The Ethical Brain: Philosophy and Neuroscience

Course content

The past three decades have seen an explosive surge in neuroscientific explanations of human nature, promising clear-cut biological answers to commonplace philosophical questions concerning rationality, emotion, behavior, values, and ethics. This course sets out to examine to what extent such a promise is warranted – in particular concerning existential questions such as anxiety, responsibility, and religious faith.

Learning outcome

Learning outcome

By the end of this course you will be able to understand and evaluate critically the growing presence of neuroscience in discussions about human nature and ethics – in public media, in policy making, and in academic research. Besides getting a solid understanding of the historical development of the ‘neuroscientific image of human nature’, you 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 should enable you 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, discussion, and group work 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 and the group work 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. 

 

Course ECTS credits 15

 

Please note: First lesson will take place on 23. August.

 

Textbooks

 

  • Kathleen Taylor. The Brain Supremacy: Notes from the Frontiers of Neuroscience. Oxford:

    Oxford University Press 2012.  

  • John Deigh. An Introduction to Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2010.

 

Articles and Chapters

 

  • Mark F. Bear, Barry W. Connors, and Michael A. Paradiso. Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 2006, Ch. 1: 4-22.
  • M.R. Bennett & P.M.S. Hacker: Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing 2003, Ch. 1 & 14: 11-42, 378-409.
  • Kai Vogeley & Shaun Gallagher, “Self in the Brain”. In S. Gallagher (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the Self, pp. 111-136. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2011.
  • Antonio Damasio. The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Culture. New York: Random House, Ch. 3.
  • Lisa Feldman Barrett. How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain. London: Macmillan, ch. 2-3: 25-55.
  • Richard Kraut. “Aristotle's Ethics”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .
  • Rachel Cohon. “Hume's Moral Philosophy”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .
  • Robert Johnson and Adam Cureton. “Kant's Moral Philosophy”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .
  • David Brink. “Mill's Moral and Political Philosophy”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .
  • Adina Roskies “Neuroethics”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .  
  • Kenneth S. Kendler. “The Nature of Psychiatric Disorders”. World Psychiatry 15 (2016): 5-12.
  • R. Viera da Cunha and J.B. Relvas.“”Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Neuroscience?” Neuroscience’s Impact on Our Notions of Self and Free Will”. In  J. Leefmann and E. Hildt (Eds.). The Human Sciences after the Decade of the Brain, pp. 24-41. New York: Academic Press 2017.
ECTS
15 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Undergraduate requirements (bachelor students):

Requirement to pass the course for undergraduate students (bachelor students): Active attendance (at least attendance in 75% of the class-sessions, documented by protocol). The syllabus volume and content are determined by the teacher, and three to five assignments are handed in to the teacher on each 9,600-12,000 characters, ie. 4-5 pages, as well as a final major assignment, which has s size of 19,200-24,000 characters, ie. 8-10 pages, and based on 400-500 pages literature in agreement with the teacher. The assignments are assessed by the teacher and the final assessment is given after the 7-point grading scale.

Graduate requirements (kandidat/master students):

Requirement to pass the course for graduate students (kandidat/master students): Active attendance (at least attendance in 75% of the class-sessions, documented by protocol). The syllabus volume and content are determined by the teacher, and three to five assignments are drawn on each 9,600-12,000 characters, ie. 4-5 pages, as well as a final major assignment, which has a size of 26,400-36,000 characters, ie. 11-15 pages, and is based on 800-1000 pages of literature in agreement with the teacher. The assignments are assessed by the teacher and the final assessment is given after the 7-point grading scale.
Marking scale
7-point grading scale

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Course Preparation
  • 122
  • Exam Preparation
  • 150
  • Exam
  • 120
  • English
  • 420