Programme Structure

Course descriptions

The courses in Year 1 are shown below (please see the profile pages for further information on the courses for each profile in Year 2):


Philosophy of Technology

In this course, students get an introduction into the philosophy of technology, both historically and thematically. Attention will be paid to the emergence of the philosophy of technology as an independent field of philosophical inquiry and the (social) problems that are central in this field. The main philosophers, developments and currents in the philosophy of technology will be dealt with. Apart from such a historical introduction, important themes in the philosophy of technology, like technological determinism, the nature of technological knowledge, the normative dimensions of technology, internalism versus externalism will be discussed. A number of these themes will be further elaborated in courses in the second semester of the first year, like social and political philosophy, epistemology, ethics and technology and philosophical anthropology. The core theories are phenomenology and post phenomenology, mediation theory and analytic philosophy.

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Science & Technology Studies

This course aims to introduce students to the interdisciplinary field of science and technology studies. Students will be introduced to the main theoretical approaches in the field, including the Strong Program; the Social Construction of Technology, Actor Network Theory; and Evolutionary Approaches. Moreover, students will get some hands-on experience with using STS theories and concepts in doing empirical analysis on recent developments in science, technology and society.

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Philosophical Theories & Methods

This course introduces students to various methods and approaches within philosophy. The course emphasises philosophers and methods of doing philosophy that have an important role throughout the master program PSTS, including analytical methods, hermeneutical methods and applied empirical methods. The course will also give a short introduction to formal logic.

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In the TechnoLab project students get acquainted with technological developments for which research is performed in (UT) Engineering Sciences and Social Sciences disciplines and research institutions. Students get to understand scientific research practices (i.e. engineering sciences and social sciences) that work towards these technological developments, as well as their social and political contexts and settings. Different approaches will be taken in developing this understanding, such as studying brochures, websites and scientific articles, but also interviews with researchers in order to learn about the content and approaches of their scientific work. Based on the understanding of a technological development that has been gained in the first quartile of this course, PSTS topics are explored in the second quartile. In this way students are encouraged to apply PSTS topics of PSTS courses to concrete cases in Technolab. Three PSTS courses run in parallel: Philosophy of Technology, Science and Technology Studies, and Ethics and Technology I, while classes on the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology I will be integrated in Technolab.

As PSTS consists of students with different backgrounds and level of expertise in the engineering sciences, the social sciences and the humanities, they are challenged to learn from each other and to make their own expertise valuable for the project. 

The Technolab project is a first introduction to the kind of integrated projects of a graduated PSTS person. The skills and insights that are acquired in the TechnoLab project can be compared to learning how to work as a journalist who wants to inform a high-educated audience about a new technological development. The journalist aims to give several perspectives (technological, engineering sciences, social sciences and PSTS), thus setting-out a typical ‘High tech –Human touch’ approach (which will be a typical skill of a graduated PSTS person). A journalist has to collect information, formulate relevant questions, understand and interpret what she sees and hears, reflect on those findings, and communicates them to the public in intelligible language. In so doing, she needs to have relevant frameworks and perspectives that will enable him/her to do so. Attaining these frameworks and perspectives is part of Technolab and PSTS as a whole.

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Ethics & Technology I

This course aims to introduce students to the major ethical theories and some key thinkers in moral philosophy, as well as the fundamentals of critical reasoning and ethical argumentation. The main ethical theories are virtue ethics, deontological ethics, and utilitarianism, but we will also consider other approaches. The course also includes a short introduction to select application domains, such as engineering and bio-medical ethics.

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History of Science and Technology

This course offers an introduction to the goals, methods and perspectives of the history of science and technology. It intends to show how the development of science and technology can be understood historically and how the understanding of the interplay of science, technology and society can be enriched by knowledge of its history. The course does not offer a chronological survey of the history of modern science and technology, but rather selects a series of themes and topics that highlight important historiographical issues and the significance of understanding science and technology as historical phenomena. By looking at science and technology as fields of activity the content and configurations of which have changed over time, this course is valuable for two reasons. It teaches the virtue and necessity of being cautious about ahistorical, normative statements. And it prepares students for thinking about the culturally embedded dynamics of techno-science as it continues to develop into the future. Students participate in the course through critical reading, in-class discussion and writing two analytical/ historiographical essays.

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Philosophical Anthropology & Technology

Philosophical anthropology is the discipline that critically reflects upon questions concerning human nature and the human condition. It addresses questions such as: What is a human being? What is (personal) identity? Which cultural and/or natural features constitute human nature? How is the human being different from (other) animals? These questions have been investigated within different frameworks, such as classical ontology and epistemology (Aristotle, Descartes), German Idealism (Kant, Hegel), economy (Marx), existentialism (Nietzsche, Sartre), and phenomenology (Husserl, Heidegger). In the twentieth century authors like Heidegger, Anders and Ellul have warned us for the negative and destructive influence of technology on our life. Authors like Plessner and Gehlen have, implicitly or explicitly, argued that technology plays an important role in the constitution of human nature and identity. According to them humans have always shaped and extended themselves by virtue of technical tools and artefacts. In our modern era technology has become not only an inherent part of scientific investigation and diagnosis but also a constitutive dimension of our culture. This has far reaching bearings on our human condition. Today most scholars in philosophy of technology have embraced the so-called “empirical turn” and focus not on “technology” but on different (emerging) technologies and their impact on society. We will, therefore, not only focus on classical approaches to technology but also on specific technologies and technological developments in an anthropological context.

In this course we will investigate how technology has influenced and constituted human nature and human existence. We will discuss 1) foundational perspectives in the history of philosophical anthropology; 2) classical views of philosophical anthropology and technology; 3) contemporary perspectives on philosophical anthropology and technology. In the last part of the course the focus will be especially on constructivism, technical mediation, and technical extension. Within these frameworks human nature and its faculties (rationality, self-consciousness, agency, autonomy) are not considered as an a-historical given but as the result of a concrete history in which technology plays an important role. New technologies have an impact on values like freedom, privacy, and friendship, which determine to a great extent how humans are shaped into particular ‘subjects.’

The sessions will consist of both lectures and discussions. Besides texts, also movies and documentaries will be part of the course material.

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Society, Politics & Technology

Technology is a major force in social and political reality. This course introduces the students to five main discussions within social and political philosophy: on democracy, social justice, freedom, equality and community. Students will learn to relate these discussions to the political philosophy of technology, both in its classical and contemporary forms.

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Technology & Social Order

The relationship between technology and technological development, on one hand, and society, on the other, has been variously theorised and examined by a number of significant philosophers, sociologists and historians. In this course students are introduced to the range of interpretive visions regarding their relation, which includes variations on the themes of ‘technological determinism’, ‘social shaping’, ‘mediation’, ‘co-production’, ethical engineering and ‘hybridity’. Both the philosophical presuppositions and commitments behind these various interpretive frameworks are also examined and the consequences of adopting them both for interpreting the past and advising for the future are considered.

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Ethics & Technology II

In a modern society technology is everywhere, touching everything we do. Such a pervasive force calls for moral reflection. In what direction should technology be steered? What are the key concepts and theories moral philosophy has to offer for such a moral deliberation on technology? These are questions that will be discussed in this course. The course consists of a series of guest lecturers who will present and discuss within their area of expertise, thereby showing the many ways in which ethics can be applied to technology – from a range of different approaches. The topics are decided for each quartile but typically include issues like sustainable development, robot ethics, intellectual property, bio-medical technology, transhumanism, virtual worlds, risk assessment and digital divides.

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The point of this course is to develop research skills that are appropriate for professional-level philosophical work. This course is built around an academic workshop in philosophy of science, technology and society. It is supervised by staff members of the research groups and institutes that participate in the Master programme. Each supervisor brings in a paper written by him or her that is representative for the type of research done in his or her institute/ research group. Students study the papers and then divide in groups. Each group studies one of the papers in more detail. Supervision can be done in part by electronic means. The academic workshop itself consists of a more formal day, during which the supervisors of the participating institutes present papers and students discuss the papers. The course is closed with a 'graduate conference' day, during which the students present and discuss their results. Students finish the course by writing a short academic essay on a topic related to one of the papers. The objectives are to introduce students to the research specialisations of the participating research groups, and to develop their writing and presenting skills.

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