Curriculum & Manuals

PhD Programme connected to PSTS

Ethics and Technology Track and PhD Programme

The 4TU.Centre for Ethics and Technology (4TU.Ethics) offers a specialization track Ethics and Technology within the PSTS master programme, and a PhD programme in Ethics and Technology. The aim of both the master track and the PhD programme are to study ethical issues in the development, use and regulation of technology, in close collaboration with the engineering sciences, as well as the social sciences. The master track and PhD programme are predicated on an increasing need for responsible innovation in society, and a growing demand for graduates in ethics of technology.

Some of the central research questions in both the master track and the PhD programme are: How can we see to it that newly emerging and converging technologies and infrastructures express our considered moral judgments and widely endorsed public values? How can we assess our technology in the light of public moral values like sustainability, user autonomy, safety, privacy, accountability, democracy and quality of life? What role should public actors play in decision making about technological risks in design? And how are our norms and values affected themselves by technological developments? Research themes include the requirements for responsible innovation, the possibility of value-sensitive design, ethical parallel research (ethical investigations in close collaboration with programmes of technological development), ethical technology assessment, the ethics of technological risks, the anthropology and ethics of human-technology relations, and many others. Technologies covered include information and communication technology, biomedical technology, nanotechnology, industrial design, environmental technology, architecture and urban planning, neuro- and cognitive technology, military technology, and others.

4TU.Ethics was founded in 2007 by the board of the federation of the three technical universities in the Netherlands (Delft, Eindhoven, and Twente) and later joined by the Wageningen University, to study ethical issues in the development, use and regulation of techno­logy. The Centre currently has sixty senior and junior researchers as members, which makes 4TU.Ethics worldwide the major research centre addressing societally relevant and philosophically challenging issues at the interface between ethics and technology. Most of the members of 4TU.Ethics are members of the three philosophy departments at TU Delft, TU Eindhoven and University of Twente. For more information on the Centre, see

Ethics and Technology Track

Students in the PSTS programme can choose, at the end of their first year, to enter a special one-year Ethics and Technology track offered by 4TU.Ethics. This is a one-year track consisting of 35 EC in advanced courses in ethics and technology and a 30 EC master thesis in ethics of technology. Students taking the Ethics and Technology track graduate as regular PSTS students, but with the distinction of having taken the 4TU.Ethics-approved Ethics and Technology Track. The track is also preparatory for a PhD programme in Ethics and Technology, and PSTS students who have completed the track have an increased chance of being accepted into the PhD programme. Many of the courses in the track will be taken together with PhD students in the programme.


The course curriculum in the first semester of the track consists of graduate courses offered by University of Twente, TU Eindhoven and TU Delft. The courses at TU Delft and TU Eindhoven are usually compressed into one week, after which an individual assignment is made. Students are responsible for arranging their own transportation to TU Delft and TU Eindhoven. The courses at the University of Twente usually consist of four weekly blocks of four hours, followed by an assignment. Preferably, at least one course is taken from each university.

The second semester is devoted to writing a master’s thesis, which will be supervised by ethicists from the Centre, from University of Twente, TU Delft and/or TU Eindhoven.

2nd year of PSTS – Ethics and Technology Track

1st semester

Block 1A

  • Technology and the Quality of Life (UT) - 5 EC
  • Technology, Globalization and the Environment (UT) - 5 EC

Block 1B

  • Assessment of Emerging Technologies (UT) 5 EC
  • Three Elective Courses 3 x 5 EC
    Choose from:
    Philosophical Philosophy of Risk (TU Anthropology and Eindhoven)
    Human-Technology Relations (UT)
    Design for Values Law and Morality (TU Delft) (TU Delft)

    You are also allowed to substitute the course Environmental Ethics (TU Eindhoven) for the course Technology, Globalization and the Environment (UT)
  • MasterLab 1 (UT) 5 EC

2nd semester

Block 2A + Block 2B

  • Master’s Thesis in Ethics of Technology 30 EC
    Incl. MasterLab 2

Supervisors can be chosen from professors who are members at 4TU.Ethics from UT, TU Delft or TU Eindhoven

If you have been accepted into the 2+3 PhD programme in Ethics of Technology as a 2+3 student, you write a combined master’s thesis and PhD thesis proposal of 30 EC. The master’s thesis is either a stand-alone study on which the PhD thesis builds or a chapter of the future dissertation.


Students can choose for the Ethics and Technology Track at the end of the first year of PSTS, when a choice is made for a specialization in the second year. The Ethics and Technology Track has the following admission requirements:

  • At the start of the track, students have completed at least 55 EC from the first year of PSTS, including the courses Ethics and Technology I and II and Society, Politics and Technology.
  • Students have an average grade of at least 7.8 for their first-year PSTS courses.
  • Students have an average grade of at least 8 for the courses Ethics and Technology I and II and Society, Politics and Technology.

Students can apply for admission by sending an email to the track coordinator, Prof. dr. Philip Brey (with CC to the study counsellor, Yvonne Luyten-de Thouars), by which they express their desire to be admitted to the track. This email should include an official Study Progress Review from PSTS that contains a listing of completed courses and grades received.

Ethics and Technology PhD Programme

The PhD Programme in Ethics and Technology offers specialized training in the area of ethics and technology, leading to a PhD degree. The programme is offered by 4TU.Ethics, in collaboration with the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics of Oxford University, the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Practical Ethics in Australia; and the Philosophy Unit at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden. PhD students in the programme have the opportunity to spend part of their PhD studies at one of these three institutions.


Most students will enter a four-year version of the PhD programme (“four-year PhD students”). Those who have completed the ethics track in the PSTS master programme can sometimes opt for a three-year programme (“2+3 PhD students”, as they take 2 years of PSTS and 3 years of PhD studies).

Three-year programme (with 2+3 PhD students). This programme consists of two years of master’s studies in PSTS, including the Ethics and Technology track, and three years of PhD studies. Preparation for the PhD phase takes place in the Ethics and Technology track, in which students do all preparatory course work and write a combined master’s thesis and PhD thesis proposal. The subsequent PhD phase of three years contains no further course requirements from the Ethics and Technology programme, unless there are additional requirements imposed by any local graduate school in which the programme is embedded, and is spent writing a dissertation in ethics of technology.

Four-year programme (with four-year PhD students). The first year of the four-year programme is somewhat similar to the year in which 2+3 students take the Ethics and Technology track. Students take 25 EC of courses in the first year and work on a thesis proposal that should be completed by the end of the first year. In many cases, they will also be expected to have completed a chapter or partial chapter of the PhD thesis. The courses they can choose from are roughly the same as those in the Ethics and Technology track. However, they are free to choose any combination of courses. In addition, one of the courses can be swapped, upon approval, with a course from the curriculum of the Dutch Research School in Philosophy. The three remaining years of the PhD contain no further course requirements, and are spent working on the dissertation in ethics of technology. Students who have completed the Ethics and Technology track or who have completed other courses in ethics and technology at the graduate level can ask for an exemption by which some or all course requirements in the four-year programme are waived.

Application options

Prospective PhD students, both for the three-year and the four-year programme, can apply for two kinds of PhD positions: unbound positions and project-funded positions.

Unbound PhD positions are PhD positions in which students have freedom in their choice of thesis topic, promotor (degree-granting full professor) and supervisor. They can either be funded or unfunded. PhD students receive their funding through grants (acquired by themselves or awarded by the programme), employment (either within our outside the programme), loans, and/or own financial means. Candidates are selected on their general promise for the PhD programme.

Project-funded PhD positions are PhD positions that are part of a specific funded research project with a predefined topic, and sometimes also with a pre-defined research questions, methods and approaches. PhD students on such positions receive a salary for their work on the project and are awarded a PhD upon successful completion of their thesis. They are selected on the basis of their specialized knowledge and skill in relation to the project. They do not have the freedom to choose their own thesis topic, promotor or supervisor.

Unbound PhD students enroll in the programme in either September (preferred) or February (fall and spring admission). Project–funded PhD students start in September or February if possible, but sometimes the funding agency will not permit these starting dates and an earlier or later date will have to be chosen.

Application for PhD positions: for funded positions, job advertisement will be distributed. This can happen at any point during the year. Advertisements can be found, amongst others, on the vacancy page of the University of Twente ( and the vacancy page of 4TU.Ethics at We also try to also attend PSTS students to vacancies through regular email.

For self-funded positions (i.e., students bring their own funds, from a grant or personal funding), students can apply year-round. They can apply by downloading the application form for self-funded students that can be found at and email this form, along with (i) a covering letter, (ii) academic CV, including grades you have received for courses taken as part of your BA/MA, (iii) a short research proposal of about 500 words (which does not commit you to actually pursuing this proposal in your PhD), and (iv) a writing sample to the coordinator of the 4TU.Centre for Ethics and Technology ( The coordinator is also available if you have any questions about (applying to) the PhD programme. The management team of 4TU.Ethics will decide on admission based on the qualifications of the candidate as suggested by the application.

Please be advised that funded PhD positions in the Ethics and Technology programme are very competitive. In any given year, 4TU.Ethics has an average of only three to four funded positions available. Most of these will be advertised world-wide, and sometimes attract more than one hundred applicants. Out of the funded PhD positions, most are project-funded; unbound funded PhD positions are quite rare. Most unbound PhD positions are self-funded, either through an individual grant that the PhD students brings along or through personal funds. Information on how to obtain funding to do a PhD can also be found on

PSTS students can increase their chances of securing a funded PhD position in Ethics and Technology in the following ways: (1) by enrolling in the Ethics and Technology track; (2) by having outstanding grades, especially for the master’s thesis; (3) by inquiring regularly with faculty in the track about funded PhD positions that may become available in the near future (and, if so encouraged by a faculty member, by writing a master’s thesis that would serve as a good preparation for an upcoming PhD position); (4) by pursuing the possibility of collaborating on a grant proposal with one of the professors of the Ethics and Technology track, which if funded would include PhD funding for the student. Students can also choose to apply for any individual grants that they may qualify for (e.g., grants from their country of origin). Needless to say, none of these actions can guarantee one a funded position.

Course Descriptions

Philosophy of Risk

Course leader: Prof Dr Martin Peterson, TU Eindhoven

Technological progress offers many opportunities, many of which have dramatically improved the conditions of living for billions of people on Earth. However, sometimes technological progress also comes with unwanted risks and negative side-effects. The international debate of nuclear power and storage of nuclear waste is a paradigmatic illustration. In this course we will consider the concept of risk from a philosophical perspective: What is a risk? Are risks objective or subjective? To what extent, if any, are risks socially constructed? Can all risks be meaningfully represented in a risk-benefit analysis? What ethical theories can and cannot give a plausible account of the moral importance of risky events? How should we interpret the precautionary principle, and should we accept any version of this principle?

Environmental Ethics

Course leader: Dr Andreas Spahn, TU Eindhoven

It is generally taken for granted that sustainable development is a good thing, i.e. that technological systems and products should as far as possible not infringe on the capabilities and actual resources available to future generations. In this course we try to analyse this and related issues in environmental ethics. For example, what kind of moral value is sustainability? Is it a final (intrinsic) value or is merely an instrumental value? Can environmental values be measured in a cost-benefit analysis? Can non-sentient organisms have moral rights?

Design for Values

Course leader: Prof Dr Ibo van der Poel, Delft University of Technology

This course discusses the main philosophical issues in relation to design for values. Topics that will be covered include the value-ladenness of technology, the approach of value sensitive design (VSD), the conceptualization and operationalization of values in design and value conflict in design. Students get to know some of the main positions in relation to philosophical issues in design for values, and the main arguments in the relevant debates. Although the focus is on the philosophical and ethical issues raised by engineering design, we will also touch upon some more fundamental philosophical issues and some methodological issues raised by design for values.

Law and Morality

Course leader: Dr David Koepsell, Delft University of Technology

We will work through issues pertaining to the intersection of law and ethics or morality, specifically centering our research on the Twentieth Century’s leading legal philosopher, John Rawls. His work, A Theory of Justice, provides the framework for our investigation of the relations of legal norms with morality, and delves into the broad history of the field from Aquinas through Austin, Hart, Rawls himself, and Dworkin. Primary text will include A Theory of Justice and selections from Dworkin, Hart, and Austin.

See the section about the regular 2nd year of PSTS for descriptions of these courses:

  • Technology and the Quality of Life
  • Technology, Globalization and the Environment
  • Assessment of Emerging Technologies
  • Philosophical Anthropology and Human-Technology Relations