The Ethical Brain: Philosophy and Neuroscience

Course content

The past two decades have seen an explosive surge in neuroscientific explanations of human nature, promising clear-cut biological answers to commonplace philosophical questions concerning rationality, emotion, behaviour, values, and ethics. This course sets out to examine to what extent such a promise is warranted – in particular concerning existential questions about emotions, sense of self, responsibility, and mental illness. Besides getting a solid understanding of the historical development of the ‘neuroscientific image of human nature’, the student will learn about paradigmatic ethical theories; the complex relation between science, philosophy, and religion; and fundamental theoretical issues concerning the contemporary endeavour to naturalize human nature, and ethics in particular.

 

Learning outcome

By the end of this course the student will be able to understand and evaluate critically the growing presence of neuroscience in discussions about human nature and ethics. Besides getting a solid understanding of the historical development of the ‘neuroscientific image of human nature’, the student will learn about paradigmatic ethical theories; the complex relation between science, philosophy, and religion; and fundamental theoretical issues concerning the contemporary endeavor to naturalize human nature, and ethics in particular. This will enable the student to participate in discussions about the virtues and limits of neuroscience, to discern between valid scientific claims and less tenable scientific claims, and to distinguish sound critique of scientism from mere science bashing.   

 

Teaching and learning methods

The sessions are structured as a combination of lecture and discussion with a focus on engaging the student. Each session is framed by a systematic PowerPoint presentation of the themes and readings in question. The presentation will encourage and guide the discussion in the class. The student can expect a lively and systematically oriented teacher who will attempt to make the issues both interesting and relevant to a contemporary setting while maintaining a substantial theoretical level and the necessary historical perspective.

 

Exam

Three short written assignments of 4-5 pages (after sessions 3, 6, and 8), and one longer, final paper of 10-12 pages.

 

Suggested preliminary literature

1) Patricia S. Churchland. Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells us about Morality.

Princeton: Princeton University Press 2011.

2) Kathleen Taylor. The Brain Supremacy: Notes from the Frontiers of Neuroscience.

Oxford: Oxford University Press 2012.  

3) J. Jacobs. Dimensions of Moral Theory: An Introduction to Metaethics and Moral Psychology.

Oxford: Blackwell Publishing 2012.

 

ECTS
15 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28