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Review of Nada Gligorov: Neuroethics and the Scientific Revision of Common Sense

Dordrecht: Springer, 2016. 169 pp. USD $99.99 (hardcover), $79.99 (ebook)


This ambitious book aims to make a substantive contribution to six separate debates within neuroethics — the existence of free will, the impact of cognitive enhancement and (separately) of memory management on personal identity, the nature of mental privacy, the supposed subjectivity of pain, and the proper definition of death — all in the context of a framing argument concerning the relation between common sense psychological concepts and scientific concepts. Gligorov means to rebut skepticism about folk mental states in the face of surprising neuroscientific results by reconceptualizing folk theories as protean, incorporating some of the very results that seem to challenge them. My impression is that Gligorov’s arguments on cognitive enhancement, memory modification, and brain death make helpful contributions to the respective literatures on those subjects, but I close with a number of concerns about the book, especially whether its framing argument is successful in its current form.

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  1. Note that Chapter 3 opens with “Free will can be defined as the ability to do otherwise” (p. 35). Most philosophers, however, take the ability to do otherwise to be neither necessary nor sufficient for free will, especially post-Frankfurt [5].

  2. Sometimes Gligorov speaks of authenticity in terms of “being truthful” about a characteristic. Thus there are two virtues of truthfulness with respect to the self under discussion: being honest about oneself, and staying trueto oneself.

  3. The modern locus classicus on pain asymbolia is [15].

  4. See [16, p. 256]. Note also that Gligorov often calls Lewis’s O-terms “observational terms”, though Lewis himself forbids this characterization [ibid., p. 250].

  5. Thanks to Nada Gligorov for a clarification on this point.

  6. See [16, 19]. Another issue, which I lack the space to address, is whether extending Lewis’s causal analysis of mental terms can be extended to normatively-inflected notions like free will, as Gligorov seems to think it can (p. 28). Philosophers across the board have been skeptical of causal analyses of moral concepts, including Frank Jackson [20].

  7. Or something close to this role; I am simplifying for the purposes of the example.


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Boswell, P. Review of Nada Gligorov: Neuroethics and the Scientific Revision of Common Sense . Neuroethics 10, 319–323 (2017).

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  • Folk psychology
  • Eliminativism
  • Narrative identity
  • Cognitive enhancement
  • Death
  • David Lewis