Enhancing Responsibility: the effects of cognitive enhancement on moral and legal responsibility


We normally think that peoples responsibility diminishes when mental capacities are lost and that responsibility is restored when those capacities are regained. But how is responsibility affected when mental capacities are extended beyond their normal range through cognitive enhancement?

For instance, might some people ' e.g. surgeons working long shifts in hospital ' have a responsibility to take cognitive enhancement drugs to boost their performance, and would they be negligent or even reckless if they failed or refused to do this? Alternatively, once enhanced, would people acquire new and possibly greater responsibilities in virtue of now being more capable? Could they be blamed for failing to discharge those greater responsibilities, and does this make them more vulnerable to liability if things go wrong?

The off-label use of prescription drugs such as Modafinil and Ritalin is on the rise, but although the current literature covers issues such as safety, effectiveness, coercion and justice, these drugs effects on peoples responsibility have not been investigated. The standards which the law currently uses to assess peoples responsibility presuppose that human mental capacities are capped at a particular level. But if humans can surpass this level of mental capacity through cognitive enhancement, then this calls for a re-assessment of those standards.

Psychological, legal and philosophical researchers will consider the above issues, develop new moral principles, and draft documents to inform policy. These will guide professional associations, law makers and judges in the development of new standards for the assessment of peoples actions in cases involving cognitive enhancement.


Chapter in book

  • N A Vincent, B van den Berg(2011): Proceedings of the conference Technologies on the stand: Legal and ethical questions in neuroscience and robotics pp. 41 - 62 , Nijmegen, The Netherlands
  • N A Vincent, M Freeman(2011): Law and Neuroscience, Current Legal Issues (Vol 13) pp. 79 - 95
  • N A Vincent, J van den Hoven, N A Vincent, I van de Poel(2011): Moral Responsibility: beyond free will and determinism pp. 15 - 35
  • S Zouridis, M Frishman, N A Vincent, L Kistemaker, S Muller(2011): The Law of the Future and The Future of Law pp. 511 - 521 , Oslo, Norway
  • F Santoni de Sio, M De Caro, F T F Jespersen, A Lavazza, G Sartori(2013): Quanto siamo responsabili? pp. 1 - 10 , Torino, Italy
  • N A Vincent, N A Vincent(2013): Neuroscience and Legal Responsibility pp. 1 - 24 , New York
  • N A Vincent(2013): Neuroscience and Legal Responsibility pp. 305 - 334 , New York
  • A Snoek, N Vincent, J Kennett(2015): Handbook on Neuroethics pp. 1065 - 1086
  • I Goold, H Maslen(2015): Handbook on Neuroethics pp. 1363 - 1380
  • N S Faulmüller, F Jotterand, V Dubljević, F Santoni de Sio, N A Vincent, J Savulescu(2016): Cognitive Enhancement: Ethical and Policy Implications in International Perspectives pp. 27 - 41

Scientific article

  • N A Vincent(2011): Legal responsibility adjudication and the normative authority of the mind sciences Philosophical Explorations pp. 315 - 331
  • F Santoni de Sio(2012): An Aristotelian View of Responsibility. John Gardner, Oxford Philosophy, and the Criminal Law Materiali per una storia della cultura giuridica pp. 357 - 378
  • N Faulmüller, H Maslen, F Santoni de Sio(2012): The Necessity of Objective Standards for Moral Enhancement AJOB Neuroscience pp. 15 - 16
  • N A Vincent(2012): Neurolaw and Direct Brain Interventions Criminal Law and Philosophy pp. 1 - 8
  • N A Vincent(2012): The Importance of Monitoring in the Adoption of More Liberal Drug Policies AJOB Neuroscience pp. 30 - 31
  • N A Vincent(2012): Restoring Responsibility Criminal Law and Philosophy pp. 1 - 22
  • F Santoni de Sio(2012): The Free Will Worth Wanting: Daniel Dennett and Contemporary Compatibilism Rivista di filosofia pp. 123 - 144
  • I Goold(2012): The Concise Argument: Highlights from this issue Journal of Medical Ethics pp. 133 - 143
  • F Santoni de Sio, N A Vincent(2013): Rationality + Consciousness = Free Will by David Hodgson Criminal Law and Philosophy pp. 1 - 10
  • N A Vincent(2013): Strafrechtelijke verantwoordelijkheid en de neurowetenschappen Justitiële Verkenningen pp. 65 - 77
  • I Goold(2013): The Concise Argument: Withholding Artificial Nutrition and Hydration Journal of Medical Ethics pp. 541 - 551
  • F Santoni de Sio(2013): Basic Responsibility and Cultural Differences Ragion Pratica pp. 49 - 70
  • N Faulmueller, H Maslen, F Santoni de Sio(2013): The Indirect Psychological Costs of Cognitive Enhancement The American Journal of Bioethics pp. 45 - 47
  • F Santoni de Sio, B T F Jespersen(2013): Function, Roles, and Human Capacity Methode: Analytic Perspectives pp. 58 - 66
  • N A Vincent(2013): A Compatibilist Theory of Legal Responsibility Criminal Law and Philosophy pp. 1 - 1
  • N A Vincent(2013): Blame, Desert and Compatibilist Capacity Philosophical Explorations pp. 178 - 194
  • I Goold, H Maslen(2014): Must the Surgeon Take the Pill? Negligence and Duty in the Context of Cognitive Enhancement The Modern Law Review pp. 60 - 86
  • N Faulmüller, H Maslen, J Savulescu(2014): Pharmacological cognitive enhancement — How neuroscientific research could advance ethical debate Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience pp. 1 - 12
  • N Faulmüller, L Caviola, M Hewstone, K Schelle(2014): Attitudes toward pharmacological cognitive enhancement—a review Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience pp. 1 - 14
  • L Caviola, A Mannino, N Faulmüller, J Savulescu(2014): Cognitive biases can affect moral intuitions about cognitive enhancement Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience pp. 1 - 5
  • F Santoni de Sio, N A Vincent, P Robichaud(2014): Who should enhance? Conceptual and normative dimensions of cognitive enhancement Humana.Mente Journal of Philosophical Studies pp. 179 - 197
  • F Santoni de Sio, N A Vincent, N Faulmüller(2014): How cognitive enhancement can change our duties Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience pp. 1 - 4
  • P Robichaud(2014): Moral Capacity Enhancement Does Not Entail Moral Worth Enhancement American Journal of Bioethics pp. 33 - 34
  • P Robichaud(2014): On Culpable Ignorance and akrasia Ethics pp. 137 - 151
  • T Douglas, M Hewstone, F Heise, N S Faulmüller(2015): Cognitive Enhancement and Motivation Enhancement: An Empirical Comparison of Intuitive Judgments AJOB Neuroscience pp. 18 - 20
  • J A Häusser, N S Faulmüller, N L Kerr(2015): Sleep Deprivation Impairs and Caffeine Enhances My Performance, but Not Always Our Performance: How Acting in a Group Can Change the Effects of Impairments and Enhancements. Personality and Social Psychology Review pp. 1 - 26


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. N.A. Vincent

Affiliated with

Georgia State University

Team members

Dr. N.S. Faulmüller, Dr. I. Goold, Dr. H.E. Maslen, Dr. P.J. Robichaud, Dr. F. Santoni de Sio, Dr. N.A. Vincent


01/09/2011 to 07/01/2016