Enhancing 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.


NWO 01/09/2011 to 28/02/2015 Details at http://www.nwo.nl/en/research-and-results/research-projects/29/2300162129.html

Related Scientific publications (selection)


  • Robichaud, P. (forthcoming) “On Culpable Ignorance and Akrasia”. Ethics.


  • Robichaud, P. (2014) “Moral capacity enhancement does not entail moral status enhancement". American Journal of Bioethics, 14(4), 33-34.
  • Santoni de Sio F., Faulmüller N. and Vincent N.A (2014), How cognitive enhancement can change our duties. Front. Syst. Neurosci. 8:131 click to open pdf
  • Santoni de Sio, F, Robichaud, P., & Vincent, NA (2014) “Who should enhance? Conceptual and normative dimensions of cognitive enhancement”. Humana.Mente: Journal of Philosophical Studies.
  • Santoni de Sio, F. & Vincent, N.A (2014). Rationality + Consciousness = Free Will by David Hodgson. Criminal Law and Philosophy. DOI 10.1007/s11572-013-9282-1


  • Faulmüller, N., Maslen, H., Santoni de Sio, F. (2013), 'The Indirect Psychological Costs of Cognitive Enhancement', The American Journal of Bioethics 13:7, 45-47
  • Santoni de Sio, F. and Jespersen, B., "Function, roles, and human capacity", Methode: Analytic Pespectives 2:2, 58-66 available online


  • Santoni de Sio, F., Maslen, H and Faulmueller, N. (2012), "The Necessity of Objective Standards for Moral Enhancement", AJOB Neuroscience, 3:4, 15-16 available online

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