Neuroethics

Overview

Over the past few decades, there have been dramatic advances in neuroscience. In this highly interdisciplinary module, we shall consider the implications of these developments for practical ethics. We shall consider both the distinctive ethical questions raised by some of these developments, as well as the ways they might change our understanding of ethics itself, by revealing the biological basis of human morality.

Programme details

We shall consider, for example, the ethical questions about privacy and the prediction of behaviour raised by neuroimaging, and some of the ways in which neuroimaging promises to change the way we treat patients with severe brain damage, with special focus on issues relating to disorders of consciousness. We shall also examine the concept of ‘neurodiversity’ and whether conditions such as autism should be regarded as disorders or merely as valuable differences.

We shall then turn to consider the ethical issues relating to particular types of neural interventions (such as psychopharmaceutics, neurofeedback, non-invasive brain stimulation and deep brain stimulation) and controversial applications of them (for example, to alter mood or cognition, or to facilitate the rehabilitation of criminal offenders), and neuroprosthetic technology that records and decodes activity directly from the brain to provide commands to external devices, including devices that synthesise speech.

Finally, we will turn to examine potential ways in which work on the neuroscience of moral decision-making may change the practice of practical ethics. We shall consider, in particular, whether neuroscientific research might challenge the common reliance on moral intuitions or even directly support important ethical conclusions, and whether it can be used to identify biases in, and limits to, current moral thinking.

Fees

Description Costs
Continuing Students enrolled on MSt Practical Ethics (25-26) TBC £2200.00
Short course fee 2025-26 (TBC) £2700.00
Students enrolled on MSt in Practical Ethics (25-26) (TBC) £2250.00

Tutors

Professor Guy Kahane

Course Director

Course Director: Professor Guy Kahane 

Guy Kahane is Director of Studies at the Oxford Uehiro Centre. He is also a Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy at Pembroke College, Oxford, and Professor at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford. Professor Kahane was a recipient of a Wellcome Trust University Award (2009-2014), and has been a Research Fellow at the Uehiro Centre since 2005. He is also an Associate Editor of the Journal of Practical Ethics and was previously an Associate Editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics. Kahane has published over 100 articles, many of which have appeared in leading peer-reviewed journals in philosophy and science, such as NousEthicsPhilosophy and Phenomenological ResearchNaturePNAS, and Cognition. His research interests include practical ethics, metaethics, moral psychology and philosophy of religion. Kahane is also actively engaged in interdisciplinary empirical research into the neural and psychological processes that underlie moral decision-making.

Cesar Palacios Gonzalez

Deputy Course Director

Deputy Course Director: Dr César Palacios-González 

Dr César Palacios-González is a Senior Research Fellow in Practical Ethics. His research interests include bioethics, philosophy of medicine, neuroethics, and applied philosophy. He is part of the team running the Masters in Practical Ethics, offered by the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics in the Faculty of Philosophy and the Department for Continuing Education. Dr Palacios-González graduated from The University of Manchester in 2016 with a PhD in Science Ethics, where he was part of the Wellcome Trust funded project 'The Human Body, its Scope, Limits and Future'. His doctoral work explored the ethics of human/non-human chimera research. Prior to coming to Oxford, he was a Research Associate at the Centre of Medical Law and Ethics, King's College London, working in the Wellcome Trust funded project "The Donation and Transfer of Human Reproductive Materials". There he explored the ethics of Mitochondrial Replacement Techniques and In Vitro Gametogenesis.

Dr Jonathan Pugh

Lead Tutor

Lead Tutor: Dr Jonathan Pugh

Dr Jonathan Pugh is a a Senior Research Fellow and Manager of Visitors Programmes for the Oxford Uehiro Centre, University of Oxford. Prior to joining the MSt, he was employed on the UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator Project. His research interests lie primarily in issues concerning personal autonomy in practical ethics, and he is the author of Autonomy, Rationality and Contemporary Bioethics. He has also written on the ethics of gene-editing, criminal justice, human enhancement, and neuroethics.

Teaching methods

This course consists of an intensive teaching week in Oxford to include lectures, seminars, discussion groups and student presentations.

The teaching week will be fully supported online via a Virtual Learning Environment to include essential readings, texts and online lectures. Students can continue discussions when away from Oxford using the online forums.

Students will also have access to:

  • Oxford's Libraries online learning resources
  • Facilities available at the Department for Continuing Education:
    • Graduate Room with study space, printing facilities, lockers and refreshments
    • Library 
    • Computer resource room
    • Common room and bar
    • Dining room

Assessment methods

Assessment for each module will be based on a written assignment, which shall not be of more than 3,500 words.

This course can be taken with or without academic credit. All participants who satisfy the course requirements will receive a Certificate of Attendance. Those opting to take the course for credit and successfully complete an assignment will also receive 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 7 (postgraduate). Credit points are recognised by many employers and universities in the UK and internationally.

Application

This module can be taken as part of the MSt in Practical Ethics, or as a stand-alone short course. 

Short course applications

This course requires you to complete the online application form (please press the 'Apply' button) and include a copy of your CV as an attachment.

If you are applying to take this course for academic you will also need to complete the reference section of the application form, and input the email address of your referee. Upon successfully submitting the application an email will be sent to your referee asking them to provide a reference in support your application for the course.

Please note that if you are not applying to take the course for academic credit then you do not need to submit a reference.

Deadlines

The short course application panel will convene at certain times in the year to assess all short course applications received by that date. These dates are to be finalised, but are likely to be at the end of January, March and August (further dates may become available depending on numbers).

MSt in Practical Ethics applications

Please follow the application guidelines on the MSt in Practical Ethics page.

Selection criteria

  • Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in any subject.
  • However, in the absence of an appropriate undergraduate degree, sufficient relevant professional experience and/or other educational attainment may be considered as evidence of suitability in some circumstances.
  • For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA normally sought is 3.6 out of 4.0.
  • Applicants will need to have a good working knowledge of email, internet, word processing and Windows applications (for communications with course members, course team and administration).
  • Where applicable, applicants will need to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the higher level required by the University.

If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).

Accommodation

Accommodation is available at the Rewley House Residential Centre, within the Department for Continuing Education, in central Oxford. The comfortable, en-suite, study-bedrooms have been rated as 4-Star Campus accommodation under the Quality In Tourism scheme, and come with tea- and coffee-making facilities, free Wi-Fi access and Freeview TV. Guests can take advantage of the excellent dining facilities and common room bar, where they may relax and network with others on the programme

Bed and breakfast accommodation at other University colleges can also be booked on the Oxford Rooms website.

IT requirements

Please ensure that you have access to a computer that meets the specification detailed here:
http://onlinesupport.conted.ox.ac.uk/technicalsupport/yourcomputer.php.