Minor First things: the power of philosophy

Broadening minor


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. 
  • 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
  • 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.

Special aspects

Lectures will be scheduled in the late afternoon, or (early) evening.

Overview modules

Module 1:  Early Enlightenment

  • Code: FW-WB3924
  • ECTS: 3,75
  • Content: Enlightenment is 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. We start close at home, with Pierre Bayle, ‘le philosophe de Rotterdam’ 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; we will deal with both Berkeley and Hume, and then move to the Scottish Enlightenment, including Adam Smith.
  • Teaching method: Lectures + optional seminars.
  • Teaching materials:  Canvas
  • Contact hours: 6 hours per week.
  • Self study: 14 hours per week.

Module 2:  Essential Contemporary Challenges

  • Code: FW-WB3925
  • ECTS: 3,75
  • Content: This module presents four key contemporary discussions, or ‘challenges’. 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 decisionmaking, 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 + optional seminars.
  • Teaching materials: Canvas
  • Contact hours: 6 hours per week.
  • Self study: 14 hours per week.

Module 3: The Quest for Man I

  • Code: FW-WB3926
  • ECTS: 3,75
  • Content: A systematic overview of the main subjects  and concepts of Philosophical Anthropology (the place of man in the Cosmos, the relationship between body and mind, consciousness, action, freedom of will, (inter)subjectivity, reflexivity and language), in relation to other philosophical disciplines and empirical sciences and humanities such as biological anthropology, neuroscience, psychology, sociology, history, and cultural anthropology. Against the background of the ‘Historization of the World View’, in its naturalistic (Darwin) and hermeneutic (Dilthey) form, we discuss Plessner’s philosophical anthropology. Finally, we reflect on the possible futures of human life forms in the light of converging technologies: information technology, neuroscience, and biotechnology.
  • Teaching method: Lectures + optional seminars.
  • Teaching materials: Canvas
  • Contact hours: 6 hours per week.
  • Self study: 14 hours per week

Module 4: Thought Experiments

  • Code/code: FW-WB3927
  • ECTS:  3,75
  • Content: The deliberate and purposeful use of imagination and creativity is indispensable in analytic philosophy. In this module we introduce, analyze and discuss various examples of such thought experiments, focusing on
    - Conceptual Analysis
    - Existence of God
    - Skepticism
    - Mind-Body Problem
    - Personal Identity
    - Free Will
    - Ethics
    - Metaphilosophical Alternatives
    Students reflect critically on the powers and limits of thought experiments. 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: Blended learning, flipping the classroom
  • Teaching materials: MOOC on Coursera (announcements and instructions on Canvas)
  • Contact hours: 6 hours per week.
  • Self study: 12 hours per week.


Method of examination 
All four modules have a written examination.

Composition final grade 
Final grade is the average of the grades for the 4 separate modules.

Review sessions for exams; on individual appointment

Contact information

Dr. Gijs van Oenen
(010) 408 8999
room: J5-43

Faculty website
Erasmus School of Philosophy

Broadening minor
Erasmus School of Philosophy
Studiepunten (ECTS)
Campus Woudestein, Rotterdam


Please read the application procedure for more information.