Open Access

A four-part working bibliography of neuroethics: part 2 – neuroscientific studies of morality and ethics

Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine201510:2

DOI: 10.1186/s13010-015-0022-0

Received: 9 January 2015

Accepted: 14 January 2015

Published: 15 February 2015



Moral philosophy and psychology have sought to define the nature of right and wrong, and good and evil. The industrial turn of the twentieth century fostered increasingly technological approaches that conjoined philosophy to psychology, and psychology to the natural sciences. Thus, moral philosophy and psychology became ever more vested to investigations of the anatomic structures and physiologic processes involved in cognition, emotion and behavior - ultimately falling under the rubric of the neurosciences. Since 2002, neuroscientific studies of moral thought, emotions and behaviors have become known as – and a part of – the relatively new discipline of neuroethics. Herein we present Part 2 of a bibliography of neuroethics from 2002–2013 addressing the “neuroscience of ethics” – studies of putative neural substrates and mechanisms involved in cognitive, emotional and behavioral processes of morality and ethics.


A systematic survey of the neuroethics literature was undertaken. Bibliographic searches were performed by accessing 11 databases, 8 literature depositories, and 4 individual journal searches, and employed indexing language for National Library of Medicine (NLM) Medical Subject Heading databases. All bibliographic searches were conducted using the RefWorks citation management program.


This bibliography lists 397 articles, 65 books, and 52 book chapters that present (1) empirical/experimental studies, overviews, and reviews of neural substrates and mechanisms involved in morality and ethics, and/or (2) reflections upon such studies and their implications. These works present resources offering iterative descriptions, definitions and criticisms of neural processes involved in moral cognition and behaviors, and also provide a historical view of this field, and insights to its developing canon.


Neuroethics Neuroscience Morality Moral Psychology Ethics Bibliography

Introduction and background

Throughout much of recorded history, humans have sought to define the nature of right and wrong, and good and evil. Since antiquity, such questions have been the focus of moral philosophy. However, empirical and experimental movements of the late nineteenth century drew scientific attention to philosophical questions, and the queries of moral philosophy became the focus of the then nascent discipline of psychology. The industrial turn of the twentieth century fostered increasingly technological approaches that conjoined psychology to the natural sciences. Philosophical speculation, and psychological observation and experimentation became ever more rooted in, and vested to investigations of the anatomic structures and physiologic processes involved in cognition, emotion and behavior. Thus, studies of moral philosophy and moral psychology became the province of brain research, ultimately falling under the rubric of the neurosciences, which became firmly established as a titular field in the middle-to-late 1970s [1]. Important contributory literature from the 1960s through early 2000s is provided below.

Important contributory literature from the 1960s through early 2000s

Journal Articles

  • Allison T: Neuroscience and morality. Neuroscientist 2001, 7(5):360-364.

  • Callahan D: Ethical responsibility in science in the face of uncertain consequences. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1976, 265:1-12.

  • Changeux JP: [Reflections of a neurobiologist on the origin of ethics.] CR Seances Soc Biol Fil 1998, 192(6):1041-1049.

  • Churchland PS: The significance of neuroscience for philosophy. Trends Neurosci 1988, 11(7): 304-307

  • Damasio H, Grabowski T, Frank R, Galaburda AM, Damasio AR: The return of Phineas Gage: clues about the brain from the skull of a famous patient. Science 1994, 264(5162): 1102-1105.

  • Dolan RJ: On the neurology of morals. Nat Neurosci 1999, 2(11):927-929.

  • Eslinger PJ, Damasio AR: Severe disturbance of higher cognition after bilateral frontal lobe ablation: patient EVR. Neurology 1985, 35(12):1731-1741.

  • Greene JD, Sommerville RB, Nystrom LE, Darley JM, Cohen JD: An fMRI investigation of emotional engagement in moral judgment. Science 2001, 293(5537): 2105-2108.

  • Helmuth L: Cognitive neuroscience. Moral reasoning relies on emotion. Science 2001, 293(5537):1971-1972.

  • Laplane D. [Epistemological remarks on the question of cerebral organization.] Rev Neurol 1994, 150(8-9):555-563.

  • Medinnus GR: Behavioral and cognitive measures of conscience development.J Genet Psychol 1966, 109(1):147-150.

  • Scoville WB, Milner B: Loss of recent memory after bilateral hippocampal lesions. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiat 1957, 20:11-21.

  • Strawson G: The impossibility of moral responsibility. Philos Stud 1994, 75(1/2): 5-24.


  • Bratman M: Intention, Plans, and Practical Reason. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press 1987.

  • Brentano F: Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint. New York: Humanities Press 1973 (1874).

  • Churchland PM: The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul: A Philosophical Journey into the Brain. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press 1995.

  • Clark A: Being There: Putting Brain, Body and World Together Again. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press 1997.

  • Crick F: The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul. New York: Touchstone 1994.

  • Damasio AR: Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain. New York: Putnam 1994.

  • Damasio AR: The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York: Harcourt Brace 1999.

  • Dewey J. Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology. New York: Carlton House 1922.

  • Fodor JA: The Language of Thought. New York: Crowell 1975.

  • Habermas J, Dews P: Autonomy and Solidarity: Interviews with Jürgen Habermas. London: Verso 1986.

  • Harrington A: Medicine, Mind, and the Double Brain: A Study in Nineteenth-Century Thought. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 1987.

  • Huber G: Cerveau et Psychisme Humains: Quelle Ethique? [Human Brain: Which Ethics?] Paris: Association Decartes and J. Libbey Eurotext 1996.

  • Kane R: The Significance of Free Will. New York: Oxford University Press 1996.

  • Luria AR: The Man with a Shattered World: The History of a Brain Wound. New York: Basic Books 1972.

  • Minsky M: The Society of Mind. New York: Simon and Schuster 1986.

  • Nagel T: Equality and Partiality. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press 1991.

  • Pylyshyn ZW: Computation and Cognition: Toward a Foundation for Cognitive Science. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press 1984.

  • Rolls ET: The Brain and Emotion. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1999.

  • Taylor C: Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press 1989.

Since 2002, neuroscientific studies of moral thought, emotions and behaviors have become known as – and a part of – the relatively new discipline of neuroethics [2]. As a field, neuroethics’ focus is not limited to studies of neural bases of morality, but also centers upon those ethical issues that are fostered by neuroscientific research and its various implications and applications in clinical medicine and the public sphere. Thus, as the tools and techniques of neuroscience become more sophisticated and precise, the questions raised by neuroscience and neuroethics may be equally, or even more pressing as those answered [3]. How can –and will–the brain sciences inform concepts of morality, ethics and law? Will understanding the structure and functions of brain networks and processes involved in social interactions, emotions and behaviors alter constructs of “free will,” culpability, and responsibility? Can neuroscientific information provide a basis for guiding how we should behave, either as individuals or as actors-in-community? Will the brain sciences foster a “new ethics” of neuroethics, and if so, how might these new ideas–and perhaps ideals–comport with long held traditions and norms of morality and ethics on an ever more pluralistic world stage?

The late William Safire concluded his introductory remarks to the 2002 Dana Foundation conference “Neuroethics –Mapping the Field” by congratulating the attendees for tackling “…the challenge of carving out a new territory for an old philosophical discipline” [4] by examining the neural mechanisms of morality. The following bibliography reflects this challenging “new territory”, as presented in published works from 2002–2013. These works are experimental, empirical, and/or hypothetical. In some cases the position is inquisitive, in others speculative, and in others a critical perspective is taken (of approaches used to exemplify and study ethical dilemmas, of the prior and current descriptions of psychological processes of human relations, and of concepts of morality and ethics, more generally).


Methods for systematically searching relevant literature devoted to neuroethics are identical to those utilized in Part 1 of this bibliography [5]. Search strategies utilizing MeSH (Medical Subject Headings: indexing terms were used for generating bibliographies from PubMed and National Library of Medicine (NLM) Catalog. MeSH includes ethics-related terms developed for BIOETHICSLINE, a specialty database devoted to bioethical issues produced for NLM by the Kennedy Institute of Ethics from 1975–2000. Other databases were searched using descriptors specific to those databases. The searches were limited to work published from 2002 to 2013.

The following databases were searched to produce this bibliography:
  1. 1)

    PubMed (

    Search Strategy: (morals[majr:noexp] AND (neurosciences/ethics[majr:noexp] OR cognitive science/ethics[majr] OR brain[majr:noexp]))

  2. 2)

    The NLM Catalog (

    Search Strategy: (morals [majr:noexp] AND (neurosciences/ethics[majr:noexp] OR cognitive science/ethics[majr] OR brain[majr:noexp]))

  3. 3)

    Academic Search Premier:

    Search Strategy: TX morality AND SU neurosciences AND SU philosophy

  4. 4)

    Proquest Research Library:

    Search Strategy: su (morality) AND su (neurosciences)

  5. 5)


    Search Strategy: ab:(moral) AND ab:(neuroscience)

  6. 6)

    WorldCat (

    Search Strategy: “cognitive neuroscience” and “moral and ethical aspects” (as subject phrases)

  7. 7)

    Philosopher's Index:

    Search Strategy: su(moral) AND su(neuroscience)

  8. 8)


    Search Strategy: neuroscience:de AND morality:de

  9. 9)

    BELIT (

    Search Strategy: neurosciences* [subject keywords] and morality*[subject keywords]

  10. 10)

    Web of Knowledge/Web of Science (WoS):

    Search Strategy: [topic] morality neurosciences

  11. 11)

    Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) (

    Search Strategy: brain moral

  12. 12)

    Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) (

    Search Strategy: [search all] moral neurosciences

  13. 13)

    Hathi Trust Digital Library (

    [any of these words] morality moral in Subject AND

    [any of these words] neurosciences brain cognitive in Subject

  14. 14)

    European Library (

    Search Strategy: [subject] moral AND [subject] brain

  15. 15)

    Internet Archive (

    Search Strategy: morality AND brain

  16. 16) (

    Search Strategy: [keywords] moral AND neurosciences

  17. 17)

    Neuroethics-Wikiography (

    Search Strategy: moral

As previously noted [5], open access bioethics’ journals not contained in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) were individually accessed and searched; these included:
  1. 1)

    Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy from the University of Southern California;

  2. 2)

    Journal of Mental Health Ethics from McMaster University (;

  3. 3)

    Journal of Practical Ethics ( from the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford; and

  4. 4)

    Philosophers’ Imprint from the University of Michigan (


As in Part 1 of this bibliography [5], the RefWorks citation manager program was utilized to eliminate duplicate reference citations.


The following reference citations provide a listing of 397 articles, 65 books, and 52 book chapters that afford (1) empirical/experimental studies, overviews, and reviews of neural substrates and mechanisms involved in morality and ethics, and/or (2) reflections upon such studies and their implications.
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  • Abend G: What the science of morality doesn’t say about morality. Philos Soc Sci 2013, 43(2):157–200. doi:10.1177/0048393112440597.

  • Adolphs R: The social brain: neural basis of social knowledge. Annu Rev Psychol 2009, 60: 693:716. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.60.110707.163514.

  • Adolphs R: Cognitive neuroscience of human social behaviour. Nat Rev Neurosci 2003, 4(3): 165–178. doi:10.1038/nrn1056.

  • Agar N: Still afraid of needy post-persons. J Med Ethics 2013, 39(2):81–83. doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-101095.

  • Agar N: Why is it possible to enhance moral status and why doing so is wrong? J Med Ethics 2013, 39(2):67–74. doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-100597.

  • Ainslie G: Précis of breakdown of will. Behav Brain Sci 2005, 28(5):635–673. doi:10.1017/S0140525X05000117.

  • Al-Delaimy WK: Ethical concepts and future challenges of neuroimaging: an Islamic perspective. Sci Eng Ethics 2012, 18(3):509–518. doi:10.1007/s11948-012-9386-3.

  • Árnason G: Neuroscience, free will and moral responsibility. TRAMES-J Humanit Soc 2011, 15(2):147–155. doi:10.3176/tr.2011.2.03.

  • Árnason G: Neuroimaging, uncertainty, and the problem of dispositions. Camb Q Healthc Ethics 2010, 19(2):188–195. doi:10.1017/S0963180109990454.

  • Avram M et al.: Neurofunctional correlates of esthetic and moral judgments. Neurosci Lett 2013, 534:128–132. doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2012.11.053.

  • Azzone GF: The biological foundations of culture and morality. Rendiconti Lincei 2008, 19 (2):189204.doi:10.1007/s12210-008-0011-y.

  • Baertschi B: Neurosciences et neuroéthique: qui se ressemble s’assemble. Rev Med Suisse 2005, 1(34):2225–2229.

  • Baertschi B: Neurosciences et responsabilité morale: un argument en faveur du compatibilisme. Revue de Theologie et de Philosophie 2011, 143(3):257–272.

  • Bahnemann M et al.: Sociotopy in the temporoparietal cortex: common versus distinct processes. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2010, 5(1):48–58. doi:10.1093/scan/nsp045.

  • Banja J: Virtue essentialism, prototypes, and the moral conservative opposition to enhancement technologies: a neuroethical critique. AJOB Neurosci 2011, 2(2):31–38. doi:10.1080/21507740.2011.556918.

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  • Barraza JA, McCullough ME, Ahmadi S, Zak PJ: Oxytocin infusion increases charitable donations regardless of monetary resources. Horm Behav 2011, 60(2):148–151. doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2011.04.008.

  • Bartels DM: Principled moral sentiment and the flexibility of moral judgment and decision making. Cognition 2008, 108(2):381–417. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2008.03.001.

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  • Bellino RM: Free will in the eye of neuroscientific reductionism: the need for a philosophical foundation of moral neuropsychology. History & Philosophy of Psychology 2009, 11(1):12–16.

  • Benedetti F et al.: Neural and genetic correlates of antidepressant response to sleep deprivation: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study of moral valence decision in bipolar depression. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2007, 64(2):179–187. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.64.2.179.

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  • Berns GS et al.: The price of your soul: neural evidence for the non-utilitarian representation of sacred values. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 2012, 367(1589):754–762. doi:10.1098/rstb.2011.0262.

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  • Bird S: Ethics on the brain. Science & Spirit 2006, 17(4):65–67.

  • Blair RJR: The amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex in morality and psychopathy. Trends Cogn Sci 2007, 11(9):387–392. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2007.07.003.

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  • Costa AN: Images of difficulty. IIOAB Journal 2013, 4(3):3–8.

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  • Culotta E: Neuroscience. Brain stimulation sparks ‘Machiavellian’ choices. Science 2013, 342(6154):25. doi:10.1126/science.342.6154.25.

  • Cushman F, Knobe J, Sinnott-Armstrong W: Moral appraisals affect doing/allowing judgments. Cognition 2008, 108(1):281–289. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2008.02.005.

  • Cushman F: Action, outcome, and value: a dual-system for morality. Pers Soc Psychol Rev 2013, 17(3):273–292. doi:10.1177/1088868313495594.

  • Cushman F, Young L, Hauser M: The role of conscious reasoning and intuition in moral judgment: testing three principles of harm. Psychol Sci 2006, 17(12):1082–1089. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01834.x.

  • Cushman F, Greene JD: Finding faults: how moral dilemmas illuminate cognitive structure. Soc Neurosci 2012, 7(3):269–279. doi:10.1080/17470919.2011.614000.

  • Damasio A: Neuroscience and ethics: intersections. Am J Bioeth 2007, 7(1):3–7. doi:10.1080/1526516060103910.

  • da Rocha AF, Rocha FT, Massad E: Moral dilemma judgment revisited: a Loreta analysis. J Behav Brain Sci 2013, 3(8):624–640. doi:10.4236/jbbs.2013.38066.

  • da Rocha AC, Bergareche AM: Wired for autonomy. Am J Bioeth 2008, 8(5):23–25. doi:10.1080/15265160802180042.

  • Dawes CT et al.: Neural basis of egalitarian behavior. Proc Natl Acad Sci 2012, 109(17):6479–6483. doi:10.1073/pnas.1118653109.

  • de Achával D et al.: Activation of brain areas concerned with social cognition during moral decisions is abnormal in schizophrenia patients and unaffected siblings. J Psychiatr Res 2013, 47(6):774–782. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2012.12.018.

  • Dean R: Does neuroscience undermine deontological theory? Neuroethics 2010, 3(1):43–60. doi:10.1007/s12152-009-9052-x.

  • Decety J, Michalska KJ, Kinzler KD: The developmental neuroscience of moral sensitivity. Emot Rev 2011, 3(3):305–307. doi:10.1177/1754073911402373.

  • Decety J, Howard LH: The role of affect in the neurodevelopment of morality. Child Dev Perspect 2013, 7(1):49–54. doi:10.1111/cdep.12020.

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Discussion and conclusions

Despite our best efforts to amass as complete a bibliography of the past 10 years’ neuroethics literature as possible, automated indexing and other technical issues can affect the retrieval of documents. However, this need not constrain the capability of this document to provide a valuable nexus in, and for the discipline. As consistent with Part 1 of this series, we conceive of this bibliography as a participatory endeavor, and request that the readership contribute to this effort by adding any missing citations to the online comments section of this bibliography. Citations also can be emailed directly to the bibliographic manager at: for subsequent inclusion as commentary/addenda to this work.

To be sure, with advances in neuroscientific capabilities and expanding use of neuroscientific techniques and technologies in medicine, arguments are being made to address ethical issues generated by brain research [6], prompting elaboration of neuroethics as the “ethics of neuroscience” [2,7]. Indeed, it is (perhaps most) important to ask if such approaches to studying (moral) cognition and actions are technically apt, valid, and therefore of any real value [3,8]. Will necessary review, oversight and guidance be developed to direct and regulate if and how such research should or should not be conducted and translated into clinical treatments? Might studies of the putative neural bases of moral thought and action establish trends to engage these substrates and mechanisms in the clinical practices of neurology and psychiatry, and/or establish a basis for boutique, socially-, legally-, or politically-oriented interventions aimed at altering moral cognition and behaviors? Part 3 of this series will present a current bibliography of these and other neuroethical issues germane to clinical medicine.

In addition to implications for clinical care, neuroscientific studies of cognition, emotion and behavior can be – and are increasingly – leveraged in legal and social contexts, which must be considered on an international scale [9,10]. How, for example, might neuroscientific insights to the concept of free will incur consequences for questions of legal culpability? Can neuroscience provide metrics for, and standards of psychosocial “normality” and “abnormality” that are valid and viable within and across cultures? How will neuroscience and neurotechnologies be employed upon the twenty first century world stage to affect human health and capability, and evoke economic and political balances of power? Literature addressing these issues and questions will be presented in Part 4 of this bibliographic series. When taken together, we hope that this bibliography will elucidate the literature that is representative of the first ten years of this field, provide a historical view of this discipline’s growth, and afford insight to its developing canon.



This work was supported in part by funding the Clark Family Foundation, William H. and Ruth Crane Schaefer Endowment, Childrens’ Hospital and Clinics Foundation of Minneapolis (JG), and the Neuroethics Studies Program of the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics of Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA (JG, LB). The authors thank Sherry Loveless, and Profs. Koji Tachibana and John R. Shook for their assistance in the preparation of this manuscript.

Authors’ Affiliations

Bioethics Research Library, Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University
Neuroethics Studies Program, Edmund D. Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics, Georgetown University Medical Center
Department of Neurology, Georgetown University Medical Center
Human Science Center, Ludwig-Maximilians Universität


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