Neurophilosophy and Ethics


Course Objective

This course has two objectives
(1) to give an introduction into philosophical and ethical issues in
neuroscientific research; at the end of the course, the student
(a) knows four philosophical approaches to scientific explanation
(b) knows three main ethical theories and is able to demonstrate how
these theories can be applied in neuroscientific contexts
(2) to raise awareness of conceptual and ethical issues in the
translation of neuroscientific insights to professional practices and
the public; at the end of the course the student
(a) is able to analyze and critically assess the role of metaphors in
the translation of a neuroscientific findings to the clinic and/or the
(b) is able to reflect on and to discuss in a conceptually sound and
ethically appropriate way the impact of neuroscientific findings on
broader societal issues and one’s worldview.

Course Content

Part 1. Philosophy of science and methodology (6 hours)
This part of the course addresses questions like
- what is science?
- what do concepts like cause, explanation, and law mean?
- what is the difference between correlation and causation? how can one
discern different types of relation: lawlike relations, statistical
relations; covariations
- when do statistical relations say anything about reality?
- hypothesis-driven research versus bottom-up ‘data-driven’ research
- explanation of terms: inference to the best explanation, post hoc
explanation, validation (different types of validation)

Part 2. Basic concepts(6 hours)
This part of the course addresses questions like
- what is mind?(including the notion of ‘extended mind’)
- what is relation between mind and brain? (with an introduction into
the conceptual history of this relationship)
- what is embodiment?
- what is a gene (the gene as ‘fuzzy’ concept)?
- conceptualizations of complexity (system theory; neurophilosophy)

Part 3. Ethical issues (4 hours)
This part of the course gives an introduction to basic concepts and to
current approaches of ethics. Special attention to issues like
- informed consent, especially in neurological and psychiatric patients
- intertwinement between science and industry
- neurosurgery (in OCD and Parkinson’s disease)
- brain implants

Part 4. Educating the public (4 hours)
This part of the course is devoted to the position of the scientist who
is asked to inform the general public. What can be said on the basis of
neuroscience research and what not? Is it for example legitimate for a
scientist to say
- that God does not exist
- that we have no free will
- that morality is nothing but a product brain wiring
Another question would, what to say as scientist about the status of
evolutionary explanations in the public sphere.

Teaching Methods

Interactive lectures, video, discussion of the literature, workshops.

Method of Assessment

(A) Essay (60% of the final mark): The assignment ties to course
objective 2 (a) and 2 (b).
(B) Open question written exam about the obligatory literature (40% of
the final mark).
The exam ties to course objective 1 (a) and 1 (b).

Attendance to the lectures is mandatory. If more than one lecture (3
hours) is missed, students need to write a report on the literature that
was read for the lectures that were missed. These reports will be
evaluated by the teachers (fail/pass) and should not be longer than 2
pages per missed session.


Will be provided on Canvas before the beginning of the course.

Target Audience

Research master students Neurosciences.

General Information

Course Code AM_1018
Credits 3 EC
Period P3
Course Level 500
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Science
Course Coordinator prof. dr. G. Glas
Examiner prof. dr. G. Glas
Teaching Staff prof. dr. G. Glas
H.E. Hulst

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Last-minute registration is available for this course.

Teaching Methods Lecture