Philosophy: Philosophy of Neuroscience

Touching a nerve

Philosophy of Neuroscience

Programme of
Philosophy (2 years)
TitlePhilosophy of Neuroscience 

Are you interested in the conceptual basis and the social, legal and ethical implications of neuroscience research? In this programme you will study the conceptual foundations and the broader implications of neuroscientific research from different philosophical perspectives.

The main focus of this programme is:

  1. to train you to become conceptually sensitive in the translation of neuroscientific research findings to different fields of application (clinical, educational, public health);
  2. to give you an idea of what it is to be ‘a good scientist’.
The two-year programme consists of:

•    general philosophy (introductory courses and reading), 30 EC
•    philosophy of neuroscience, 7 courses, 42 EC
•    neuroscience, courses and internships, 30 EC
•    thesis, 18 EC

Philosophy of Neuroscience

Neuroscience belongs to the sciences that in the future will have a large impact on virtually all aspects of our functioning as humans. Neuroscience has already changed the view we have on ourselves. This program offers an answer to a need for responsible scientists, scientists who are sensitive to the conceptual issues in their own specific subdomain and who are, on the other hand, able to reflect and communicate about the broader implications of their field, clinical as well as societal. We aim at philosophy in neuroscience instead of philosophy about neuroscience. 

The programme of PNS is open for Master and Research-Master students in Neuroscience.

Philosophy of Neuroscience 
The curriculum for the track Philosophy of Neuroscience in the Master’s programme Philosophy of the department of Philosophy includes 30 ec in Philosophy, 36 ec in Neuroscience, 42 ec in Philosophy of Neuroscience, and 12 ec for the individual Master’s thesis, at the total of 120 ec. 
The programme is open for Master and Research-Master students in Neuroscience. 

For information please contact Professor Gerrit Glas at:  

Master courses in Philosophy 
The Master courses in Philosophy include five courses of 6 ec on themes in the History of  Philosophy, Theoretical Philosophy, and Practical Philosophy. The themes and contents of the courses are specified on the website. 

Master courses in Neuroscience 
To be specified by the Department of Neuroscience. For information please contact dr Leontien Diergaarde at: 

Master courses in Philosophy of Neuroscience 
The Master courses in Philosophy of Neuroscience include seven courses of 6 ec (number of weeks between brackets) 

1. Key concepts from a philosophical perspective 

  • The brain (system, network, machine) (1) 
  • Genes (neurogenomics) (1) 
  • Learning and memory (1) 
  • Sensation, perception and consciousness (1) 
  • Rationality (confabulation) (1) 
  • Freedom and responsibility (1) 
Summary: this course gives an introduction into key-concepts in neuroscience (molecular, cognitive, clinical as well as applied neuroscience) from a philosophical perspective. The aim is to give the student an impression of the philosophical issues that are implied in the conceptualization of key topics in neuroscience. We will mainly work from the inside out, i.e, by starting within neuroscience itself, by analyzing relevant texts (in text books or review articles), talks, and images/schemes; and by elucidating philosophical questions that are related to the key-concepts that will be identified.

2. Philosophical approaches to explanation, reduction, and methodology 

  • Classical approaches to reduction and explanation 
  • Hempel, Popper, Lakatos (1) 
  • Intertheoretic reduction (Churchland) (1) 
  • Evolutionary explanations and the concept of function (1) 
  • Neomechanistic models (Woodward, Bechtel, Craver) (2) 
  • What is translational neuroscience? (1)

3. Philosophy of mind and brain

  • Reductive and non-reductive physicalism (1)  
  • Qualia, intentionality and meaning (1) 
  • Emergentism (1) 
  • Computationalism (1)
  • Quantumphysics and the brain (1)
  • Evolutionary paradigms (1) 

Summary: this course focuses on ontological frameworks that might be implied in the interpretation and presentation of neuroscientific findings. We will discuss some of the major ontological positions in debates on neuroscience and what these positions imply for our view on ‘higher order’ mental phenomena. Of course, the age-old mind-brain problem revives in these debates. We will discuss attempts to evade the classical divide between strong (reductive) forms of physicalism and (Cartesian or other variants of) dualism. Such attempts are, for instance, proposed by of dynamical systems theorists, quantum physicists and evolutionary biologists. 

4. Research Ethics (course by Lex Bouter, information from current website PBH) 

  • Dutch and European regulations, policies, and guidelines regarding scientific integrity 
  • Methodological, legal, and moral issues regarding medical research involving humans 
  • Ethical issues concerning scientific research in general 
  • Issues and problems regarding patient autonomy, and informed consent 
  • Assessment of research protocols, in particular the assessment of risk-benefit ratios, subsidiarity and medical progress 
  • Sound and valid reasoning on ethical issues regarding medical scientific research 
  • Developing the ability to construct (ethical) arguments in group discussion and moral deliberation on ethical issues

Summary: This course gives an overview of the regulation, policies and guidelines regarding scientific research in different contexts (laboratory, clinical, epidemiological). It will discuss the relevant juridical and ethical frameworks underlying and guiding these policies and guidelines. It will delineate why and how ‘integrity’ has become such important topic in the scientific community and what is implied with this concept. The course will also be given to students of the Philosophy, Bioethics, and Health master programme. 

5. Neurophilosophy, phenomenology and subjectivity

  • Neurophenomenology (1) 
  • Neurophilosophy of subjectivity and perception (1)  
  • Enactivist approach to subjectivity (1) 
  • Existential feelings (1) 
  • The dialogical brain (1) 
  • The challenge of integrating subjectivity in neuroscientific research paradigms (1) 

Summary: this series of lectures pays attention to a more specific and intriguing problem in philosophy of neuroscience, i.e., the question of how to account in neuroscientific terms for the ‘subjectivity’ of our mental states. Subjectivity refers in this context to how it is like for me (and not for someone else) to perceive, feel, imagine, or think about something. My pain is my pain and not the pain of someone else, and someone else can only imagine how it is for me to have pain, because I am the only one who really owns the pain. This issue has famously become known as the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness. The hard problem is based on the thesis, that the subjective quality of mental states cannot be reduced to or explained by ‘objective’ neuroscientific facts or mechanisms. We will discuss attempts to overcome this problem. Enactivist, dialogical and existential approaches to subjectivity try to overcome the classical divide between first-person (subjective) and third-person (objective) approaches to mental functioning. They will also be discussed. 

6. Neurophilosophy and psychiatry 

  • Diagnosis and classification (1) 
  • The concept of disorder (1) 
  • Philosophical approaches to psychopathology (4)
  • Schizophrenia and autism
  • Anxiety and mood disorders
  • Addiction
  • Personality disorders

Summary: Psychiatry is sometimes depicted as an applied form of brain science. The course gives an introduction to the merits and pitfalls of this view. Attention will be paid to neuroscientific approaches to the concept of disorder and their implications for diagnosis and classification (DSM, RDoC). The neuroscientific perspective will be compared with other perspectives. All these perspectives will be situated in the broader context of a philosophy of psychopathology. During the course it will be pointed out how epistemic discussions about diagnosis and classification intersect with the ontologies behind the concepts of disorder. This will be done in four important areas of psychopathology: psychosis, anxiety and disorder, addiction and personality disorder.

7. Neuroethics and society

  • Neuroethics introduction: impact of neuroscience on moral philosophy (1) 
  • Neurolaw: impact on the law and on legal practices (1) 
  • Revision of law and legal practices (e.g., adolescent brain development)
  • Assessment of people (e.g., brain-based mind-reading/lie-detection)
  • Intervention (e.g., deep brain stimulation and the law)
  • Enhancement (enhancing brain/mind capacities using neuro-technology) (1)
  • Neuroscience and the public image (possibly related to Brein in Beeld) (1) 
  • Big data and the brain; health surveillance 
  • The future (neuro)society – where are we heading to? Opportunities, challenges, risks; neurodiversity (1) 

Summary: Neuroethics is the field in which the moral, jural, societal and philosophical implications of brain research are investigated. Neuroscience has an impact on how we think about ourselves (freedom, rationality, autonomy). It affects practices like law and psychiatry. It confronts us with moral concerns about certain applications: enhancement of normal functioning, mind-reading and lie-detection, military applications, far-reaching forms of health surveillance. On the other hand, neuroscience is also used to claim dignity, equal treatment and certain other rights for people who are ‘diverse’ in one or another way (mild autism, ADHD, instable mood, for instance). Neuroscience affects our view on human nature, in other words, this course investigates the intricate ramifications in the interaction between neuroscience, society, and our view on human nature.  

Philosophy: Philosophy of Neuroscience courses in study guide. 

The directors of this programme (Gerrit Glas, philosopher, and Jeroen Geurts, neuroscientist) are convinced that this master programme will make you a better neuroscientist and scholar. For those who don’t aim at a scientific career this master program gives the necessary background, both philosophical and empirical, to address implications of neuroscientific research in the widest possible sense, as advisor, policy maker, writer or scientist in other domains of science.  


This programme is unique in that that it offers a full master programme philosophy of neuroscience that is completely embedded in an already existing and well developed research master programme neuroscience at VUmc. It is the only programme in the Netherlands and, as a matter of fact, one of the very few in the world.

Dutch students

Specific admission requirements for the two-year Master’s programme in Philosophy, specialization in Neuroscience:

All lectures and student presentations are in English, all written assignments as well. Therefore all prospective students must be proficient in English. The VU Amsterdam courses Academic English: Grammar and Academic English: Writing (or similar courses at another university) are strongly recommended in your Bachelor's programme.

Dutch students and international candidates with a Dutch degree can apply via Studielink before the June 1st for the master programme Philosophy of Neuroscience under the label Filosofie 2 jaar/Philosophy 2 years.

After you have applied for the master in Studielink, you will receive two emails with your login details for VUnet (VU studentportal). Please complete your application in VUnet. Don’t forget to fill in your specialization on VUnet : Philosophy of Neuroscience.

During this step you will be asked to upload the following documents:

  • Transcript of records (scan from original)
  • Course descriptions (i.e. for courses related to the discipline of the Master, and for courses on general academic skills)
  • List of literature (the most important literature used for the courses)
  • CV

Please prepare these documents before you're going to complete your application in VUnet!

Your application will be reviewed by the Admission Board of Faculty of Humanities. You will be informed whether you have been admitted via Studielink.

See here for more information on admission requirements and procedures.

For more information on the requirements
Send an e-mail to Leontien Diergaarde:

For more information on courses and study programme
Please contact prof.dr. Gerrit Glas:

Information days
Meet us at the next Master's Event!

Download the brochure

International students

Admission is based on a strict selection procedure. The Faculty’s Admission Board will decide upon your admission after having evaluated your complete online application.

In order to gain admission to one of our Master’s programmes, you will need to have at least a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited research university including at least three full years of academic study amounting to a minimum of 180 ECTS or equivalent.

Specific admission requirements for the two-year Master’s programme in Philosophy, specialization in Neuroscience:

You must always present official test results proving your proficiency in English. Only students who have completed a full high school/International Baccalaureate in English or bachelor’s degree in Canada, USA, UK, Ireland, New Zealand, or Australia may be exempted. You can already apply online without having the test results. In case you haven’t taken a test yet we advise you to plan a test date as soon as possible. Below you will find the minimum English test scores for the English taught programmes at the Faculty of Humanities:

  • TOEFL score (score 600 paper based with a minimum of 55 in each of the subtests plus 4.0 in TWE, score 250 computer based or score 100 internet based with a minimum of 20-23 in each of the subtests).
  • IELTS score of 7.0 overall band score (with none of the separate section scores dropping below a minimum score of 6.5).
  • Cambridge English: Cambridge Proficiency Exam A, B, C, or Cambridge Advanced Exam A, B, C.

Please refer to the language requirement page for the general requirements.

If you have read the admission criteria and feel you are eligible for admission, please take the following steps to submit your application. Note that the initial application procedure is fully online and that scans of your relevant documents are required. 

Step 1: Meet admission criteria

Step 2: Prepare documents and apply online
Please prepare the following documents. All documents should be provided in English.

  • Copy of your valid passport or ID (ID only for EU residents)
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Transcript of records
  • A description of the relevant courses you have taken during your previous higher education
  • A list of all the main literature used during your previous higher education

After having prepared the required documents, please follow the online application procedure. After you have completed the application, our international student advisors will contact you via email.

Step 3: Await decision on admission
The admission board will review your application as soon as it is complete. Normally this takes about four weeks, but it might take longer in busy periods so be sure to apply as soon as possible. If you gain admission, you will receive a letter of conditional admission by email. You can start planning your move to Amsterdam!

Step 4: Finalize your registration and move to Amsterdam!
Make sure to finalize your registration as a student before the start of the programme. Here you will find an explanation what to do after admission. When all conditions are met you will be ready to start your programme at VU Amsterdam!

Further information:
Tuition fees

For more information on the requirements
Send an e-mail to Leontien Diergaarde:

For more information on courses and study programme
Please contact prof.dr. Gerrit Glas:

For questions about the application procedure
Please contact our International Student Advisor at the International Office:

Irena Paap
T: +31 (20) 59 85252

Information days
Meet us at the next Master's Event!

Download brochure

Overview Philosophy: Philosophy of Neuroscience




2 years



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1 September




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