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Philosophy of Neuroscience

  1. John Bickle1,
  2. Valerie Gray Hardcastle2

Published Online: 15 OCT 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0024144



How to Cite

Bickle, J. and Hardcastle, V. G. 2012. Philosophy of Neuroscience. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. 1

    Mississippi State University, Starkville, Mississippi, USA

  2. 2

    University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 OCT 2012


Since its inception more than a quarter-century ago, the philosophy of neuroscience has grown into a recognised field in the philosophy of the special sciences. It focusses on foundational issues in the discipline, but also anticipates developments in the neurosciences that bear on epistemological, ethical and cultural concerns. In this paper, life scientists are introduced to three current issues in the philosophy of neuroscience: a new version of the old reductionism-versus-integrationism debate, spurred recently by ‘new mechanist’ philosophers of neuroscience; a challenge to ‘dynamicist’ explanations in neuroscience, as either covertly mechanistic or nonexplanatory; and a brief introduction to the burgeoning field of neuroethics and neurolaw, which is finding new discoveries in neuroscience that bear on both familiar ethical debates and generate novel ethical and legal concerns.

Key Concepts:

  • Philosophy of neuroscience is now a recognised field in the philosophy of the special sciences (biology, psychology and economics).

  • The reductionism-versus-integrationism debate has reemerged in an interesting new form due to the recent work by ‘new mechanist’ philosophers of neuroscience.

  • The debate among mechanist-integrationists, mechanistic reductionist and ruthless reductionists turns on the viability and extent of nested hierarchies of mechanisms in neuroscience.

  • Some ‘new mechanists’ have challenged dynamicist explanations in neuroscience, suggesting that such explanations are not distinct from causal-mechanistic explanations, and even questioning whether such ‘explanations’ are genuine at all.

  • Neuroethics includes both the study of ethical issues raised or influenced by neuroscientific discoveries, and the neuroscience of ethical judgment and decision-making.

  • Brain interventionist technologies and neuropharmacology raise difficult questions about the ethical dimensions of potential cognitive enhancement.

  • Existing and foreseeable brain interventions encroach upon deep philosophical questions about personal identity and basic fairness.

  • The increasing use of neuronal evidence in law courts raise troubling issues about brain-realism and the potential impact such evidence may have on juries and judges.


  • philosophy of neuroscience;
  • levels;
  • new mechanism;
  • ruthless reductionism;
  • mechanistic explanations;
  • dynamicist explanations;
  • neuroethics;
  • neurolaw;
  • privacy;
  • personal identity