Our newfound knowledge of the brain and the mind undermines previous beliefs about a number of areas of private and public life, including addiction and its treatment, criminal responsibility, the treatment of vegetative patients, medical decision making and the enhancement of normal human capacities. It also raises a new question: what are the moral limits of the use of such technology?
Neuroethics encompasses two different consequences of this neural revolution: (1) the application of such neuroscientific techniques to understanding ethics, and (2) ethical implications of the new technology.
Under (1), our understanding of the neural processes that underlie ethical judgements is accelerating, with some of the leading work taking place in the Centre. These dramatic advances are helping to answer some of the most long-standing questions about the nature of moral psychology.
Under (2), work in the Centre examines the ethical implications of a wide range of issues generated by the new neuroscience, including: consciousness in vegetative state patients, use of drugs and brain stimulation for cognitive and moral enhancement, addiction and the mechanisms of self-control, and the use of neuroscientific techniques to monitor and improve difficult practical decision making.
For information and resources relating to the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics, please see the project's webpages here.