Minor First things: the power of philosophy


Broadening minor
Programme which has the coordinating role for this minor: Faculty of Philosophy
Other programmes which are contributing to the minor:not applicable

No conditions. See admissions matrix

So you think you can think? First things will show you how to upgrade your thinking and make it into an art, or a craft. And it will make you understand the world, your field of study, and yourself better. 


Philosophy has the power to light up the way you think and live. This course gives you a taste of the fascinating ways in which doing philosophy can change your view on science, society, history, and culture – and on all the rest of your life. Socrates already said: ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’. As philosophy is about argument and the confrontation of perspectives, the four modules in this course represent four different perspectives in philosophy, offering four challenging introductions to core philosophical topics. We move from early thinkers on toleration through pressing societal dilemmas and ‘eco-philosophical’ concerns to the characteristic philosophical craft of the thought experiment.

The first perspective is historical; it surveys the invention of rational thought and the power of reason as produced by Early Enlightenment, in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. Second, we investigate contemporary social, moral, and political challenges and dilemma’s like: are we all sexists and racists deep down? Is human enhancement allowed or even required? Does free will exist? Are we up to the challenge emancipation poses us? Third, we offer an overview of the key concepts of philosophical anthropology and of several approaches to the study of human nature and their philosophical implications. Finally, the power of thought itself is illuminated by delving into the philosophical counterpart to scientific investigation: the thought experiment.

Learning objectives

  • Elementary acquaintance with the history of philosophy during the early Enlightenment.
  • Understanding how Enlightenment philosophy relates to contemporary philosophical and social issues.
  • Introduction to basic concepts and problems in social and political philosophy, and the ability to relate these to contemporary social problems
  • Ability to critically analyze and reflect on societal issues and identify philosophical arguments and positions with respect to them. 
  • The ability to critically approach the main presuppositions and - alleged - limitations of positions in the debate on the nature of human life and how it is understood
  • Being able to distinguish, recognize and compare the different kinds of thought experiments.
  • Being able to reflect critically on the respective assumptions, powers and limits of the different kinds of thought experiments.
  • Developing the academic skills to use one’s own imagination and creativity for scientific and philosophical purposes.
  • Acquaintance with the main subjects, concepts, and approaches in the domain of philosophical anthropology, as well as the skill to apply these in relevant contexts.

Specific Characteristics

Not applicable


Maximum number of students that can participate in the minor:  50
Minimum number of students that can participate in the minor:   5

Contact hours: 8 hours of lectures during 8 weeks 

Overview modules

Module 1:  Early Enlightenment: against bias, for toleration

  • Code: FW-WB3915A
  • ECTS:  3,75
  • Content:
    In Northern Europe, the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries saw the first proliferation of the Enlightenment – a cultural movement characterized by its pleas in favor of toleration, its opposition to prejudices, its fascination with the results achieved by the Scientific Revolution as well as by its proposals for societal reforms. Philosophers played a crucial role in articulating its program. In this course we start close at home, for it was Pierre Bayle, ‘le philosophe de Rotterdam’, whose attacks on religious prejudices and whose demands for toleration would serve later generations of enlightened authors as a major source of inspiration. Next, we will turn to France, and to Montesquieu and Voltaire in particular. In France a new cultural phenomenon emerges: the philosophe, witty, sociable, and fiercely critical of received tradition. Many French authors start reading British philosophers, and in this course we will deal with both Berkeley and Hume, and we will wrap up this overview of the early stages of the Enlightenment with a discussion of the Scottish Enlightenment, including Adam Smith. 
  • Teaching method: lectures with interactive elements
  • Teaching materials:  t.b.a.
  • Contact hours: 4 hours per week during weeks 1-4

Module 2:  Essential contemporary challenges: philosophy and practice

  • Code: FW-WB3915B
  • ECTS:  3,75
  • Content: This perspective from practical philosophy - the kind that reflects on how we act, why we act, and how we perceive ourselves as actors - presents four key contemporary discussions in practical philosophy about pressing social, political and cultural issues, or ‘challenges. 
    We will explore their implications on both the individual and on the collective level. The four challenges are: 1) Enlightenment as emancipation: a blessing or a burden? The pressures of modern living. 2) democracy: do we need more, or less? Can democracy deliver on its promises – and can the citizens keep up? 3) biopolitics: is government turning biotechnological? Will government again become ‘racist’? And finally 4) transparency: how do we deal with Big Data, algorithmic decision-making, and more generally the ‘black box society’? How to think about nudging? Is more transparency the answer? We will try to derive answers from the work of contemporary philosophers such as Zizek, Rancière, Foucault.
  • Teaching method: lectures with interactive elements
  • Teaching materials:  t.b.a.
  • Contact hours: 4 hours per week during weeks 1-4

Module 3: The Quest for man: basics of philosophical anthropology

  • Code: FW-FMC1004A 
  • ECTS:  3,75
  • Content: A systematic overview of the main subjects  and concepts of Philosophical Anthropology (such as the place of man in the Cosmos, the relationship between body and mind, consciousness, action, freedom of will, (inter)subjectivity, reflexivity and language), and its relationship to other philosophical disciplines, such as ethics and social philosophy, and the empirical sciences and humanities, which deal with human beings, such as biological anthropology, neuroscience, psychology, sociology, history, and cultural anthropology.
    In addition, we will distinguish the mechanistic, organismic, and hermeneutic conception of man and, inspired by Kant’s and Dilthey’s transcendental philosophy, we will analyze the third-person, second-person, and first person ontological perspectives connected to these conceptions. Against the background of the ‘Historization of the World View’, both in its naturalistic (Darwin) and hermeneutic (Dilthey) form, we will discuss Plessner’s philosophical anthropology as a viable attempt to connect the two. Finally, against this background, will reflect on the possible futures of the human life form in the light of the so-called converging technologies, such as information technology, neuroscience, and biotechnology.
  • Teaching method: lectures with interactive elements
  • Teaching materials:  t.b.a.
  • Contact hours: 4 hours per week during weeks 6-9

Module 4: Thought Experiments: Imagination and Creativity in Science and Philosophy

  • Code/code: FW-WB3915D
  • ECTS:  3,75
  • Content: ”Real experiments” play a pivotal role in science. But scientists also often make use of their imagination and creativity by performing ”thought experiments”. In science, thought experiments fulfill certain crucial functions. In philosophy, they are simply indispensable. In this module, various examples of thought experiments are carefully introduced, analyzed and discussed. Students learn to distinguish, recognize and compare different kinds of thought experiments, and to reflect critically on their respective assumptions, powers and limits. Moreover, they develop the academic skills to put ”thought experimentation” into practice, i.e., to use their own imagination and creativity for scientific and philosophical purposes.
  • Teaching method: lectures with interactive elements
  • Teaching materials:  t.b.a.
  • Contact hours: 4 hours per week during  weeks 6-9


Method of examination 

Written examination for each of the 4 modules (week 5: module 1 and 2, week 10: module 3 and 4)

Composition of final grade 

Final grade is the average of the 4 module grades.


On appointment

Contact information

Contact person

Name: Dr. Gijs van Oenen
E-mail:  vanoenen@fwb.eur.nl
Phonenumber: (010) 408 8999
Room: H5-27

Faculty website


Broadening minor
Faculteit der Wijsbegeerte
Studiepunten (ECTS)
Campus Woudestein, Rotterdam