What does neuroaesthetics have to do with neuroethics?

October 25, 2023

Anjan Chatterjee
Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics
The University of Pennsylvania

Neuroethics and neuroaesthetics, as disciplines, took off at the turn of this century. Even though both areas of inquiry evolved in parallel, it turns out that investigating aesthetics confronts a set of ethical issues. We are immersed in experiences of people, places and things. Beyond communicating with people, navigating through places, and interacting with things, we cannot help but evaluate them. We respond automatically to people’s looks in ways that conflate aesthetic and moral values. We also respond to the aesthetics of architecture with mental constructs that contribute to our wellbeing. Finally, expressive uses of art help improve mental health in people who have suffered trauma. Each case exposes ethical concerns: in judgments about and prejudice towards specific classes of people; in the maldistribution of resources that contribute to human flourishing; and in our reluctance to use aesthetics to help those who could benefit. Perhaps fueling these concerns is an insidious view that aesthetics is disinterested and even frivolous.



Profile picture of Anjan Chatterjee
Anjan Chatterjee, MD, FAAN

Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics
The University of Pennsylvania

Anjan Chatterjee is Professor of Neurology, Psychology, and Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and the founding director of the Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics. He received his BA in Philosophy from Haverford College, MD from the University of Pennsylvania, and completed his neurology residency at the University of Chicago. The past Chair of Neurology at Pennsylvania Hospital, Dr. Chatterjee’s research addresses neuroaesthetics, spatial cognition, language, and neuroethics. He wrote The Aesthetic Brain: How we evolved to desire beauty and enjoy art and co-edited Brain, Beauty, and Art: Bringing Neuroaesthetics in Focus as well as Neuroethics in Practice: Mind, Medicine, and Society, and The Roots of Cognitive Neuroscience: Behavioral Neurology and Neuropsychology. His editorial services have included: American Journal of Bioethics: Neuroscience, Behavioural Neurology, Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, Creativity Research Journal, Empirical Studies of the Arts, European Neurology, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, Journal of NeuroPhilosophy, European Neurology, Neuropsychology, and The Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. He received the Norman Geschwind Prize in Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology from the American Academy of Neurology and the Rudolph Arnheim Prize for contributions to Psychology and the Arts from the American Psychological Association. Dr. Chatterjee is a founding member of the Board of Governors of the Neuroethics Society, the past President of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics, and the Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology Society. He serves on the board of The Global Wellness Institute and has served on the boards of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Haverford College, the Norris Square Neighborhood Project, and the Associated Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

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