The Ethical Brain: Philosophy and Neuroscience
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.
The course is planned with physical attendance, but can also be accessed as live streaming of registered participants.
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
- Simon Blackburn. A Very Short Introduction to Ethics, 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2021”
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.
Full degree students enrolled in Study Programmes at UCPH departments: Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up. Remember to attach a pre-approval form your Study Board. Application deadline 1 June and 1 December.
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- 15 ECTS
- Type of assessment
- Type of assessment details
- 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)
- Class Instruction
- Exam Preparation
- Course number
- 15 ECTS
- Programme level
- Full Degree Master
BachelorBachelor choiceFull Degree Master choicePart Time Master
- Autumn And Spring
First day is Thursday, 24 August
First day is Thursday, 18 January
- Study board of Theology
- Faculty of Theology
- René Rosfort (3-7669764478697370326f7932686f)
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Courseinformation of students