The Master’s programme consists of compulsory courses, electives, a research seminar, and a Master’s thesis. The study programme comprises a total of 120 EC (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System).

Mandatory courses

Philosophy of science (compulsory)

This course addresses central subjects in the philosophy of science, including 1) the relation between theory and evidence; 2) Kuhn's philosophy of science; 3) the controversy about empiricism and scientific realism (logical empiricist view of science, van Fraassen's constructive empiricism, the 'Miracle argument' to support scientific realism, inference to the best explanation) 4) the Duhem-Quine thesis 5) philosophical perspectives on experimental practice.
Please note the contents may be subject to slight variations.

History of the natural sciences (compulsory)

This course is an introductory course on both the history of science and the historiography of science. We will familiarize ourselves with the standard account of the history of science, including the so-called ‘Scientific Revolution’, but we also critically assess this interpretation and learn how new developments in the theory of history had an impact on the history of science. The history of science came of age since the 1930s. Initially, historians of science were often scientists of profession and they tended to think that science was predominantly a cognitive activity which was quite distinct from society and culture (internalism). From the 1970s onwards, people who were trained as historians began to take over from the scientists and argued that the history of science was determined from outside (externalism). Social, political and economic approaches were joined by cultural appraisals of the nature, production, and transmission of scientific knowledge. Where does such a variety of approaches leave a future generation of historians of science? How do new approaches of history, such as digital humanities, bear on the pursuit of the history of science? Finally, what is the relevance of the history of science for our society?

Recommended reading is for preparation only.

History of the Humanities (compulsory)

The growth and specialization of science has led to the gap between the anciens et modernes, between Humanities and Natural Sciences and ultimately to the establishment of two separate worlds: the world of numbers and the world of language. Not only do many of the themes in Humanities scholarship fall outside the Natural Sciences, the two are often in conflict. After all, many artworks are based on obsolete concepts from the Natural Sciences. This course reconsiders the statute of the Humanities, surveys its history since the 16th century, compares its methods and techniques with those of the Natural Sciences, and asks why the Humanities have continuously been seen as an endangered species since they were formally established as a university discipline in the nineteenth century.
In the course three topics will be studied in depth. Firstly; the creation of critical humanism as a founding discipline in the late 16th and early seventeenth centuries. Emphasis will be on the work of Joseph Scaliger and Pierre Bayle, who both claimed that a historically founded analysis of texts would yield the same level of truth as mathematics did. Secondly, we will focus on the Rickert-Dilthey-Windelband debates in Germany and Europe at the turn of the 19th century, who all thought to have re-established a firm epistomological basis for the humanities. Finally we will concentrate on the postmodern crisis of the humanities in the last two decades of the 20th century. Connecting element will be the status of knowledge produced by research in the humanities and its relationship with politics and religion. While studying these topics ample time will be devoted to the question: what does a practitioner of the humanities, i.c. an historian, actually do. Visits to archives and libraries, the laboratories of the historian, will be part of the course.

Students will be familiar with the general historical development of the humanities. Students will be able to recognize and contextualize the social orientations, types of institutionalization and scientific methods within the humanities. Students will get a view of the relationship with neighbouring fields in the sciences and with unfamiliar scientific and scholarly traditions. They will also learn how to deal with the cultural issues, social expectations and political pressure that characterizes the practice of the humanities.

Students History and Philosophy of Science, for registration please contact your programme coordinator during the enrolment period.

Research seminar HPS (compulsory)

The research seminar has two components:
1.Attendance of colloquiums: students are required to attend at least 20 HPS colloquiums during their study. These can include HPS thesis colloquiums, Descartes colloquiums and other lectures, colloquiums or symposiums.
2.Participation in a reading group: each student should attend one of the three reading groups (history of science, philosophy of science, or philosophy of physics). These reading groups meet regularly to analyze and discuss research books or papers from the research field. Each of the reading groups has its own set of requirements, including the minimum number of meetings to attend and a small research paper or review.

Primary Elective courses - offered every year

Science and the dilemmas of modernity

In this course we will study the role of science and of scientists in modern society. At the beginning of the twentieth century, this role became a topic of intense discussion. The development of science and technology in the previous century had been impressive, but what were the –intended or unintended – effects of that progress? How could the results of scientific research be incorporated in modern society and culture? We will especially look at the political side of these questions. Could the scientific method be applied to social and political problems? What role should scientific ‘experts’ play in governance, and if so, how did that role relate to democratic values? How did international politics and government policy influence scientific practice?

We will study these issues in several periods throughout the twentieth century, including the World Wars, the economic crisis of the 1930s, the Cold War and the counterculture of the 1960s and ‘70s. We will study and discuss a body of literature, and all students will prepare a paper based on literature study. They will present their findings at the end of the course, both by oral presentation and a written paper. Throughout the research process, students will critically discuss each other's work.

Science and the public. The making, distribution and reception of science

Science has always been dependent on society. It is supported to the degree that governments, the public, interest groups, or other agencies recognize its value. The public image of science is therefore of vital importance to the continuing existence of science. But where do public images of science come from? Partly at least from the scientists themselves. Scientists use a wide variety of strategies, such as popularization, to influence this image. One may ask how effectively they communicate scientific knowledge and images of science. And to what degree does the image conveyed in popular science correspond to actual scientific practice? The relation between science and the public is one of strong mutual influence. Some historians have suggested that public attitudes shape the self-image of scientists to the point that they are willing to revise the core-values of their disciplines. There are sociologists of science who claim that knowledge is only established once the public are convinced. To make matters even more complicated, it should always be kept in mind that at any time there is not one monolithic science and one undifferentiated audience. Moreover both science and society have changed tremendously in the course of history. This course studies the history of their co-construction.

Philosophy of space and time

This course explores the conceptual foundations of our three main theories of space and time: Newtonian mechanics, special relativity and general relativity, including discussion of related concepts such as dynamical symmetries. We shall also make contact to issues in the philosophy of time, such as the flow and experience of time and the block universe. The course is suitable for students both with and without background in physics or mathematics.

The Quantum World

This course explores the central conceptual issues raised by quantum theory, in particular the classic topics of (non)locality and of measurement, and introduces the main approaches to understanding the theory (hidden variables, spontaneous collapse and many-worlds). Elements of the formalism will be reviewed, including some topics that tend to fall by the wayside in standard textbooks (measurement theory, decoherence). No specific background is required, however. If time allows, some aspects of historical interest will be covered (e.g. Bohr's views), as well as some recent developments

Investigative Journalism

Not all research is done in an academic context, and conversely, not all researchers know how to disseminate their results to a broader audience. This course aims to familiarize students with methods and techniques that enable them to operate in a journalistic context while still maintaining academic standards with regard to research.
Investigative journalism distinguishes both from academic research as well as from journalism proper. Unlike regular journalists, and more analogous to academic researchers, investigative journalists spend time to thoroughly research a subject. However, their research project must meet specific preconditions that academic research does not need to. At the same time, investigative journalists have an obligation towards their readers, who are for the most part neither academics nor knowledgeable about the subject, and towards the editors of their journal. In short, investigative journalism operates in a specific field, which has very specific requirements.
In this course, students learn
(1) The differences between various forms of journalism. Each form has its own goals, investigative techniques, and discursive styles.
(2) Specific techniques that relate to investigative journalism, including research ethics in journalism, and interview techniques.
(3) Translating academic findings into journalistic products.
Students will work on their own investigative research project during this course. The end product is a finished journalistic piece that meets the criteria of a publishable article, being a highly informative, very readable as well as commercially interesting journalistic ‘long read’. Students will moreover learn to pitch their project in a brief (6 min.) presentation, to arouse interest in their project.

Students who want to do the course for 7.5 EC are expected to read and discuss extra literature and do an extra assignment.

History and Philosophy of Objectivity

What is it to be objective? Is objectivity always desirable? How can we achieve objectivity, or when should we rather avoid it? Objectivity seems to be one of the key ideals of a scientific and philosophical understanding of the world. However, it is still far from clear what exactly objectivity is, and whether it is something uniform across all domains. In this course we will investigate the notion of objectivity. We will work through Daston and Galison’s Objectivity (2007) in full, and consider selected studies on objectivity in relation to (scientific) objects, the notion of facticity, ancient epistemology, ethics and medicine, and to 19th/20th-century ideas on relativism. This way, we will build a methodologically and historically informed philosophical reflection on objectivity as an ideal within science and culture – also, we want to provide you with the conceptual and historical equipment to critically discuss Daston and Galison’s idea.

This course is for RMA students in the Graduate School of Humanities and students in the History and Philosophy of Science. Students of other MA-programmes (such as Applied Ethics), should check with the course coordinator or the RMA Philosophy coordinator (, before enrolling, to ensure that they have the requisite philosophical background.
The entrance requirements for Exchange Students will be checked by International Office and the Programme coördinator. Therefore, you do not have to contact the Programme coördinator yourself.

Core Research Seminar: Art History I

The seminar is devoted to a fundamental and recurring theme in art and the historiography of art from the Middle Ages to the modern period, with special reference to the Low Countries. The general theme of the seminar is art as knowledge. The fundamental questions include: what sort of knowledge is produced in the making of art? How do artists communicate this knowledge? what is the epistemic function of images? Which role do objects and collections play in the production and consumption of knowledge? How do artists conceptualize their knowledge-making?

The seminar deals with a diversity of objects of knowledge (from color and perspective to the anatomy of the human body), epistemic practices (from observation to classification), and fields of knowledge (geography, optics, natural history, mathematics, medicine). It brings art history in to conversation with the history of the book, the history of collecting, and the history of science. Every other year the course is also part of the Technical Art History MA programme (University of Amsterdam). The entrance requirements for Exchange Students will be checked by the International Office and the Programme coordinator. Acceptance is not self-evident.

History and philosophy of biology

De cursus is alleen toegankelijk voor studenten in het derde studiejaar.

Deze cursus is van belang voor biologiestudenten met historische en wijsgerige belangstelling en voor alle studenten die overwegen een master te doen in History and Philosophy of Science en Science Education and Communication. De cursus maakt onderdeel uit van de minor Geschiedenis en Filosofie van de Natuurwetenschappen.
De cursus begint met de historische colleges. Deze vormen een zelfstandig onderdeel en leveren tegelijkertijd het basismateriaal voor het filosofische deel. We behandelen de periode ca. 1800 - ca 2000 en concentreren ons op de ontwikkeling van de biologie tot een aparte natuurwetenschappelijke discipline. Centraal in dit proces staat de wisselwerking van twee onderzoekprogramma’s, respectievelijk gekenmerkt door een beschrijvende en een experimentele (causaal-analytische) aanpak.
Onderwerpen die aan de orde komen zijn onder andere:

  • de rol van Kants Kritik der Urteilskraft bij het ontstaan van de teleomechanische onderzoeksrichting,
  • Cuvier en de formulering van het morfologische programma,
  • Darwins evolutietheorie als een eerste poging om de functionele en de morfologische invalshoek te verenigen,
  • de tegenstelling tussen ‘experimentalists’ en ‘naturalists’ rond 1900,
  • de opkomst van de synthetische evolutietheorie en het aandeel daarin van de verschillende biologische disciplines, en
  • de theoretische en methodologische grondslagen van de moleculaire biologie.

Het wijsgerige deel van de cursus begint met een korte inleiding in de algemene wetenschapsfilosofie, toegelicht aan de hand van voorbeelden uit de geschiedenis van de biologie. Centraal staat de vraag naar de legitimiteit van de status die natuurwetenschap heeft, ook in onze maatschappij: waarom hechten we waarde aan wat 'de wetenschap' beweert?
Daarna gaan we in op de vraag naar het eigen karakter van de biologie. De manieren van theorievorming en de verklaringsprincipes in de biologie verschillen op het eerste gezicht nogal van die in de natuur- en scheikunde. Is dit een zwakte en zou biologie er naar moeten streven een ‘echte harde wetenschap’ te worden? Of heeft het te maken met het eigen karakter van het onderwerp van studie? Bijvoorbeeld met het specifieke karakter van het evolutieproces? Of met de complexiteit en organisatiegraad van het leven?

Zowel in de historische als in de wijsgerige colleges confronteren we je met verschillende visies op diverse onderwerpen. Hiermee verwerf je inzicht in en oordeelsvermogen over de werkwijze van de wetenschapshistoricus en –filosoof.

Hoor- en werkcolleges Toetsing
Tentamen historisch deel, 50%, tentamen wijsgerig deel, 50%

History of Medicine and the Biomedical Sciences

Period (from – till): 14 February 2019 - 18 April 2019
Prof. dr. F.G. Huisman, Julius Centre UMC Utrecht
Course description:
This is a nine-week course that is part of the Research Master History and Philosophy of Science, offered by the Descartes Centre for the History and Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities. In principle, it is open to all MA students of the Graduate School of the Life Sciences.
Modern biomedical science and modern medicine originated - both epistemologically and institutionally – in the period between 1850 and 1950. The epoch not only witnessed the birth of the modern hospital and the laboratory, but there was a growing awareness that the state had an important role to play in public health as well. Taken together, the hospital, the laboratory and the caring state can be considered as the symbols of modernity.

Over the course of time, the medical scientist and the clinician have become valuable citizens, who transformed our health care system profoundly. At the same time, scientific progress has come with problems and drawbacks. In order to understand modern medicine and health care, it makes sense to take a look at its historical roots.
This course is an introduction to the birth of modern medicine, looking at developments over the course of the ‘long nineteenth century’. After an introduction of five weeks, you are expected to choose a topic that particularly interests you and write a paper about it. Topics may be chosen from any period between Classical Antiquity and contemporary biomedicine.
You will find out that history is not about presenting dry facts about the past, but rather about reflecting the human condition. Medical history is thinking about the ways in which man is dealing with health and illness, with pain and death – both in the past and in the present.

Literature/study material used:
- W.F. Bynum, Science and the practice of medicine in the nineteenth century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).
- M. Jackson ed., The Oxford handbook of the history of medicine (Oxford: Oxford university press, 2011):
* R. Cooter, ‘Medicine and modernity’ (pp. 100-116)
* H.J. Cook, ‘Medicine in western Europe’ (pp. 190-207)
* M. Gorsky, ‘The political economy of health care’ (pp. 429-449)
* R. Bivins, ‘Histories of heterodoxy’ (pp. 578-597)
- Chr. Hamlin, Cholera: the biography (Oxford UP, 2009).

Week 7 (Thursday 14/2/2019)
Week 8 (21/2)
Week 9 (28/2)
Week 10 (7/3)
Week 11 (14/3)

Week 12 (21/3)
Week 13 (28/3)
Week 14 (4/4)
Week 15 (11/4)
Week 16 (18/4) – Tuinzaal, all day

Time and location
Time: on Thursdays, 13.15-17.00 (= 1.15 p.m. to 5 p.m.).
Location: Heijmans van den Bergh Building (HvdB), Uithof (to be reached by bus no. 12 or 28). Rooms differ (power point facilities are available everywhere).

The maximum number of participants is 15. Please register via Osiris Student in Period 3 (Please note that this is a small exception in regards to start dates and corresponding Period. Use starting block BMS P3 A). More information can be found here in the Study guide.

Mandatory for students in own Master’s programme:

Optional for students in other GSLS Master’s programme:
This course is an elective course for all Master’s student of the Graduate School of Life Sciences. It is open to all students enrolled in the Research Master History and Philosophy of Science.

Prerequisite knowledge:
Bachelor’s degree and admission granted to a GSLS Master’s programme or Research Master History and Philosophy of Science.

Logic and Computation

Students will learn how to answer one or more of the following research questions by means of an actor-based methodology in which each question will be addressed from multiple perspectives.+ What is a program?+ What is a computer?+ What are the practical implications of undecidability?+ What is the distinction between a stored-program computer and a universal Turing machine?+ What is the difference between a model (of computation) and a physical computer? This is a reading &writing course. Attendance is obligatory. Homework will already be handed out during the first week of class with a firm deadline in the second week. Late arrivals in class will only be tolerated once; in other cases, they can lead to a deduction of the student’s final grade. The aim of the course on proofs as programs is to get an understanding of type theory and its role within logic, linguistics, and computer science and get acquainted to the Curry-Howard correspondence, relating types to propositions and programs to proofs.

This course is for students in Artificical Intelligence, as well as students in History and Philosophy of Science and the RMA Philosophy. Students of other MA-programmes, please contact the Course Coordinator. Students History and Philosophy of Science and Artificial Intelligence experiencing problems with enrollment, please contact the Student Desk Humanities,

Philosophy of A.I.

This course will make students familiar with fundamental issues in the philosophy of AI, and will introduce them to several current discussions in the field. Students will practice their argumentation and presentation skills, both in class discussions and in writing.
The course is split up in three parts. The first part is a quick overview of the fundamental issues and core notions in philosophy of AI. It addresses topics such as the Turing Test, the Chinese Room Argument, machine intelligence, machine consciousness, weak and strong AI, and the Symbol System Hypothesis. In order to establish a shared background for all students, the material of this part will be assessed with an entrance test already in week 3.
In the second part of the course, there will be an in-depth discussion of several current topics in the field, for example on ethics and responsibility in AI, transhumanism, or the relation between AI and data science. On each topic, there will be a lecture, and a seminar with class discussions and student presentations. Students prepare for those discussions by posting a thesis with one or more supporting arguments about the required reading. In the third part of the course, students will write a philosophical paper, and will provide feedback on their fellow students' draft papers.

This course is for Students Artificial Intelligence, History and Philosophy of Science, and RMA Philosophy. Students of other MA-programmes, please contact the Course Coordinator.
The entrance requirements for Exchange Students will be checked by International Office and the Programme coördinator. Therefore, you do not have to contact the Programme coördinator yourself.

Philosophy of the Social Sciences: Dare to Doubt

The social sciences constitute of a fairly young discipline in the house of sciences (approximately one hundred fifty years old), and it is still strongly developing but also strongly fragmented. There are various sub-disciplines (such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc.) but within these, there are also numerous ‘directions’, each with its own methodology and approaches. To researchers, but also to practitioners, it is no luxurious knowledge te be aware of these various views to, approaches of and assumptions in these various fields, since such knowledge will allow you to perceive the possibilities but also limitations of one’s own field.
Social scientists must takes sides on philosophical problems, whether they like it or not, even whether they know it or not, says Alexander Rosenberg. Why? Because the problems of the philosophy of social sciences are all versions a fundamental question: how to explain behavior (or individuals, groups, societies)? And yet these fundamental issues are rarely put to question. So we dare you! We dare you to doubt some of the most fundamental assumptions in your field. Because we believe that this allows you to make better choices.
Through questions such as about free will, causality or what constitutes a society, this course, which is open to all master students (not only of social sciences, but also to Descartes master students and all other interested students at master level) offers insight into the fundamental assumptions in the most important approaches in the social sciences, and it searches the strengths and weaknesses of the various models therein. What has agency got to do with free will, how does it relate to cause and effect, what is the nature of intentions? What role do these issues play in the rational-choice model, and to what extent is it a ‘social construct’?
For their essay, students will read and analyze from an array of preselected texts two classical papers (or chapters), about free will. They will compare and contrast the approaches used in these texts, and search them for underlying ‘logics’ and assumptions. The purpose of this exercise is to come to a thorough understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of particular approaches in the social sciences, so as to form a reasoned opinion on the possibilities and limitations of the social scientific field.

Academic skills
The following skills are tested in this course

  • Comparison of social scientific perspectives, assumptions and methodologies
  • Analysis of social scientific presuppositions
  • Reflection on own (philosophical) assumptions

20th-Century German Philosophy

In the German-speaking world, the 20th century was a period of enormously diverse and fruitful philosophical activity: the phenomenological and hermeneutical tradition of Husserl, Heidegger, and Gadamer; the analytical philosophy of Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle; the Frankfurt School tradition from Horkheimer and Adorno to Habermas and Honneth; and the influential work of Hannah Arendt. Each year, this seminar will focus on one or two philosophers, focusing on particularly influential texts.

Theme of 2018:The Seminar aims to provide an overview over key texts and themes of the early Frankfurt School. Starting from Horkheimer’s programmatic essay “Traditional and Critical Theory”, it covers texts by Adorno, Löwenthal, Fromm, Pollock, Neumann and Benjamin and ends with a discussion of excerpts from Horkheimer and Adorno’s “Dialectic of Enlightenment”. The texts will be grouped along key topics such as cultural critique, social psychology, political economy, philosophy of history and critique of reason. Our guiding question will be what, if anything, is the project that united this diverse set of authors and how did their idea of Critical Theory develop between the 1930s and the late 1940s.This course is for RMA students in the Graduate School of Humanities and students in the History and Philosophy of Science. Students of other MA-programmes (such as Applied Ethics), please contact the Course Coordinator.

The entrance requirements for Exchange Students will be checked by International Office and the Programme coördinator. Therefore, you do not have to contact the Programme coördinator yourself.

Methodology IV: Law as an Academic Discipline, Science and Humanities

Law as an Academic Discipline, Science and Humanities is a reflective course developed in the ‘jurisprudence’ department of Utrecht University and deals with the study of law as an academic pursuit. Does such a thing as legal science exist and if so, what is it? How does the study of law compare with other academic disciplines? What are the respective objects and methods? These questions are the focus of this course, which will be dealt with by reading and discussing classical texts in the philosophy of science, the humanities, and, of course, law.
Place of the course within the curriculum:

  • Compulsory course in the master Legal Research

Pharmaceutical Humanities

Als apotheker heb je een belangrijke maatschappelijke functie en krijg je te maken met allerlei vraagstukken en dilemma’s omtrent het verlenen van goede zorg. Moeten extreem dure medicijnen altijd en voor iedereen beschikbaar zijn? Kunnen internetapotheken goede en verantwoorde farmaceutische zorg leveren? Hoe ga je om met een grote diversiteit aan patiënten in de apotheek? In deze cursus leer je zulke maatschappelijke vraagstukken analyseren vanuit een interdisciplinair perspectief. Hierbij zijn geschiedenis, ethiek, wetgeving, psychologie, en sociale en culturele theorieën belangrijke invalshoeken van waaruit we deze vraagstukken benaderen.
Er wordt gebruik gemaakt van een mix van werkvormen en leermiddelen, ook wel blended onderwijs genoemd. Basiskennis over de invalshoeken verwerf je thuis online via kennisclips en literatuur. Hierdoor is er tijdens de bijeenkomsten veel ruimte voor verdieping. Tijdens de (gast)colleges worden actuele casussen besproken, waarbij je de verschillende invalshoeken leert toepassen. In de werkcolleges is er veel ruimte voor interactie, discussie en inbreng vanuit de studenten. Je raakt op deze manier vertrouwd met de invalshoeken en kunt deze vervolgens zelf toepassen op situaties in de farmaceutische praktijk en in wetenschappelijk onderzoek.
Je schrijft een wetenschappelijk essay op basis van literatuuronderzoek over een actueel farmaceutisch dilemma. De bevindingen van dit onderzoek maak je toegankelijk voor een algemeen publiek door middel van een column of vlog. Daarnaast leer je om spotprenten te analyseren en deze zelf ook te maken. Hiermee analyseer je niet alleen een maatschappelijk vraagstuk, maar reflecteer je ook op jouw rol als apotheker in de maatschappij.
Deze cursus is het afgelopen jaar onder deskundige begeleiding ontworpen door vijf studenten farmacie en sluit daardoor goed aan bij de behoeftes en voorkennis van studenten. Meer informatie over dit proces vind je in de blog die zij schreven:

Science in Society

Many of the big developments in our current society are related to science and technology. We look at scientists to identify problems and propose solutions. New technologies have great impact on our daily lives, and often raise even bigger expectations about their future impact. At the same time, the position of (academic) science seems to be under pressure. The authority of scientists as public ‘experts’ is not self-evident anymore. Scientific knowledge has become a topic of public debates.
In this course we reflect on these changes and discuss the possible implications of these shifts for master students in their future professional life. We will use the models and approaches of Science and Technology Studies (STS, a.k.a. Social Studies of Science) as the foundation for these discussions. At the end of this course you will be able to formulate an informed answer to questions like: why and how do controversies around science and technology evolve? How can we define expertise and what different types of expertise can be distinguished? What is the role of experts in public debates? How are scientific concepts and theories used in public arguments by different stakeholders? What does this mean for the role of scientists and universities? How do I envision my role as a communicative professional?

Professional Skills and Identity

During this course students gain insight in the various roles that they can play in society after they graduate, and what is needed – especially in terms of communication - to fulfil such a role succesfully. Inspiring lectures will be given by professionals who share their work experience in of the domains of research, science journalism, informal science education (including museums), and science policy. Special attention will be given to the roles they have taken upon themselves, and how their experiences in and with these roles have shaped their professional identity. What dilemmas did they encounter along the way? What advice can they give to students about the skills and knowledge they need to acquire? In addition, students will discuss some of the main documents that currently shape science education, - communication, - policy, and the dynamics between science and society. They will learn to identify opportunities for using their expertise to address a current socio-scientific issue.

Special Topics

Two Special Topics courses will be offered every year, each by a different (guest) lecturer, who will use his/her own research as the starting point. The topics of each course will be announced well in advance.

Tutorial History & Philosophy of the Sciences

The lecturer and the student(s) will jointly determine a topic and reading list. They should also agree on the number of meetings and the requirements for the final examination (for example oral exam and/or paper). These details should be specified at the start of the tutorial and written up in a ´tutorial protocol´.
The lecturer and the students will meet regularly to discuss the readings and the paper (if applicable). The lecturer will provide individual guidance for reading and research.

Primary Elective courses - every two years (2019-2020)

Foundations of quantum mechanics

This course explores the central issues in the foundations of quantum mechanics, in particular the related issues of contextuality and nonlocality on the one hand, and of the measurement problem and the problem of the classical regime on the other. We shall discuss the formalism of quantum mechanics, including density operators, measurement theory and decoherence; and the main foundational approaches to the theory, namely hidden variables theories, spontaneous collapse theories, and the Everett or many-worlds theory.

Topics in Philosophy Language and Logic

This “Topics Seminar” explores in depth issues and texts in the area of the philosophy of language and and philosophy of logic.
The Status of Logical Principles
What is the status of logical principles? Can they be revised? Can't they be revised rationally? What could be a reason for revision? Could there be empirical reasons to revise logic? Could paradoxes or the phenomenon of vagueness in natural language be a reason for revision? In this course we will look at the recent debate concerning these questions.

Topics in German Idealism

This course is devoted to a key moment in the history of philosophy, the period of “German idealism” – i.e. the developments that were initiated by Kant, and by the attempts to constructively build forth upon Kant’s ideas, as developed by, among others, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. In recent years, the label “German Idealism” has fallen into discredit, and has been replaced by the more open term “Classical German philosophy” – indicating that philosophy in this period, and in particular the reactions upon Kant’s philosophy, have been much broader in content than the label “idealism” indicates.
The present course takes up the challenge that lies in this terminological development. We’ll look into the (highly polemical, and thus also very entertaining) debate about the merits (or shortcomings!) of an “idealism” in this period. Texts will include Kant’s “refutation of idealism” in his Critique of Pure Reason and the review that stimulated Kant to write this “refutation”; Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi’s announcement of a novel form of “realism”, and Fichte’s and Schelling’s projects for integrating idealist and realist elements in their philosophy. Investigating links to today’s debates about realism and anti-realism will be actively encouraged.
A reader with the relevant texts (in English translation) will be made available, together with additional materials form my current research project on realism and empiricism around 1800.

Introductory reading:
Zöller, Günter (2000). German Realism: The self-limitation of idealist thinking in Fichte, Schelling, and Schopenhauer. In Karl Ameriks (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism. Cambridge University Press. pp. 200--218.
Beiser, Frederick (2002). German Idealism. The Struggle against Subjectivism, 1781-1801 Cambridge, Mass. / London: Harvard UP.

Topics in Philosophy of Mind

This “Topics Seminar” explores in depth issues and texts in Philosophy of the mind. The topic of 2017-2018 is: 
In this course we’ll be reading John McDowell’s seminal book
Mind & World, along with some articles dealing with themes from the book. Philosopher’s have long struggled to give a satisfactory picture of the place of minds in the world.
n this important book McDowell diagnoses why this problem is so persistent for (contemporary) philosophy and points the way to a cure.

Primary Elective courses - every two years (2020-2021)

History and Philosophy of the Modern Life Sciences

This course on the historical development of modern biology (since the second half of the nineteenth century) will pay due attention to the development of evolutionary biology, from Darwin’s work to the present. Furthermore, we shall look into the history of various fields of twentieth century biological research that have, for good reasons, piqued the interest of historians and philosophers of biology in recent years. Examples of these include the history of ecology (and ideas about ‘nature’ connected to it), the nature of the Evolutionary Synthesis of the 1930s-1950s, the origins of modern theories of conservation, the ‘animal turn’ (history of human-animal relationships), the origins of molecular biology, the backgrounds of sociobiology/evolutionary psychology.
Assessment will be on the basis of participation (30%) and a paper (70%). The format includes a small number of lectures, reading reports, group discussions and presentations.

Topics in Metaphysics: The Logic and Metaphysics of Time

This “Topics Seminar” explores in depth issues and texts in the area of metaphysics, including questions of causation, space and time, realism, disposition, modality, physicalism, reduction, determinism, and the constitutive features of life. The specific topic will be different each time, so as to tailor it to current research developments in the field.

Topic for 2018-19: The Logic and Metaphysics of Time. We will approach this vexing topic with the help of Sebastian Rödl's Categories of the Temporal (Harvard University Press 2012), which offers not only original reflections on many of the central issues of contemporary debates on the metaphysics of time, but also a fresh look at the entire analytic philosophical tradition within which these debates are at home. The following blurb from the book makes this clear: "The publication of Frege’s Begriffsschrift in 1879 forever altered the landscape for many Western philosophers. Here, Sebastian Rödl traces how the Fregean influence, written all over the development and present state of analytic philosophy, led into an unholy alliance of an empiricist conception of sensibility with an inferentialist conception of thought. Rödl takes up the challenge by turning to Kant and Aristotle as ancestors of this tradition, and in doing so identifies its unacknowledged question: the relation of judgment and truth to time. Rödl finds in the thought of these two men the answer he urges us to consider: the temporal and the sensible, and the atemporal and the intelligible, are aspects of one reality and cannot be understood independently of one another. In demonstrating that an investigation into the categories of the temporal can be undertaken as a contribution to logic, Rödl seeks to transform simultaneously our philosophical understanding of both logic and time.

This course is for students in the RMA Philosophy programme; students from other M.A. programmes (such as History & Philosophy of Science or Applied Ethics), should check with the course coordinator or the RMA Philosophy coordinator (, before enrolling, to ensure that they have the requisite philosophical background.
The entrance requirements for Exchange Students will be checked by International Office and the Programme coördinator. Therefore, you do not have to contact the Programme coördinator yourself.

Topics in Early Modern Philosophy

This “Topics Seminar” explores in depth various texts related to a topic in the philosophy of the early modern period that includes such philosophers as Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume as well as their underappreciated contemporaries.

The specific topic and instructor(s) for the coming year will be announced in the spring.

Previous topic (2016-17): “Perception”

What is it to perceive something? How is taste different from touch? Can instruments such as sticks or microscopes extend our senses? Issues about perception are at the heart of many early modern philosophical debates. They structure puzzles about what we can know, how we experience, what exists, as well as moral considerations about how we relate to others. In this course we will study early modern philosophical debates about perception. In the first part of the course we will lay the foundations by focusing on the work of three scholars with radically different views about perception: René Descartes (1596–1650), Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) and Margaret Cavendish (1614–1687). In the second part, we will build on this foundation by zooming in on three special topics related to perception: perceptual pleasure, errors in perception (and associated ideas about hallucination and ‘madness’ in the period), and status of perceptual instruments such as microscopes, telescopes and other media.

This course is for students in the RMA Philosophy programme; students from other M.A. programmes (such as History & Philosophy of Science or Applied Ethics), should check with the course coordinator or the RMA Philosophy coordinator (, before enrolling, to ensure that they have the requisite philosophical background.
The entrance requirements for Exchange Students will be checked by International Office and the Programme coördinator. Therefore, you do not have to contact the Programme coördinator yourself.

Topics in Epistemology and Philosophy of Science

This “Topics Seminar” explores in depth issues and texts in the area of epistemology and philosophy of science, including issues related to explanation, reliabilism, scepticism, justification, the status of thought experiments or scientific authority. The specific topic will be different each time, so as to tailor it to current research developments in the field.

Previous topic (2016-17): “Philosophy of Probability and Statistical Inference”:
It’s well known that probabilistic and statistical methods play an important role in the natural and social sciences. It’s perhaps less well known (at least among non-specialists) that these methods are also an important part of the philosopher’s toolbox: probabilistic and statistical methods have found fruitful applications in logic, epistemology, the philosophy of science, ethics, social philosophy, the philosophy of religion, and elsewhere.

In this course, you’ll learn about the philosophical interpretations and applications of probabilistic and statistical methods. At the end of the course, you’ll be familiar with the central topics in the philosophy of probability theory and statistics to the extent that you can find your own way around the contemporary literature.

The specific topic and instructor(s) for the coming year will be announced in the spring.
This course is for students in the RMA Philosophy programme and History & Philosophy of Science; students from other M.A. programmes (such as Applied Ethics), should check with the course coordinator or the RMA Philosophy coordinator (, before enrolling, to ensure that they have the requisite philosophical background. The entrance requirements for Exchange Students will be checked by International Office and the Programme coördinator. Therefore, you do not have to contact the Programme coördinator yourself.

Topics in Moral Psychology

This “Topics Seminar” explores in depth issues and texts in the area of moral psychology, understood to include issues in philosophical psychology, action theory, philosophical anthropology, theories of the emotion, subjectivity, and motivation. The specific topic will be different each time, so as to tailor it to current research developments in the field.

Previous topic (2016-17): “Evolutionary Psychology, Institutional Design, and Ethical Behavior"
In this course we will study the complex relationship between the psychological tendencies of human beings, as they have emerged through evolution, the demands of morality and justice, and the institutional, social, or cultural contexts in which humans make ethical choices.

We will examine accounts from evolutionary sociobiology regarding the way in which various human tendencies have emerged in tandem with "niches" (including social practices, cultural traditions, and institutional structures) that facilitate behavior that may be no longer be adaptive in view of current demands on ethical behavior. Cases to be discussed will likely include in-group/out-group discrimination, procrastination, and tragedy of commons (e.g., climate change).

We will look at theorists who draw on evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience, anthropology and psychology to argue that psychological altruism, mutualism, and a capacity for normative guidance have enabled and are involved in the process of moral niche-construction. We will also discuss the biases that can undermine cooperative behavior, as well as the meta-ethical questions raised by ethical claims based on evolutionary theory.

Guiding question for the seminar discussions include the following: Under what conditions do ethically problematic biases manifest themselves? What sorts of situations, processes and mechanisms foster stable cooperation? Can we take any lessons from the way these problems have been ‘solved’, and apply them to our own institutions? Does a better understanding of the origins of our moral loyalties, provide reason to rethink them in our present day and age?

This course is for Students History and Philosophy of Science, RMA Philosophy. Students of other MA-programmes, please contact the Course Coordinator.

The entrance requirements for Exchange Students will be checked by International Office and the Programme coördinator. Therefore, you do not have to contact the Programme coördinator yourself.

Seminar History of Mathematics

Greek geometry as constructive mathematics

Ancient Greek geometry is a "maker's knowledge." Euclid never proves a single theorem about objects he has not first carefully shown how to construct by ruler and compass. A large part of higher Greek geometry is similarly devoted to producing specific geometrical objects, such as duplicating a cube, trisecting an angle, or squaring a circle. Why this obsession with making? Shouldn't geometry be about proving theorems rather than giving recipes for how to draw things using mechanical tools?
Growing interest in constructive mathematics in recent decades has shed new light on this aspect of classical geometry. Many authoritative editions and interpretations of Greek mathematics from a century ago were arguably coloured by the Platonic philosophy of mathematics of the time---"Cantor's paradise," as Hilbert called it. This point of view played down the role of constructions, relegating it to minor subsidiary functions such as existence proofs. But renewed recognition of the value of constructive and operational modes of thought in modern mathematics has revealed rich foundational parallels with the Greek style of geometry. This suggests that the Greeks may well have focussed on constructions due to a philosophically sophisticated conception of mathematical method and foundations, rather than as quasi-applied problems pursued largely for reasons of tradition, as had previously been supposed.
In this seminar we read Greek geometrical works in this tradition and, informed by modern insights, try to reconstruct their conception of mathematics and its foundations. Since the classical Greek corpus is completely void of any explicit foundational reflection, we must study their technical works with an eye to try to extract the implicit assumptions they make in terms of what constitutes worthy research goals and legitimate mathematical method and rigor.
Attention to these questions are a longstanding focus of the Utrecht school in the history of mathematics, going back to the work of Henk Bos. It remains a burning question in recent scholarship, and one on which mathematically trained students have much to contribute to historical understanding.
The topic also affords ample connections to current research in logic and philosophy of mathematics. This includes formalisations of diagrammatic reasoning, constructive mathematics, and the philosophy of mathematical practice.

In consultation with participants.
The first few meetings will be used to introduce the students to the topic and to distribute research tasks among pairs of students. In the next meetings pairs of students report on their research. Each of these meetings is a mix of presentation, excercises and discussion, prepared en presided by the reporting pair. This pair also hands out a homework excercise for the other participants and grades the returned homework. Each pair will report twice and produce a written account (essay) of their research.
Grading20% homework30% presentation50% essay
Attendance is mandatory
Entry levelGeneral mathematics at bachelor level. History of Mathematics is preferred but not strictly necessary. The seminar is suitable for Bachelor Math students in their last year as well as Master students, HPM students with sufficient mathematical background (depending on the subject, please contact in advance) and historically interested Physics students.

Evaluation matrix homework
20%presentation 30%essay 50%use and interpret assigned literature (including primary sources)xxxextract from this literature interesting contexts, interpretations and problems xxis present and is able to discuss such issues in class meetings x is able to report on the research in a written essay xcan work together with a fellow student to achieve the above xx

Master’s thesis (37.5 or 52.5 EC)

You should write a substantial thesis (eq. 7 courses), potentially publishable, based on your own original research. Languages: English or Dutch. It must be approved by the thesis supervisor (normally a member of the Descartes Centre) and a second reader chosen by the examination committee. After approval, you must hold a public colloquium about your thesis.

Examples of research topics:

  • Why read the Book of Nature when you can watch the movie? The curious past and future of natural history museums
  • Struggling for Objectivity: Theory and Empirical Research in the Early Frankfurt School
  • Cassirer’s conception of causality and determinism and the responses of contemporary physicists
  • On the Role of Energy Conservation in the Victorian Conflict Between Science and Religion
  • Reception of the General Theory of Relativity in Belgium
  • History of a Mental Hospital in the Netherlands Indies, 1923-1942
  • Cosmological Themes in Early Modern Dutch Literary Texts
  • 20th Century Nutrition Education in the Netherlands
  • The historical relation between explosive technology and terrorism
  • Grounding Artificial Intelligence through motivated learning inspired by biology
  • What is there to be realist about?