PhD – Position (1.0 fte, 4 years) within the NWO Open Competition Project Decoding Descartes

Decoding Descartes unravels the ideas of the founder of modern philosophy and science René Descartes (1596-1650) in response to contemporary deadlocks in philosophy, psychology and neuroscience. By re-evaluating Descartes' work as an attempt to understand the relationship between consciousness and the natural environment, the project shows Descartes is still relevant today.

Job description
Your primary responsibility will be to write a PhD dissertation on the nature and the development of Descartes’ epistemological turn by tracing the use of specific words and concepts in Descartes’ works and correspondence.

In close cooperation with project leader prof. Han van Ruler, the PhD candidate is to make full use of the digitalised data provided by the New Oxford Edition of Descartes’ correspondence that is also part of Decoding Descartes and is supervised by dr. Erik-Jan Bos, and to make an assessment of the place of Aristotelian metaphysical terms as well as new Cartesian conceptions (“simples”, “common notions”, “simple natures”, “entities”, “simple objects” etc.) in the development of Descartes’ thought.

The Research Project Decoding Descartes will combine historical, philological and philosophical research-questions related to the move away from metaphysics and into the direction of a non-metaphysical understanding of natural objects, human physiology and human mental life. Rather than to focus on a purely philological inventory of technical terms, the PhD candidate, is to develop his or her own reading of Descartes’ philosophical position on their basis; to conceptualise in his or her own terms the key elements of Descartes’ philosophical and scientific method; to identify what may count as the type of “entities” disparaged by Descartes; to determine to what extent and in what way Descartes’ philosophical innovations link up with the broader cultural phenomenon of disenchantment; and to make a link with current issues in anthropology and cognitive science.  

Secondary responsibilities include assisting dr. Erik-Jan Bos in specific tasks related to the publication and annotation of Descartes’ letters, contributing as a tutor and junior lecturer to ESPhil’s educational programme, and presenting papers at academic and popular meetings related to the project.

Job requirements
We are looking for an enthusiastic and accurate PhD candidate with a background in philosophy and/or the history of ideas, who is knowledgeable in Latin and French, has a professional command of English and a demonstrable interest in the theme. A (Research) Master’s thesis on a related subject in early modern philosophy or the history of science will serve as a recommendation.

In return, we offer a first-rate scholarly research environment in the academic setting of Erasmus School of Philosophy.

Further job requirements:

  • Excellent writing skills in English (C1 level at least)
  • Independent work ethic and accuracy
  • Scientific integrity
  • Conceptual analysis capacities
  • Presentation skills
  • Planning, organising and monitoring skills

The contract period will start on 1 January 2020 and last until 31 December 2023. In consultation with project leader prof. Han van Ruler, a specification of research, educational and administrative tasks and a plan for supervision will be drawn up at the start of the contract period.

We value diversity and believe that a diversity of talents contributes to our vision and strategy to excel as a university on research and education. ESPhil is an equal opportunities employer and encourages applications from candidates of all genders, ethnicities and nationalities. Given the current composition of the ESPhil academic staff and priorities relating to staff diversity, the School especially encourages candidates from an ethnic minority, candidates with an international background and female candidates to apply.

Terms of Employment
The appointment concerns a temporary PhD position for four years. This position comes with good employment conditions, compliant with the Collective Labour Agreement of Dutch Universities (CAO NU). The position begins with a temporary employment contract for 14 months in which the candidate’s suitability is evaluated. If the candidate is suitable, then an additional contract of 34 months follows, leading to a total appointment of 4 years. The salary is in accordance with the doctoral candidate scale of the CAO NU. For a full-time appointment, the salary is € 2,325 gross per month during the first year, which will increase annually up to € 2,972 gross per month in the fourth year. In addition, the attractive employment package includes an end-of-year bonus of 8.3%, generous leave provisions for a healthy work-life balance, a good pension scheme, excellent options for collective insurance, and a provision for the use of the Internet at home. The employee may also use a number of campus facilities, such as sports facilities and the library. For international spouses we have set up a dual career programme.

Erasmus School of Philosophy (ESPhil)
Erasmus School of Philosophy is a leading research and teaching institution of Erasmus University Rotterdam. The faculty is one of the two independent faculties of philosophy in the Netherlands. ESPhil has a broad international orientation, with many international students (total number of students is currently about 800), PhDs (about 15), and staff members (about 30), and has excellent connections with universities abroad.

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR)
The Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), named after Rotterdam-born humanist and theologian Erasmus, is a research university with a strong international orientation and a pronounced social focus, both in its education and research activities. On the lively, modern campus, more than 28.000 students and scholars of more than 100 nationalities are constantly encouraged to develop their talents and meet their ambition. Our more than 2700 scientists and employees work together with all our students to solve challenges faced by global society, drawing their inspiration from the consistently dynamic and cosmopolitan city of Rotterdam. The academic education offered at our faculties is intensive, engaging and strongly focused on practical application. We increasingly perform our research in multidisciplinary teams, which are closely interwoven with international networks. In terms of research impact and the quality of its degree programmes, EUR can compete with the foremost universities in Europe, which is reflected in its consistent top-100 position in most major universities rankings. Erasmus University Rotterdam’s key values are daring, curiosity, social involvement, breaking new ground and striving for success Information and application,

How to apply:
To apply, please send your application package, no later than November 18, 2019 by e-mail to Please mention “PhD Decoding Descartes” in the subject line.

The application package should include the following files in PDF format:

  • Motivation letter
  • CV
  • Writing sample (max 1,000 words)
  • Recommendation letter

Additional information about the vacancy can be obtained from prof. Han van Ruler, – tel.: 010-408 89 91.

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