(work in progress)
Imagine an ideal virtuous person named Edith. She not only possesses certain virtues, but also has the practical wisdom to act accordingly in a given situation for the right reasons. Edith (or any person like her) has never existed. Now, although Edith has never existed, ask yourself the following question: “Would Edith ever choose to use a cognitive, memory, or moral enhancer?” I think (and argued elsewhere) that Edith would, in certain circumstances, choose to use a neuroenhancement. In a given situation, she would assess the relevant considerations pertaining to rules, consequences and motivations and there are likely to be times when she would choose to augment her capacities of focus and concentration, or attenuate her memories, or stabilize her attitudes towards others.
While some may scoff at such a notion, considering the reasons as to why Edith would choose to (or choose not to) use a cognitive enhancer does illuminate the use of neuroenhancements in a different way. First, as I have argued elsewhere, it might provide grounds for the permissible use of enhancement being determined by a person’s motivation (Enck 2012). Second, it may be helpful in providing a way for people to think about neuroenhancements. In certain situations, a person may not be sure whether to use a neuroenhancement or not. In these situations, a person might reflect upon whether a virtuous person (Edith) would use an enhancement. This is not as crazy or impractical as some would think. People already rely on similar ideal conceptions to guide their conduct in difficult circumstances, e.g., asking, “What would Jesus do” or, for me, “What would Christopher Hitchens do?”
This is important for discussions about neuroenhancement because many (myself included) are often so focused on issues of permissibility that we fail to see that the use of enhancement is more than benefit vs. risk, benefit vs. burden, or solely about improving an individual’s own well-being. The reasons that a person might use a neuroenhancement often reflect something significant about the person or their situation. The reasons a person uses a neuroenhancement may reflect on that person’s motivation and character. In the end, relying on a notion of an ideal virtuous person might demonstrate that the sort of person one should strive to be is not one who uses neuroenhancements. However, thinking about Edith in these situations also demonstrates the complexity and ambiguity that is inherent within any discussion about the use of neuroenhancements.
Enck, Gavin G.. "Ideals of Student Excellence and Enhancement ." Neuroethics, 2012. DOI: 10.1007/s12152-012-9164-6