Deep brain stimulation, authenticity and value: further reflections

S.R. Nyholm, E.R.H. O'Neill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
212 Downloads (Pure)


In this article, 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 peoples’ convictions about the true self should be interpreted in essentialist or existentialist ways. Like Pugh, Maslen, and Savulescu, 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 determine what such shared values mean to them, as it can be alienating for patients if they feel that others try to impose values on them from the outside.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)658-670
Number of pages13
JournalCambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sept 2017


  • deep brain stimulation
  • authenticity
  • value
  • existentialism
  • essentialism
  • anorexia nervosa
  • values
  • the true self
  • Social Values
  • Humans
  • Deep Brain Stimulation/ethics
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Ego
  • Freedom
  • Anorexia Nervosa/psychology
  • Family Relations
  • Female
  • Existentialism


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