Prof. Tsjalling Swierstra

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences,
Maastricht University

Prof. dr. Tsjalling Swierstra is head of the Philosophy Department at the University of Maastricht. He is member of the Dutch Health Council and of the Program Committee of the ‘Responsible Innovation’ program funded by the Dutch Research Council NWO. He has published widely on the ways in which ethical and political beliefs influence scientific and technological research, and – vice versa – how science and technology affect (moral) values, philosophies and political beliefs. His is particularly interested in the ethical assessment of new and emerging sciences and technologies that as yet largely exist in the form of expectations, promises, and fears

Responsible Neurovation

For some time, and for some people, innovation didn’t require moral reflection, as it counted as a duty in itself. Others admitted that moral reflection was needed, somewhat, to deal with the innovation’s unintended and undesirable side effects. But recently a new approach has come to the fore: Responsible Research and Innovation.  RRI holds that ethical reflection is an intrinsic dimension of the innovation process itself, and includes anticipation of consequences and stake holder involvement in agenda setting. So, what could ‘responsible’ neurovation entail? I will argue that neuroscientists can no longer simply restrict themselves to ‘neutral’ facts and technologies, leaving the value issues for others to decide. First, this position fails to acknowledge that innovation is inextricably entangled with societal values – just think about all the promises made in research proposals regarding societal relevance. Second, this position fails to acknowledge that novel facts and technologies – and this especially holds in the case of our brains – deeply perturb the existing moral landscape. As a consequence, neuro-innovators cannot refuse to take part in the societal debate about what is responsible neurovation. This, however, requires some new skils.