The Ethical Brain

Which would be acceptable: the athlete who may one day get “neuro-enhancement” to boost his or her performance, or the SAT-taking student who does the same thing before the tests? How will increasingly powerful brain imaging technologies affect the ideas of privacy and of self-incrimination? Such thought-provoking questions are rapidly emerging as new discoveries in neuroscience raise difficult personal and societal ethical dilemmas. Michael Gazzaniga, widely considered to be the father of cognitive neuroscience, investigates with an expert eye some of these most controversial and complex issues in The Ethical Brain.

He first examines “lifespan neuroethics” and considers how brain development defines human life, from when an embryo develops a brain and could be considered “one of us” to the issues raised as the brain ages, such as whether we should have complete freedom to extend our lives and enhance our brains with the use of genetics, pharmaceuticals, and training.

Dr. Gazzaniga also considers the challenges faced by the justice system from new discoveries in neuroscience. Recent findings suggest that our brain has already made a decision before we become fully aware of doing so, raising the question of whether the concept of personal responsibility can remain a tenet of the law. Dr. Gazzaniga argues that as neuroscience learns more about the unreliability of human memory, the very foundation of trial law will be challenged.

Dr. Gazzaniga then discusses a radical re-evaluation of the nature of moral belief, as he not only looks at possibly manipulating the strength of a belief but also explored how scientific research is building a brain-based account of moral reasoning.

The Ethical Brain is a groundbreaking volume that presents neuroscience’s loaded findings—and their ethical implications—in an engaging and readable manner. It is an incisive and thoughtful analysis of the ethics questions posed by neuroscience that confront modern society at the dawn of the twenty-first century.


Part I Life-Span Neuroethics

  1. Conferring Moral Status on an Embryo
  2. The Aging Brain

Part II Brain Enhancement

  1. Better Brains Through Genes
  2. Training the Brain
  3. Shaping the Smart Brain with Drugs

Part III Free Will, Personal Responsibility, and the Law

  1. My Brain Made Me Do It
  2. Antisocial Thoughts and the Right to Privacy
  3. The Brain Produces a Poor Autobiography

Part IV The Nature of Moral Beliefs and the Concept of Universal Ethics

  1. The Believing Brain
  2. Toward a Universal Ethics





"The study of the brain is the 21st century's hottest subject not only in science but also in philosophy. If, as science now tells us, we are nothing more than robots controlled by a chemical analog computer called the brain, where does that leave such quaint notions as ethical behavior? Who better to say than one of the two most brilliant experimental neuroscientists in the world, Michael Gazzaniga? This is a provocative and highly readable book."

Tom Wolfe, author of I Am Charlotte Simmons and Bonfire of the Vanities