Intellectual autonomy, epistemic dependence and cognitive enhancement

Carter, J. A. (2020) Intellectual autonomy, epistemic dependence and cognitive enhancement. Synthese, 197(7), pp. 2937-2961. (doi: 10.1007/s11229-017-1549-y)

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Intellectual autonomy has long been identified as an epistemic virtue, one that has been championed influentially by (among others) Kant, Hume and Emerson. Manifesting intellectual autonomy, at least, in a virtuous way, does not require that we form our beliefs in cognitive isolation. Rather, as Roberts and Wood (Intellectual virtues: an essay in regulative epistemology, OUP Oxford, Oxford, pp. 259–260, 2007) note, intellectually virtuous autonomy involves reliance and outsourcing (e.g., on other individuals, technology, medicine, etc.) to an appropriate extent, while at the same time maintaining intellectual self-direction. In this essay, I want to investigate the ramifications for intellectual autonomy of a particular kind of epistemic dependence: cognitive enhancement. Cognitive enhancements (as opposed to therapeutic cognitive improvements) involve the use of technology and medicine to improve cognitive capacities in healthy individuals, through mechanisms ranging from smart drugs to brain-computer interfaces. With reference to case studies in bioethics, as well as the philosophy of mind and cognitive science, it is shown that epistemic dependence, in this extreme form, poses a prima facie threat to the retention of intellectual autonomy, specifically, by threatening to undermine our intellectual self-direction. My aim will be to show why certain kinds of cognitive enhancements are subject to this objection from self-direction, while others are not. Once this is established, we’ll see that even some extreme kinds of cognitive enhancement might be not merely compatible with, but constitutive of, virtuous intellectual autonomy.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Carter, Dr J Adam
Authors: Carter, J. A.
Subjects:B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > Philosophy
Journal Name:Synthese
ISSN (Online):1573-0964
Published Online:15 September 2017
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2017 The Author
First Published:First published in Synthese 197(7): 2937-2961
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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