Deep Brain Stimulation, Authenticity and Value

Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 26 (4):658-670 (2017)
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In this paper, we engage in dialogue with Jonathan Pugh, Hannah Maslen, and Julian Savulescu about how to best interpret the potential impacts of deep brain stimulation on the self. We consider whether ordinary people’s convictions about the true self should be interpreted in essentialist or existentialist ways. Like Pugh et al., we argue that it is useful to understand the notion of the true self as having both essentialist and existentialist components. We also consider two ideas from existentialist philosophy – Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir’s ideas about “bad faith” and “ambiguity” – to argue that there can be value to patients in regarding themselves as having a certain amount of freedom to choose what aspects of themselves should be considered representative of their true selves. Lastly, we consider the case of an anorexia nervosa-patient who shifts between conflicting mind-sets. We argue that mind-sets in which it is easier for the patient and his or her family to share values can plausibly be considered to be more representative of the patient’s true self, if this promotes a well-functioning relationship between the patient and the family. However, we also argue that families are well-advised to give patients room to figure out what such shared values mean to them, since it can be alienating for patients if they feel that others try to impose values on them from the outside.

Author Profiles

Elizabeth O'Neill
Eindhoven University of Technology
Sven Nyholm
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München


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