Current projects

Fair Limits: Can limitarianism be justified? A philosophical approach on the distribution of economic and ecological resources

In contemporary normative political philosophy, questions of distributive justice have focused on meeting minimal needs of persons, prioritising the worst-off and reducing inequalities. In philosophy, these views are called ‘sufficientarianism’, ‘prioritarianism’ and ‘egalitarianism’. Fair Limits shifts the focus to ‘limitarianism’, the view that there should be upper limits to how much each person could have of valuable goods. In this project, we investigate the plausibility of limitarianism in the area of economic and ecological resources.

Private Property & Political Power

This project aims to investigate different kinds of private property: corporate property (property of companies/enterprises), common property (property of groups of citizens) and individual property (property of individual citizens). Each of these forms can – positively or negatively – impact both the political decision-making process and public ideals as freedom, equality and justice. According to several liberal philosophical theories the protection of property rights is one of the main tasks of the State. One of these theories is on ‘social contract’, on which the idea of constitutional democracy is based. This project focuses on the question how property rights influence State capacities and legitimation.

Past projects


This Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership Project on integrity aims to prepare students better for issues regarding (research) integrity, to develop digital tools for students tailored to their study phase and to facilitate the translation of existing codes of conduct into the curriculum.

  • Project Leader: Prof. Bert Theunissen, Dr Mariëtte van den Hoven (co-applicant)
  • Partners: Charles University (Czech Republic) and the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia)
  • Duration: 2019 - 2021
  • Funding: Erasmus+
NoVaMigra: Norms and Values in the European Migration and Refugee Crisis

Citizens of the EU have been much concerned about the number of refugees arriving via the Balkans and the Mediterranean. Concerns relate to security, economic impact and preserving national and cultural identities. Debates about ‘European values’ have emerged. Isn’t it part of these values to assist refugees? At the same time, refugees are often expected to conform to European values. Yet what are those values? Why talk of ‘European’ values at all? Aren’t human rights at the core of the EU’s moral and political identity?

An interdisciplinary research team, including a researcher of the Ethics Institute, investigated how the recent so-called ‘refugee crisis’ has influenced the self-understanding of the EU and its member states. The project also aims to develop an ethically justified view regarding refugees, and to clarify the duties European institutions have in a globalised world and with regard to global conflicts.

Innovative animal research

Over the past decades animal experiments have contributed to a better understanding of disease and an improved treatment, but they have also resulted in discussions about the ethical acceptability and the reliability of such experiments. This public debate has led to new, improved research models. However innovations in animal research do not always lead to the desired health benefit. This project will investigate the reasons for this problem and will propose a new approach: formulation of 'translational strategies'.

With this approach the entire research chain (both people and animals) is involved in determining the ideal research strategy and it places the patient at the centre. Based on case studies about cystic fibrosis and rheumatism the research team will explore the possibilities of good translational strategies. The results will be used amongst other things in education and for a contribution to standard protocols for research and ethical testing.

  • Project Leader: Dr Franck Meijboom (in cooperation with Veterinary Medicine)
  • Consortium partners: BioXpert BV, ProQR Therapeutics BV
  • Duration: 2015-2019
  • Funding: NWO Responsible Innovation
  • Project website
A Role for Mental Content in Empirical Psychology

This project explores interpretivistic theories, according to which mental states such as thoughts and emotions are not ‘in our head’ but rather should be understood as elements of interpretation. The project focuses on the central issue of how mental states (understood in this way) can play a causal role and how they can be investigated in empirical psychological research.

Evolutionary Ethics? The (Meta-)Ethical Implications of Evolutionary Explanations of Morality

The human capacity to form moral judgements has its origin in the history of evolution. What significance does this have in terms of the value and appraisal of moral judgements? Does the history of morality undermine the possibility that value judgements are true? And what can we learn from science about the evolution of morality? This project explores these and many other questions.

  • Project Leaders: Prof. Herman Philipse, Prof. Johan J. Bolhuis (Social Sciences)
  • Staff: Dr Julia Hermann, Dr Joeri Witteveen, Jeroen Hopster MA, Michael Klenk MA
  • Duration: 2014 - 2019
  • Funding: NWO/Free Competition
Human Dignity as the Basis for Human Rights

What exactly does it mean to ascribe human dignity to another person? And how does this human dignity relate to human rights? This project explores various interpretations of dignity and studies how human dignity could form the normative basis for human rights. To produce relevant insights, links are formed between debates in legal theory, political philosophy and meta-ethics.  

  • Project Leader: Prof. Marcus Düwell
  • Staff: Marie Göbel MA
  • Duration: 2012 - 1 January 2018
  • Funded by NWO/VICI
Liberalism in China

Values such as individual freedom, societal pluralism and tolerance have become increasingly important in China in the past few decades. Yet there is a clear difference from Western societies in the interpretation of such values. In the project ‘Liberalism in China’, Dutch and Chinese humanities scholars and political scientists are collaborating to come to a better understanding of the hermeneutical, intercultural and institutional questions pertaining to this matter.

  • Project Leader: Prof. Bert van den Brink (Political and Social Philosophy, UU) and Prof. Li Shaomeng (Beijing Normal University)
  • UU participants: Prof. Marcus Düwell, Prof. Ido de Haan, Prof. Christoph Baumgartner, Prof. Paul Ziche, Dr Rutger Claassen, Dr Dascha Düring
  • Duration: 2016 - 2017
  • Funding: China Exchange Programme of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW)
‘Just Editing?’: Applying a Comparative Responsible Innovation Approach to Animal Genome Editing

Genome editing is a novel technique for making changes to an organism’s entire set of genetic material – the genome. In this project a comparative responsible innovation (RI) approach will be applied to novel techniques of genome editing to examine the conditions (if any) under which the technique can and should be applied to animal breeding applications. Using the anticipate-include-reflect-respond (AIRR) RI framework beta scientists, social scientists and ethicists work together to understand, anticipate, reflect and respond to ethical and societal concerns.

The project culminates in a policy seminar aimed at decision-makers and a policy report and toolkit where we offer guidance on how the science and decision-making of animal genome editing can develop in ways that are responsive and responsible.

  • Project Leaders: Prof. P.M. Macnaghten (WUR), Dr Franck Meijboom
  • Duration: 2018 - 2020
  • Funding: NWO-MVI
Whole Exome Sequencing (WES): Exploring the Ethics of an Innovative Genetic Tool in Paediatric Practice

The Ethics Institute is working together with Wilhelmina Kinderziekenhuis UMCUtrecht on a project about the ethical aspects of a new genetic technology (Whole Exome Sequencing). WES is used to find an explanation for previously unexplained illnesses and diseases but can also deliver more information than specifically necessary. This raises ethical questions relating to such themes as 'the right to an open future' and 'informed consent'. This project encompasses an explorative empirical ethical study into the way in which WES can be responsibly introduced into paediatric practice.

  • Project Coordinator: Dr Ineke Bolt & Dr M.J.H. van Summeren
  • Staff: Candice Cornelis
  • Duration: 2013 - 2015
  • Funded by ZonMw
Legal and ethical aspects of global drug development from a human rights perspective

The development, registration, price and actual availability and accessibility of (new) medicines is increasingly complex and problematic. Throughout the entire ‘lifeline’ of medicines (development – registration – patient use), various multisectoral problems arise which raise multidisciplinary questions, including from a human rights perspective.

Issues raise such as: when is decision-making legitimate in the field of drug development? Is it problematic if scientific evidence underpinning regulatory decision-making includes (unknown) risks? How should one deal with both manifest and non-manifest conflicts between various sources of regulation influencing the entire pharma lifeline? But also, what is the responsibility of actors such as the Big Pharma and the Dutch Medicines Evaluation Board? And, what does it imply to regard patients as rights-holders?

  • Project Leaders: Prof. Marcus Duwell, Dr Brianne McGonigle Leyh
  • Staff: Dr Marie Elske Gispen (RUG), Inez Braber LL.M. MA
  • Collaboration with the Global Health Law Groningen Research Centre of the University of Groningen
  • Duration: one year
  • Funded by the Dutch Medicines Evaluation Board