The course part of the study programme consits of 60 EC and includes both compulsory courses and elective courses. Some electives are offered every year, other electives courses are only offered every other year. 

compulsory 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)

History of Humanities is a very young field: it has only existed for about eight years now. But what is it? It is not an insane attempt to tell the history of the accomplishments of people in the field of the ‘humanities’, which range from poems to paintings. We will focus not on people’s productions, but on the way these productions were studied: i.e. the theories and methodologies people used to produce poems and paintings (poetics and art theory). The HoH is the history of ‘knowledge fields’ or, anachronistically speaking, of ‘(proto-)disciplines’. Just as the History of Natural Sciences is not about the history of gravity, the baobab or smallpox, but about the changing ways in which people studied these natural phenomena, the History of the Humanities is not about the history of poetry, music or the spirit, but about the history of the study of these phenomena. Not all of these phenomena are ‘human’ productions: a poem evidently is, but do humans produce minds? Or is the mind a natural phenomenon? Is the history of the mind part of the humanities or the natural sciences, or part of a relatively late creation: the social sciences? To be sure, there is no consensus of such a tripartite classification of the sciences to begin with, not even in the ‘West’ (les sciences humaines in French is not the same as the Humanities; and the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) has recently merged the Social Sciences and Humanities into one domain: SSH). Evidently, classification and boundary-work will play an important role in this course.
We will critically engage with the attempt to establish the History of Humanities as a counterforce against the dominance of the ‘History of Natural Science’, which is so prevalent that hardly anybody outside the humanities seems to notice that History of Natural Science is not the same as ‘History of Science’, even if the two are commonly used as if they are interchangeable.

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

20th-Century German Philosophy

This course is devoted to a careful reconstruction of how some of the key figures in 20th century German philosophy used the Greek tradition to rethink their philosophical practices. The starting point is obviously Nietzsche, who, with his critique of metaphysics and the fundamental tenets of Platonism and Christianity, marks a caesure in the philosophical tradition. His attempt to find intellectual inspiration in pre-Platonic figures such as Heraclitus and Aeschylus, can be seen as a precedent to Heidegger’s critique of metaphysics and his reinterpretation of the works of Presocratics such as Heraclitus, Parmenides and Anaximander, in order to overcome what he saw as the limitations of the tradition of metaphysics as it developed from Plato and Aristotle onwards. Besides this reevaluation of pre-Platonic texts as an alternative kind of philosophy, we also find a revival of interest in Plato in the works of Karl Popper, Hannah Arendt, and Leo Strauss – the focus being, in this case, the tension between philosophy and politics. In spite of their differences, what all these thinkers have in common, is an intense engagement with the ancient Greek tradition in order to reshape the thinking of their own day. Why would 20th century thinkers feel the need for a reevaluation of the ancient Greek tradition in order to find new ways of thinking for their own time? What conception of philosophy and of the relation between history and the possibilities of philosophizing, or history and ontology, play in the background here? What makes pre-Platonic texts so particularly attractive for Nietzsche and Heidegger in this regard and what does this mean for their appreciation of Plato? How could Hannah Arendt find inspiration for dealing with the problems of ‘our’ time in a reinterpretation of Plato’s Socrates? These are some of the problems we will discuss.

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.

Art History I: Knowledge, Technologies, and Material Culture

The general theme of this 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 materials and techniques? 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 colour 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 material culture studies, 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).

Art History students are obliged to take this course for 10 EC. However, students from other Utrecht RMA programmes can take this course for 5 EC.

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 valt onder de ‘verbredende vakken’ en is relevant voor alle studiepanden. De 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 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 (Mauro Bonazzi <>), 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.

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.

History of Medicine

Period (from – till): 8 February 2022 - 12 April 2022
Locations in the schedule are yet to be determined.

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.

The full description can be downloaded here (updated 2021-2022 version will follow).

Literature/study material used:
- K. Codell Carter, The rise of causal concepts of disease (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003), vii-ix and 1-9
- Ch. Rosenberg and J. Golden eds., Framing disease. Studies in cultural history (Rutgers UP, 1992). xii-xxvi.

- D. Wootton, Bad medicine. Doctors doing harm since Hippocrates (Oxford University Press, 2006), 1-26.
- S. Shapin, ‘Possessed by idols’, London review of books, 30 november 2006. See (including Wootton’s response).

- 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 (Tuesday 9/2/2021) – Introduction to the course and discussion of the introductions to Codell Carter, The rise and Rosenberg, Framing disease (HvdB-room xxx)
Week 8 (16/2) – Discussion of Bynum, Science, ch. 1-4, Wootton, Bad medicine and the review by Shapin (HvdB-room xxx)
Week 9 (23/2) – Discussion of Bynum, Science, ch. 5-8 and Loudon (HvdB-room xxx)
Week 10 (2/3) – Discussion of four texts taken from Jackson ed., The Oxford handbook and Booth, The craft (HvdB-room xxx)
Submit preliminary research question and outline for review
Week 11 (9/3) – Discussion of Hamlin, Cholera and Rawlins, The writer’s way (HvdB-room xxx)
Submit final research question, outline and bibliography

Week 12 (16/3) – Discussion of research plans (HvdB-room xxx)
Week 13 (23/3) – Discussion of research plans (HvdB-room xxx)
Week 14 (30/3) – Discussion of research plans (HvdB-room xxx)
Week 15 (6/4) – Optional (HvdB-room xxx)
Week 16 (13/4) – Colloquium and oral presentation of paper (HvdB-room xxx)
Submit final written paper
Please post your power point presentation to the coordinator by 5 PM on 12 April 2021

During the first part of the course, students are expected to send (each week) three observations and three questions, based on the readings, by email to the others (no later than 5 pm, the day before the next session). During sessions, the pre-circulated questions and observations will be discussed.

During the second part of the course, everybody presents his or her work in progress. Every week, you are expected to email a one page outline to the others no later than 5 pm the day before the next session. During those sessions, students are taking turns in giving an oral presentation of half an hour (also including discussion).

Time and location
Time: on Tuesdays, 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).
Paper presentations: 11.00-17.00

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.

History of the Early Modern Book

This course provides a knowledge and skills base for RMA-students seeking to work with the early modern printed book in Europa. It gives a general overview of the advent, development and impact of the printing press, and introduces the students to different book historical debates, approaches and research fields. It will also show the importance of book historical research for other fields of early modern history. The course will be built around the three main fields of book historical research (production, distribution and consumption) and will explore, discuss and apply the current standards of research. It will deal, among other things, with the materiality of print, the reconstruction of print runs, the dissemination of knowledge via the printed book and the challenges of reconstructing readership. The course will also elaborate on relevant institutions (research libraries; book historical organisations), electronic tools (bibliographies; databases; search tools) and publications (journals; handbooks).

Please note:
Students from the RMA programme History and Philosophy of Science are welcome to participate in this course: please register in Osiris during the registration period in June. Students who are not admitted to either the RMA programme Ancient, Medieval and Renaissance Studies or the RMA History and Philosophy of Science are in general not permitted to take this course without approval of the course coordinator.

If you are a non-AMR student and wish to follow this course as a Research Master Elective, you can only enroll with consent of the programme coordinator Floris van den Eijnde.

The entrance requirements for Exchange Students will be checked by the International Office and the Programme coordinator. Acceptance is not self-evident.

Career orientation:
Bibliography (research libraries); Heritage; Publishing; Research

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.

Methodology III: 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

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. More information in Blackboard.

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,

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 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:

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. More information in Blackboard

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

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.

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.

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 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?

Philosophy of Space and time 1

This course explores the conceptual foundations of space and time, with particular reference to Newtonian mechanics (and a bit of 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

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

Seminar History of Mathematics

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.

Topic for 2020-2021:
Secularization sounds straightforward: it refers to a demise in the power of revelation and of religious practices more generally. Yet, the history of the term is contentious and multilayered. In recent scholarship, it has been useful for both defenders of religious tradition – who treat modernity as a peculiar ‘secularization’ and retainment of Christian ideals (e.g. Löwith, 1949; Taylor, 2007) – and for religious critics who treat a release from dogma and a turn to self-legislation as essential for progress and emancipation. While the term ‘secularization’ is a relatively recent one – a notion coined in mid-nineteenth century England – the discussions that surround it are not. Contemporary ‘secularization debates’ have a rich and diverse historical heritage, one that finds its expression particularly in the early modern period where arguments over the relation between religion and philosophy, ‘revelation’ and its counterpart ‘reason’, stood at the forefront of intellectual and societal debate.
The early modern period (roughly the period from 1500 to 1700) is often referred to as the most talked-about era in the history of science. The age of the ‘Scientific Revolution’ heralded a new way of thinking about the natural world, about new foundations that continue to inform modern scientific knowledge and methods (Principe, 2011). The early modern period, however, was an era of both continuity and change.

This course examines the so-called ‘theological-political problem’ in early modern philosophy: the confrontation between reason and revelation and the various epistemological, ethical and political ramifications it entails. It examines how quintessential ‘modern’ innovatores like Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Pascal, Locke, Leibniz, Hume, and Voltaire – as well as some of their lesser known contemporaries (e.g. Boyle, Arnauld, Wollstonecraft, and the Dutchmen Balling, Van Velthuysen, and Mandeville) all struggled with the question of how to vindicate God and Religion within the framework of a ‘new’ natural world.
Central topics include: the role of ‘God’ within mechanical philosophy; the debated nature of Scripture, prophecy, and prophets; the relation between theology and philosophy; the societal (ab)uses of religion; the question of toleration within pluralist societies; religion and the nature of political power.
Note: an important assumption of this course is that despite enormous technological and sociological changes, there are enduring ‘theologico-political’ problems; this assumption means that we will read and discuss historical texts from the early modern period not just to understand where we are coming from, but also as a guide to reflection on recurrent philosophical challenges. In order to facilitate this process, we will also read some important, nonetheless controversial, contemporary thinkers such as Leo Strauss and Carl Schmitt who both wrote extensively on the subject.

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

Topic of 2020-2021:

Social epistemology is a relatively recent subdiscipline that investigates the epistemic effects of social interactions and social systems. For most of this course we will understand this as complementary and not opposed to more traditional, "individual" epistemology. Social epistemology is a very active field of research that has produced a lot of exciting publications in recent years. Part of its appeal is due to its immediate applicability to pressing societal issues like, for instance, the phenomenon of filter bubbles and echo chambers, the problem of "fake news", or the (apparent) rise of conspiracy theories in political discourse.
In this course we will first examine different ways to characterize social epistemology itself. As the course progresses, we will focus on some of the central topics in social epistemology: testimony, peer disagreement, the problem of identifying experts, epistemic injustice, group justification, and the epistemology of collective agents.
The central reading will be Alvin Goldman and Dennis Whitcomb's anthology "Social Epistemology", but we will also discuss recent publications by authors such as Miranda Fricker, Sanford Goldberg, Jennifer Lackey, or Thi Nguyen."     
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 German Idealism

This course is devoted to a key moment in the history of philosophy, the period of “German idealism” –

The topic for 21-22 is: Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment

This year’s topics course will be devoted to studying and discussing Kant’s third critique, the „Critique of the Power of Judgment“ from 1790. This text is a key document in the development of what became „German Idealism“ or „Classical German Philosophy“: It poses the question as to how the different parts of Kant’s philosophy can be integrated into a ‚system‘; it extends the scope of human faculties that Kant discusses; it adds an entire list of key topics into the discourse on Kant: Beauty, art, the sublime, organism, teleology, nature as ordered under a system of empirical laws; and it extends our understanding of the methods that are required in philosophy (in particular by emphasizing the „as-if“-character of judgements on beauty and on teleological structures).

Key topics to be discussed in this course include:

  • Important topics: Art, beauty, sublime, organism, teleology
  • Methodological innovations („As-if“-judgments)
  • Implications for our understanding of „German idealism“: The notion of „system“, concreteness and abstraction in fundamental judgments, a novel understanding of (organic) nature
  • Particular emphasis will be placed on the unity of the complex text: how do considerations on beauty, on organism, on the systematic character of empirical science, relate to each other? This question, in particular, will also be of relevance for students from HPS
  • Issues in the reception of the Critique of the Power of Judgment: Schelling and Hegel on the systematicity of science and philosophy; the emergence of the discipline of ‚biology‘; Kant’s influence on the aesthetics of romanticism; ...

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.

The Topic of 20-21: Moral Responsibility and Self-Knowledge

Moral psychology is the study, first, of how moral choices are made and moral conduct performed, and secondly, of the conditions of human beings that make them responsible moral agents. One such condition pertains to having self-knowledge. In class, we will start with an introduction of the field of moral psychology and its different approaches, e.g., empirical and non-empirical approaches. Next, we will discuss the relation between self-knowledge and responsibility by using specific topics and examples. For instance:

1. Should the agent see her own action in light of what makes it morally praiseworthy in order for it to be praiseworthy? The widely discussed case of Huckleberry Finn will serve as a framework to approach this question.
2. Is an agent responsible for actions influenced by automatic responses or by things of which she was unaware? The framework used to approach this question is implicit bias.
3. If self-knowledge is a condition of moral responsibility, do we have a duty to seek self-knowledge, e.g., by reflection, literature or using self-help-technology?

Literature used will range from ancient philosopher Aristotle to contemporary philosopher Nomy Arpaly , and from anti-psychologistic philosopher G.E.M. Anscombe to the psychologist Timothy Wilson.

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.

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 2020-21: 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 back of 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 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.

Topic of 2021-22: Impossibilities: what they are, what they mean, what we know about them, and what we could possibly believe

We understand what a round figure is and also what a square is. Do we understand what a round square is? What properties can be truly predicated of a round square: none, all, some? Can we entertain beliefs and conceptualize entities that exceed what is logically possible? If some impossibility had been true then what else would be, or would have been, true? How many different kinds of impossibility are there, anyway? How do we distinguish between any two impossibilities of the same kind? Are there impossibilities, whether they be impossible truths or impossible objects? If so, where? Time allowing, we might also look into whether fictional characters are impossible entities of a particular kind.

The focus of this Seminar will be on the specifically philosophical issues pertaining to the epistemology, semantics, and metaphysics of various impossibilities. The course presupposes acquaintance with elementary logic (first-order predicate logic). Any formal notions beyond that will be explained as part of the course. We will use several chapters from the highly readable monograph Impossible Worlds (Francesco Berto and Mark Jago, OUP 2019, Open Access) for background, and for the rest we will be reading a selection of very recent articles.

Topics in Philosophy of Mind

This “Topics Seminar” explores in depth issues and texts in Philosophy of the mind.

Topic of 21-22 is Introspection as a Source of Knowledge

Ever since Descartes turned his mind’s eye inwards to secure an indubitable foundation for knowledge, philosophers have wrestled with the problem of the reliability of acquiring knowledge via introspection. Descartes was optimistic in this regard and claimed that on the basis of introspection he could claim that the nature of the self was to be a res cogitans. Gassendi in his objection to the Metaphysical Meditations stated that knowing that one thinks is not enough to establish what one is. Gassendi’s objection forces upon us a distinction between 1) knowing our particular thoughts and 2) knowing what kind of thing one’s self is. Hume was optimistic about the first kind of selfknowledge and sceptical about the second. His famous ‘elusiveness of the self’ thesis is: “For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I can never catch myself at any time without a perception, and can never observe anything but the perception. When my perceptions are remov’d for any time, as by sound sleep; so long am I insensible of myself, and may truly be said not to exist.” Kant went on to state that the nature of the self as it is in itself is unknowable.
In this course we will study the classical origins of the question whether introspection can be a reliable source of knowledge, not just about the self, but also about the deliverances of inner awareness. In doing so, we will rely, of course, on modern commentators like Andrew Brook and Beatrice Longuesse. We then proceed by reading responses to Descartes and Kant in both the continental and analytical tradition. We will read Heidegger’s curiously neglected response to Hume in Being and Time, and Merleau-Ponty’s defence of embodied subjectivity. If time permits, we will read parts of Walter Schulz, Ich und Welt.
In the analytical tradition the modern debate about these issues have probably started with Wittgenstein’s notorious private language argument. This will lead us to discussing the reception of Wittgenstein in the writings of McDowell and Crispin Wright. Shoemaker’s attack on the perceptual model of introspection will be studied and his famous claim that first person thoughts are immune to error through mis-identification. This brings us to more recent accounts of introspection, in particular the work of Evans on self-identification, Peacocke on the role of consciousness, and Michael Martin on the limits of self-awareness.
This is very much a research seminar, so suggestions of participants for articles to read are more than welcome.

Foundations of Quantum Mechanics

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