Neuroethics refers to two related fields of study: what the philosopher Adina Roskies has called the ethics of neuroscience, and the neuroscience of ethics. The ethics of neuroscience comprises the bulk of work in neuroethics. It concerns the ethical, legal and social impact of neuroscience, including the ways in which neurotechnology can be used to predict or alter human behavior and "the implications of our mechanistic understanding of brain function for society... integrating neuroscientific knowledge with ethical and social thought".
Some neuroethics problems are not fundamentally different from those encountered in bioethics. Others are unique to neuroethics because the brain, as the organ of the mind, has implications for broader philosophical problems, such as the nature of free will, moral responsibility, self-deception, and personal identity. Examples of neuroethics topics are given later in this article ("Key issues in neuroethics").
The origin of the term "neuroethics" has occupied some writers. Rees and Rose (as cited in "References" on page 9)[inconsistent] claim neuroethics is a neologism that emerged only at the beginning of the 21st century, largely through the oral and written communications of ethicists and philosophers. According to Racine (2010), the term was coined by the Harvard physician Anneliese A. Pontius in 1973 in a paper entitled "Neuro-ethics of 'walking' in the newborn" for the Perceptual and Motor Skills. The author reproposed the term in 1993 in her paper for Psychological Report, often wrongly mentioned as the first title containing the word "neuroethics". Before 1993, the American neurologist Ronald Cranford has used the term (see Cranford 1989). Illes (2003) records uses, from the scientific literature, from 1989 and 1991. Writer William Safire is widely credited with giving the word its current meaning in 2002, defining it as "the examination of what is right and wrong, good and bad about the treatment of, perfection of, or unwelcome invasion of and worrisome manipulation of the human brain".