The Rise of Neuroessentialism
In the Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics, J Illes & B Sahakian (Eds), 2011
16 Pages Posted: 4 Mar 2018
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.
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