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Consideration of Context and Meanings of Neuro-Cognitive Enhancement: The Importance of a Principled, Internationally Capable Neuroethics

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A JOB Neuroscience
ISSN: 2150-7740 (Print) 2150-7759 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/uabn20
Consideration of Context and Meanings of Neuro-
Cognitive Enhancement: The Importance of a
Principled, Internationally Capable Neuroethics
John R. Shook & James Giordano
To cite this article: John R. Shook & James Giordano (2019) Consideration of Context and
Meanings of Neuro-Cognitive Enhancement: The Importance of a Principled, Internationally
Capable Neuroethics, AJOB Neuroscience, 10:1, 48-49, DOI: 10.1080/21507740.2019.1595778
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/21507740.2019.1595778
Published online: 09 May 2019.
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Open Peer Commentaries
Consideration of Context and Meanings
of Neuro-Cognitive Enhancement: The
Importance of a Principled,
Internationally Capable Neuroethics
John R. Shook, University at Buffalo
James Giordano, Georgetown University Medical Center
Conrad, Humphries, and Chaterjee (2019) have examined
and analyzed public opinions about cognitive enhance-
ment (CE) for various purposes. They gather good evi-
dence that framing metaphors and contexts of discourse
have significant influence on social attitudes toward the
use of CEs in varied circumstances. We support this sort
of empirical study, and find its main results to be plaus-
ible and unsurprising. Judgments about CEs are formed
within both personal and social contexts, and assess-
ments of CEs must take contexts of capability and per-
formance into account (Mihailov and Savulescu 2018;
Shook and Giordano 2014; Shook et al. 2014).
As regards public policy, much formative work on
the roles of metaphor and framing language has been
done by George Lakoff (Lakoff and Johnson 1980; Lakoff
2008). Briefly, Lakoff explains how framing establishes
and thus enables the contextual application oflanguage
that fits a particular worldview. He notes both that
value-laden metaphors are pervasive in all languages,
and that much of public discourse is somewhat
preframedin terms of a given moral viewpoint.
Lakoff rebuts the notion that moral viewpoints are
subjective and apart from the social context of ongoing
public discourse. Likewise, what is heard in public dis-
course is not simply the aggregate of personal view-
points, as if the public and private spheres do not
continuously affect each other. Rather, public discourse
and personal opinion are intermingled in ongoing trans-
actions, dynamically exerting mutual and reciprocal
effect(s). Personal opinions can seem firmly established
and stable in the short term, and this can be reflected in
data from restricted temporal sampling. But such per-
sonal views can change with time and effect. Indeed,
Conrad and colleagues affirm that metaphorical
discourse can shift individual opinion: Metaphors may
be more likely to sway peoples opinion toward public
policy even if they do not change individual behavior
(Conrad, Humphries, and Chaterjee 2019, 43). Thus, one
take-awayfrom their study is that morality-laden
metaphors can and do influence peoples judgments, at
least to certain degrees. The authors conclude by provid-
ing the straightforward stance that (a) policies toward
CEs should be socially responsive by reflecting public
attitudes about CE use; (b) public attitudes toward CEs
can be ascertained through surveys applying frameworks
to distinguish various attitudes; and (c) surveying with
frameworks can assist efforts to craft policies that take
distinct public attitudes into account.
This straightforward stance about public attitudes is
not the whole story, and we wish to explore some
important considerations for neuroethics. First, we do
not feel confident that the authors offer a fully warranted
conclusion about the significance of their study for set-
ting policies towards CEs. Second, we suggest that neu-
roethical discourses must both be aware of the effects of
framing metaphors on public attitudes, and should be
proactive toward managing and resisting such framings,
as when seeking to formulate and standardize ethical
positions about CEs.
We agree with the authors that public attitudes
surely should not be ignored. However, socially
responsivepolicies are not necessarily socially
responsibleby promoting what is good and right for
the public. Eliciting public attitudes on an issue may not
always measure what the public already regards as being
best.To be sure, a greater lesson from this article,
apropos the work of Lakoff, argues against such a
naive stance.
Address correspondence to John R. Shook, Department of Philosophy and Graduate School of Education, University at Buffalo, 135
Park Hall, Buffalo, NY, USA. E-mail: jrshook@buffalo.edu
48 ajob Neuroscience
AJOB Neuroscience, 10(1): 4861, 2019
#2019 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 2150-7740 print / 2150-7759 online
DOI: 10.1080/21507740.2019.1595778
1. Per Conrad and colleagues, along with Lakoff, metaphors
can certainly effectively express moral judgments about
using CEs.
2. Per Conrad and colleagues, morality-conveying metaphors
are easily placed into frameworks that provide messages
to people in order to elicit their (positive, negative,
neutral) reactions.
3. Per Lakoff, morality-conveying metaphors are commonly
effective for framing policy issues in a positive or
negative manner to elicit public affirmation or rejection.
4. Combining Conrad and colleagues with Lakoff, public
attitudes about the morality of CEs can be influenced by
framed moral messaging accessible to the public.
5. Taking points 14 together, it appears that crafting framed
moral messaging can both elicit public views about CEs,
and potentially shape public judgments for/against CEs.
Neuroethical engagements and address must be sen-
sitive to the broader implications from that final conclu-
sion. Public judgments about the morality of policies can
be influenced by framed moral messaging accessed by
the public. Public attitudes about the morality of CEs
could shape policies for CE use, and preframed moral
messaging about CEs can shape policies for CE use. If
preframed moral messaging about CEs will be influen-
tial, as this line of reasoning suggests, then neuroethics is
confronted with a choice: Either follow current public
attitudes (as they shift and sway), or follow ethical
standards of its own for evaluating CE policies. And we
do not see this choice as a false dichotomy.
We doubt that a third alternative could be viable. If
there were one, it would start from the idea that society
could discern analogies between CEs and familiar drugs,
by which to morally judge each novel CE accordingly.
Yet society can just as easily select analogies according to
prior moral views (an ease in evidence with Conrad and
colleagues), so public attitudes would still prevail. In
fact, public verdicts about CEs may be mostly about
which preframed moral metaphor wins the meme race
within a society.
Neuroethical discourses could not be wholly impervi-
ous to moral metaphors, which may partly account for
the extant disagreement among neuroethicists when eval-
uating CEs. Neuroethical evaluations could consult nor-
mative standards apart from prevailing social views,
thereby raising above social relativism, if the field could
commit to a unified set of moral norms in the face of
powerful social attitudes and the moral metaphors that
sustain them. We believe that such commitment sustains
the second alternative: that neuroethics should apply eth-
ical standards of its own for evaluating CE policies.
These ethical standards for neuroethics need not be
invented anew. Ethics is intended to protect capacities
for autonomy, dignity, and morality. Scholars of neuro-
ethics have accordingly advocated ethical standards to
guide the quest for genuine enhancement (see, e.g., Clark
2014; Glannon 2011; Heinrichs 2012; Maslen et al. 2014;
Shook and Giordano 2014).
In this way, neuroethical discourses need not echo
whatever enjoys temporary public approval, nor partici-
pate in swaying public attitudes with moral framings, no
matter how academic in tone. Neuroethical considera-
tions of CEs and their appropriate uses can prescind sim-
ple social conventionality. Furthermore, deep
neuroethical analyses can afford a much-needed counter-
balance to one-sided moral framings for CEs. In this
way, we believe that both public discourses and policy
deliberations can benefit from the practical wisdom of
pragmatic neuroethical address.
COMPETING INTERESTS
The authors declare that they do not have any competing
interests.
REFERENCES
Clark, V. 2014. The ethical, moral, and pragmatic rationale for
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Glannon, W. 2011. Brain, body, and mind: Neuroethics with a
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Heinrichs, J. 2012. The promises and perils of non-invasive brain
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The Role of Metaphor and Context
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