Discussions of DBS in Neuroethics: Can We Deflate the Bubble Without Deflating Ethics?

Alexandre Erler*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Gilbert and colleagues are to be commended for drawing our attention to the need for a sounder empirical basis, and for more careful reasoning, in the context of the neuroethics debate on Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) and its potential impact on the dimensions of personality, identity, agency, authenticity, autonomy and self (PIAAAS). While acknowledging this, this extended commentary critically examines their claim that the real-world relevance of the conclusions drawn in the neuroethics literature is threatened by the fact that the concepts at the center of the discussion have “weak empirical grounding”. First, I show that while some possible understandings of multifaceted concepts like identity, authenticity and autonomy may indeed be unsuitable for a purely empirical inquiry, this is not the case of all of them. Secondly, I call into question the authors’ apparent suggestion that reliance on constructs involving an irreducibly normative dimension makes for a suboptimal state of affairs, and that they should ideally be replaced with substitutes taken from the language of neuroscience or social science in order to ensure an adequate empirical grounding for the debate. Such a suggestion, I argue, commits the authors to a controversial reductionist view in metaethics that the valid empirical concerns they raise in the rest of their article do not presuppose, and which could potentially us lead to lose sight of important ethical considerations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-81
Number of pages7
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Authenticity
  • Autonomy
  • Deep brain stimulation
  • Identity
  • Neuroethics
  • Reductionism


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