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Become a better neuroscientist

Contribute to a better understanding of neuroscience

Advances in neuroscience not only open doors to an unprecedented ability to explain, predict and control human behaviour, but also raise philosophical and ethical questions about their potential risks, benefits and broader societal consequences.

What are the implications of neurotechnologies such as deep brain stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation for our understanding of self and personal identity? When is neuroscientific evidence admissible in a court of law? How can we translate fundamental neuroscientific insights into psychiatric practice?

Other questions concern the scientific practice of neuroscience itself. What sort of explanation do neuroscientists provide? Is there a method or model that unifies the various neuroscientific sub-disciplines? What justifies the claim that mental disorders are caused by dysfunctional brain mechanisms? In this Master's programme, you’ll address issues like these at the interface of neuroscience, philosophy and psychiatry. You’ll learn how to communicate about these issues with non-academic parties (like patients, health practitioners and policymakers), and you’ll contribute to a better practical understanding of neuroscience and its implications.

This is a small-scale programme, meaning you’ll work a lot in small groups and receive plenty of attention from the teaching staff. But you’ll also benefit from working with students and teachers whose backgrounds are in different disciplines. All students following a Philosophy specialisation take the core introductory philosophy courses, which means you’ll come into contact with people specialising in bioethics or law as well.

Most students in the Philosophy of Neuroscience programme have a background in neuroscience, and follow a second Master’s programme at the same time – such as the Neuroscience Research Master’s at VUmc. This means you’ll come out with two Master’s degrees – it’s a tough study load but an attractive proposition for future employers or academic institutions.

The start date of this programme is September 1st.

Facts and figures

Year 1

In your first year, you’ll take three courses relating to your other Master’s during the daytime, and four introductory philosophy courses in the evenings. Year one is hard work in terms of study load, so you’ll need to be prepared to roll your sleeves up.
As well as studying a basic history of philosophy, from ancient times to modern day, you’ll learn about normative ethics – asking yourself how human beings can co-exist when we subscribe to different ethical theories, such as virtue ethics, utilitarianism, Kantian ethics and so on. You’ll also learn about the scientific method, finding out what makes knowledge scientific knowledge, and asking whether objective knowledge is possible.

Year 2

In your second year, you’ll dive more deeply into neurophilosophy.
In the Philosophical Approaches course, you’ll focus on two central topics in neurophilosophy: mechanistic explanation and causal explanation. We invite neuroscientists working on current cases to discuss their projects with students – for example, a recent case involved a researcher working on a network model of multiple sclerosis.
In Neurophilosophy, Phenomenology and Subjectivity, you’ll examine the role of first-person subjective reports (e.g. by a patient) in neuroscientific research, and look for ways to incorporate subjectivity in solving scientific problems.
Neuroscientists often use metaphors to explain psychiatric conditions to patients, and in the Neurophilosophy and Psychiatry course you’ll look at how these metaphors can be improved when it comes to dealing with mental illness.
Of course, neuroscience has ethical and societal implications, which are discussed during the Neuroethics and Society course.
In the Key Concepts course, you’ll focus on a research area of your choice. Through a series of interviews and critical reflections, you’ll examine the key concepts and metaphors in that area – asking how your findings can be translated to other parties.
Finally, you’ll write your Master’s thesis on a topic of your choice, typically in the same area as your thesis for your other Master’s. It could lean more towards the theoretical or the practical, but it must have a philosophical element as well.

Jeroen van Daatselaar - student

Jeroen van Daatselaar - student

"Philosophy of Neuroscience ended up giving me more than I had hoped for. The curriculum covers classical and contemporary topics, ranging from consciousness to different theories of causation, to the impact of neuroscience on society and our notion of human nature. It gave me the edge in my search for a PhD position in neuroscience. Today, when I read neuroscientific literature or converse with colleagues, I see philosophy at every turn.”

Change your future with the Philosophy of Neuroscience programme

Change your future with the Philosophy of Neuroscience programme

In a nutshell, having completed the Philosophy of Neuroscience programme you’ll be a better neuroscientist. That’s because you’ll have developed sensitivity to, and awareness of, the broader societal and scientific context in which neuroscience is practiced. This is extremely valuable, whether you decide to continue in academia or work as a scientist in the field.

Explore your future prospects

Questions about the courses or study programme?

Please contact the coordinator