Useful Fictions? The Role of Idealizations in Ethics
University of Potsdam

Idealizations play an important role in numerous debates in contemporary ethics. For example, some scholars suggest that reference to ideal-rational actors can elucidate what constitutes the good life. Political philosophers – most notably, John Rawls – argue that we can derive and justify principles of justice by recourse to an idealized "original position." And last but not least, some ethicists believe that an idealized perspective on our fellow human beings can, at times, help us decide how we should behave towards them. In this seminar, we will take an in-depth look at the role of idealizations in ethics. In particular, we will examine why – despite their factual falsity – idealizations feature prominently in moral discourses, under what conditions they can expand our ethical knowledge, and where their limitations lie. By participating in the seminar, students will explore an important aspect of ethical thinking and gain insights into various topics currently under discussion in ethics.

Ethics and Neuroscience
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Neuroscientific research has made rapid progress in recent years, leading to a deeper understanding of how the human brain works, developing novel treatments for neurological diseases, and finding ways to enhance brain function. While these scientific achievements are undoubtedly groundbreaking, they have also raised countless ethical issues that are the subject of much controversy today. In this seminar, students will explore key topics that have emerged at the intersection of ethics and neuroscience. In the first part of the course – the ethics of neuroscience – students will engage vital ethical questions that arise with increasing neuroscientific findings. In particular, students will investigate questions such as: to what extent, if at all, is cognitive enhancement morally permissible? Might we even have a moral obligation to enhance human cognitive function? What ethical issues arise with technologies such as (adaptive) deep brain stimulation, designed to treat neurological diseases by profoundly interfering with brain processes? Through discussion of these questions, students will learn about the various ways in which neuroscience can benefit from ethical reflection. Conversely, the second part of the course – the neuroscience of ethics – explores in what ways traditional debates in ethics can benefit from recent advances in neuroscience. For example, does neuroscientific evidence show that we have no free will, which many philosophers consider an essential component of moral responsibility? In addition to gaining insights into central topics within both neuroscience and ethics, throughout the course students will also familiarize themselves with key methods of philosophical writing and argumentation, thus acquiring the fundamental tools to approach their own research questions.

Intentions in Philosophy and International Politics (with Moritz S. Graefrath)
University of Bayreuth

This seminar explores the concept of intentions and their significance in contemporary debates within both philosophy and international relations. In this interdisciplinary course, students first engage the philosophical foundations of intentions, focusing especially on their relation to actions and the question of whether groups can have intentions. Then, the course illuminates the central role of intentions in the study of international politics by exploring questions such as: how do states assess the intentions of their peers? Can they discern them with confidence? And what do the answers to these questions imply about the prospects for sustained cooperation in the international arena? In this way, the seminar achieves two things. First, students acquire insights into core philosophical disciplines such as theory of action and philosophy of mind as well as into the field of international relations theory. Second, students discover how debates within philosophy can crucially inform research in the social sciences.