The Rise of Neuroessentialism

In the Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics, J Illes & B Sahakian (Eds), 2011

16 Pages Posted: 4 Mar 2018

See all articles by Peter Bart Reiner

Peter Bart Reiner

Department of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia

Date Written: april 22, 2011


Neuroessentialism is the position that, for all intents and purposes, we are our brains (Roskies, 2002). It is not so much that we are not also our genes, our bodies, members of social groups, and so on, but rather that when we conceive of ourselves, when we think of who we are as beings interacting in the world, the we that we think of primarily resides in our brains. The goals of this chapter are to review the scientific advances and cultural trends that have resulted in the rise of neuroessentialism, to provide a portrait of the varieties of neuroessentialist thought that draws on our current understanding of brain function, and then to use these insights to see how neuroessentialist thinking might alter the mores of society. I will argue that there are domains of modern life in which neuroessentialist thinking supports the development of policies that can be viewed as progressive and prosocial, supporting the objective of aligning innovations in the neurosciences with societal and individual values. At the same time, I shall highlight instances in which neuroessentialist thinking may have nuanced but important unintended consequences, and that proponents of this worldview should thoroughly consider the ramifications of neuroessentialist thought becoming a cultural meme.

Suggested Citation

Reiner, Peter Bart, The Rise of Neuroessentialism (april 22, 2011). In the Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics, J Illes & B Sahakian (Eds), 2011, Available at SSRN:

Peter Bart Reiner (Contact Author)

Department of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia ( email )

2255 Wesbrook Mall
Vancouver, British Columbia BC V6T 2A1
250.537.6560 (Phone)


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