Neuroethics book by Joshua May (philosophy, ethics)

Neuroethics: Agency in the Age of Brain Science
by Joshua May (Oxford University Press, 2023)

Neuroscience is booming, fueled by sensational discoveries about the human mind, efforts to cure brain diseases, and promises to improve mental health. What ethical questions does it raise and help to answer? Neuroethics blends philosophical analysis with modern brain science to address central questions within this growing field: 

  • Is free will an illusion?
  • Does brain stimulation impair a patient’s autonomy? 
  • Does having a mental disorder excuse bad behavior? 
  • Is addiction a brain disease?
  • Should we trust our gut feelings in ethics and politics? 
  • Should we enhance our brains to become better people?
  • Is human reasoning bound to be biased by our values?
  • Can brain science be trusted to read the minds of criminals and consumers?

[The book ultimately answers “no” to the first four questions, “yes” to the rest.]

Neuroethics provides an opinionated tour of the field through captivating cases and serious attention paid to both the philosophical issues and scientific evidence. The result is a nuanced neuroethics that reconceives human agency as less conscious and reliable, but more diverse and flexible, than we ordinarily think. A central lesson is that disordered and neurotypical minds are more alike than they are unalike.

The text has a lively writing style that’s accessible to students and scholars in both the sciences and humanities.


Podcast interviews: Voices in Bioethics | New Books Network | The Free Will Show

Articles: Psyche | What happens on page 99.

Reviewed in: The Biologist, Choice.


Neuroethics is hot but also complicated and controversial. How can inquisitive non-specialists learn enough to understand this growing field? Joshua May has provided a perfect solution. Just read this book. May’s overview is balanced and fair, stimulating and careful, profound and practical, concise and convincing.

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Chauncey Stillman Professor of Practical Ethics at Duke University in the Philosophy Department, the Kenan Institute for Ethics, Psychology and Neuroscience Department, and the Law School

Joshua May has written the book we need: a comprehensive and persuasive examination of some of the most fascinating and significant issues that confront us today. Accessible without sacrificing careful argument, and filled with gripping case studies, it’s an excellent introduction to neuroethics that is also a book that will be valuable to the specialist.

Neil Levy, Professor of Philosophy at Macquarie University and Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics

This is the book I have been seeking for my Neuroethics course! Philosophy, pre-law, and science students alike will delight in May’s real-life case studies and discussions of the brain science relevant to pressing philosophical problems. In the end, May encourages us to be suspicious of the idea that there are “neurotypical” versus “atypical” brains. Brains exist on a continuum: we ought to focus on our neurological similarities and not our differences.

Katrina L. Sifferd, Genevieve Staudt Professor and Chair of Philosophy at Elmhurst University and Co-Editor in Chief of the journal Neuroethics (Springer)

Table of Contents

Chapter Summaries

Ch. 1: Ethics Meets Neuroscience

Ch. 2: Free Will

Ch. 3: Manipulating Brains

Ch. 4: Mental Disorder

Ch. 5: Addiction

Ch. 6: Moral Judgment

Ch. 7: Moral Enhancement

Ch. 8: Motivated Reasoning

Ch. 9: Brain Reading

Ch. 10: Nuanced Neuroethics

📝 Teaching Resources

For instructors and students using this as a textbook:

Dr. May’s Neuroethics book was phenomenal… particularly well written and the material was presented in an approachable and easily digestible way—I will continue to refer to this book in the future.

– Student evaluation from my Neuroethics class (anonymous).