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Advancements in diagnostic technologies have revolutionized the field of neurology. The use of these tools in the course of neurological evaluations is driven by a strong version of the diagnostic imperative, with the goal of precisely identifying the locus and extent of disease processes. Because of the discrepancy between the sophistication of these technologies and the availability of therapeutic interventions, there is active debate regarding the appropriate use of these tools when the diagnosis is clear, or when no change is made to the therapeutic management. A narrow view of management that is bounded by the availability of pharmacological or surgical interventions results in a more rigid dichotomy between the needs of doctors and patients. A broader view that relaxes the constraint between diagnostic procedures and interventions is more in keeping with the observation that many acts are performed for the benefit of doctors and patients alike. An historical and ethical analysis of the diagnostic imperative, with attention to the rise of innovative medical technologies and current concepts of therapeutic intervention, can help clarify the principles of medical paternalism and beneficence that guide current models of decision making in the neurological sciences.