Program Philosophy of Contemporary Challenges

The program of the master track ‘Philosophy of Contemporary Challenges’ consists of 60 ECTS:

    • 7 track-specific courses of 3 ECTS (in total 21 ECTS)
    • 3 common courses of 6 ECTS (in total 18 ECTS)
    • 1 or 2 electives (in total 6 ECTS)
    • 1 master thesis (in total 15 ECTS)

    There are two semesters so you can choose to start either at the end of August or at the end of January.

    More information about the courses and the program per semester of the current academic year is available through the online Study Guide.

    Track-specific courses

    Sustainability and Environmental Ethics

    For decades now, sustainability has been the standard answer to questions how we should deal with the environmental crises. Global climate change, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, fossil fuel, water scarcity and so are all environmental crises that are playing out as we speak and that will only grow more urgent in the nearby future. What exactly are the most important environmental challenges? Will technology come to our rescue, with production processes becoming more efficient so that economic growth will no longer harm the environment? Or are we in need of a radical transformation of our capitalist system and go, for example, for degrowth? Should we all become vegetarians or even veganists? What kinds of values, attitudes or principles should guide human beings in relating to animals and to the natural world? What do we owe to future generations? This course deals with the ethical issues surrounding sustainability and the environment and goes into some of the philosophical questions related to anthropocentrism and the relationship of humans to the natural world (e.g. deep ecology and ecofeminist approaches).

    Migration, Refugees and Human Rights

    The last couple of years, the migration and refugee crises have become as urgent as ever. War, terror and socio-economic destitution have led to more and more people fleeing their homes and their home countries (such as Syria, Iraq and African countries). In this course, we consider contemporary philosophical literature on the ethics of migration. The first part of the course will acquaint students with different theories of global ethics including cosmopolitanism, nationalism, and patriotism. We will explore these theories in the context of globalization and the challenges of migration. The second part of the course focuses on arguments for open or closed borders (including appeals to freedom of movement, freedom of association, self-determination, and rights to migrate). We will also consider how theories of human rights may provide resources for an ethics of international migration. Finally, the third part of the course examines specific issues in the ethics of migration including the status of guest workers, refugees, undocumented or irregular migrants, and brain drain.

    Science and Public Policy

    What is the role science and related concepts such as expertise, truth, evidence and objectivity play and should play in a democracy? What role can science play in dealing with the challenge of so-called ‘post-truth politics’? How should science inform public policy so as to benefit society? Are there areas of science that should be prohibited? What are the evidential and ethical concerns in policy-making and in law? What is the relationship between evidence and (collective) decision-making? How should a lack of evidence affect how policy-makers decide (the status of the ‘precautionary principle’)?

    Populism and Active Citizenship

    All over the world, liberal democracies – even established ones such as the US, UK, France and the Netherlands – are confronted with a rise in populism. Are populist politicians such as Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders a threat to or a blessing for our democracies? What exactly characterizes populism and how does it relate to nationalism and movements that resist globalization? Where do anti-establishment sentiments come from and what can be done to address them? May a more active conception of citizenship be part of the solution?

    Inequality and Justice

    Socio-economic inequality is and remains a crucial challenge within countries, Europe and the world. The gap between the poor and the rich is growing, poverty remains in both developed and developing countries, there are still people working in destitute conditions without any protection in terms of social security. All this raises obvious issues with respect to distributive justice. Which socio-economic inequalities can be justified and on which basis? What is the most relevant conception of equality in this respect: equality of opportunity, of results or of resources? Which policy proposals would best tackle the many problems posed by inequality?

    Terrorism and Security

    Ever since 9/11 – and more recently since the attacks in Paris and Brussels – terrorism poses a continuous challenge for the ways in which we organize our societies and our lives. How should we respond when our security and thus also our basic liberties are under attack? Is the ‘war on terror’ justified or has it proven to threaten those very rights and liberties it is meant to protect? What is the appropriate balance between security on the one hand and privacy on the other? We will discuss core texts on the Just War tradition (Walzer), and contemporary works on terrorism (Coady, Held, Goodin, and Jaggar) including influential texts from feminist and anti-colonialist perspectives (Card, Fanon, Mamdani)

    Bioethics, Technology and the Body

    Recent technological advances have shown the potential of remedying disease and disability, but also of improving our capabilities. Human enhancement – in physical and cognitive respects – is no longer the science fiction it used to be. Should we enthusiastically endorse the prospect of becoming super-humans? Where can we draw a line between a (maybe morally suspicious) enhancement and a medical treatment? In addition, does an ethical evaluation of enhancement have any implications for an evaluation of disability and disabled persons? What can we can learn from the experience of disability to understand more about enhancement?

    General courses


    This course examines the nature of moral obligation from a variety of different perspectives. It aims to familiarize students with important concepts and problems related to moral obligation in contemporary normative ethics, metaethics and moral psychology. The course will then explore how an informed understanding of the nature of moral obligation can inform issues in applied ethics.

    Political Philosophy

    This course introduces conceptual and normative questions concerning globalisation processes. The leading conceptual question in this course concerns the relation between law and borders: should globalisation been perceived as a process in which borders are taken away – as a kind of ‘de-bordering’? From a political perspective, globalisations triggers the question as to what extent borders, and thus in- and exclusion, affect social, moral and political values such as equality, (distributive) justice, freedom and security, especially when these values take on a global meaning. These conceptual and normative questions will be analyzed by exploring contemporary examples and scenarios, including multinationals, cyberlaw, the Quebec Secession Reference, et cetera.

    Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment

    This course questions to what extent the central idea of the Enlightenment – that rationality will lead to moral, social and political progress – still plays a defining role in contemporary society. Have we abandoned this project altogether and embraced the new truth of relativism? Or can we speak of some sort of revival, with people criticizing the critics of Enlightenment? Its leading question is, ‘what is critique?’ In addition, it seeks to define the role of the (public) intellectual, esp. as intermediary between science and the public and ‘guardian’ of democracy.

    Other activities

    Some other activities and events will be organized, such as extra seminars, guest talk and documentary screenings.

    Prof. dr. Wim Dubbink

    Dr. Bart Engelen, universitair docent

    "Because issues like migration, inequality, populism, climate change and terrorism present us with huge challenges, we desperately need philosophers and ethicists to understand what is really going on and what is at stake. Is there really a refugee crisis? Can technology save our planet or does our attitude towards earth need to change radically? Are political attempts to protect us from terrorist violence not a form of violence in themselves?"

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