TTEASK023U  The Ethical Brain: Philosophy and Neuroscience

Volume 2017/2018

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

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 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.


Course ECTS credits 15


                                                            Please note: First lesson will take place on 24 August.


  • 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.

Type of assessment
Written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Exam period

Winter and Summer Exam

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Total
  • 28