Science and the Big Questions Summer Seminar Amsterdam 2014
August 18 – 21, 2014

Does contemporary empirical psychology refute the idea that we are rational beings who make choices for reasons that we are aware of? Do evolutionary explanations of morality imply that there is no objective good and evil? Is human consciousness an illusion? And can free will be explained away?

Humans think of themselves as free rational and moral beings beings, who make conscious choices about how to act on the basis of rational and moral considerations. But is this right? Can we simply trust our commonsensical conception of ourselves on these points? Do we need evidence to back it up, perhaps scientific evidence? Or are these ideas about ourselves a sham, something we should now reject as an illusion in the face of mounting scientific evidence?

This seminar deals with these questions. Scientists and philosophers of different persuasions will give lectures and engage each other on the following issues:

  • Decision theory and rationality
  • Evolution and morality
  • Brain research and consciousness
  • Free will
  • The nature of explanations in science, philosophy, and everyday life


  • Andre Aleman (University of Groningen, psychology)
  • Susan Blackmore (Freelance writer and lecturer, psychology)
  • Terence Cuneo (University of Vermont, philosophy)
  • Shaun Gallagher (University of Memphis, philosophy)
  • Victor Gijsbers (Leiden University, philosophy)
  • Gerrit Glas (VU University, psychiatry and philosophy)
  • Pim Haselager (Radboud University, psychology)
  • Janet Radcliffe – Richards (University of Oxford, philosophy)
  • Marc Slors (Radboud University, philosophy of mind & psychology)
  • Richard Swinburne (University of Oxford, philosophy)
  • David Widerker (Bar Illan University, philosophy)


For whom?

The seminar is intended for two groups: (1) advanced Bachelor and Master students, PhD-students, and postdocs in the sciences who have an interest in philosophical issues related to their scientific work and (2) advanced Bachelor and Master students, PhD-students, and postdocs in philosophy and theology who have an interest in speaking knowledgeably about the intersection between science on the one hand and big philosophical topics, such as morality and consciousness, on the other. The goal of the seminar is to create a learning environment in which participants can interact intensively with renowned scholars.