What makes natural science 'scientific'? What is a just law? What can science tell us about free will and ethical responsibilities? In this degree, you'll explore the philosophical aspects of science.
The bachelor "Philosophy of a specific discipline” is an English-taught program. After the first year of your bachelor, you can enroll in this program. You can either start it while continuing your own bachelor (usually during the 2nd and 3rd year of your first bachelor) or start the bachelor Philosophy of a specific discipline after your first bachelor (usually as a 4th year of your bachelor studies).
“Philosophy of a specific discipline” consists of:
I'd be happy to see a philosophy course integrated in all academic programmes
The Faculty of Philosophy feels a hidden gem of serenity in an otherwise bustling street of the Netherlands' cosiest city centre. Its entrance, and I mean its student entrance, not the main door at the street side which can only be opened by staff, is accessible through an alley that leads to a small courtyard cluttered with bikes. I had a hard time finding it behind the façade of the Oude Boteringestraat, which made me arrive late for my first ever lecture there, as if I was a freshman again.
Almost two years earlier, I had started my academic career at the University of Groningen studying International Relations and International Organization (IRIO). Day in, day out, I’d focus on conflict and war, strengthened even more by the wide variety of the Middle Eastern Studies courses I took in addition to my degree programme. With hitch hiking as my purest passion, I enjoyed listening to the countless interpretations and perspectives people have on conflicts, war, and the world itself. But questions that were once simply interesting to explore, eventually started to bug me. What is truth? Is there a truth? What is right, what is wrong? What ethical responsibilities do I have? What does scientific even mean? Some thought-provoking courses on theoretical and methodological problems within IRIO made me realize I wanted to question more. But I was already far into my bachelor’s programme… What to do?
And then I found out about the English-taught Philosophy of a Specific Discipline programme. An absolute godsend for those curious students that wish to explore more philosophical aspects of science, I must say. While continuing my normal programme, I had the opportunity to also deepen and widen my philosophical interest. The programme did not give a simple answer to my questions. Often, they were a tantamount of possible answers. But perhaps more importantly the programme offered the tools to approach such questions, it taught the skill of thinking critically, thereby only widening the gray zone. Besides, I must also emphasize that I felt the lecturers genuinely care about their students, given their critical and useful feedback on essays and exams, as well as their well-prepared lectures.
That sounds like a lot of sunshine and roses. Which it is, from my perspective. If there is one quote that intrigues me, it’s Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘There are no facts, only interpretations’. He wrote the sentence in his essay On Truth and Lies (1873). There is no objectivity, only subjectivity. All our ideas and judgments are formed through our own perspective. In today’s information age, we have access to the greatest amount of information ever. However, the amount of misinformation and disinformation also appears to be increasing. Therefore, one of the most important aspects of this programme has not been finding concrete answers but mastering the skill to think critically. I’d be happy to see a philosophy course integrated in all academic programmes. But well, that’s my opinion. In Nietzsche’s words, ‘You have your own way. I have my way. As for the right way, correct way and the only way, they do not exist.’ So for now, the Philosophy of a Specific Discipline provides an excellent solution, for me, and just like its location, its existence also still remains a hidden gem for many university students.
This interview was taken in 2016. After finishing his Bachelor's in Groningen, Christiaan Triebert earned a Master’s degree in War Studies at King’s College London. In 2017, he was awarded the European Press Prize for his reconstruction of the coup in Turkey in 2016. From then on, things developed quickly. He has worked for Bellingcat and Airwars. Currently, he has a position as visual investigations journalist at The New York Times. After that, Christiaan worked for Bellingcat and in 2019, he started at the New York Times (and was awarded UG Alumnus of the Year).
You will run a serious risk of never wanting to return to your main field of study if you enrol in this programme
Since I have started the Philosophy of a Specific Discipline Programme I have found myself experiencing an almost perpetual state of confusion. Though my confusion has sometimes been a source of great frustration, it has never discouraged me in my pursuit of becoming a philosopher. The latter has everything to do with the Faculty of Philosophy and its inhabitants.
I joined the programme after finishing my Psychology Bachelor. In the first semester of the last year of this bachelor I took the Philosophy Minor. It was there that I was introduced to a topic that made everything else I had ever learned about pale in comparison: Meta-ethics. When I returned to psychology I tried to integrate my new found passion in my studies, writing my thesis on the effects of empathy on meta-ethical attitudes. While writing my thesis, I realised that I enjoyed the philosophical work a lot more than the psychological work. So, I made an appointment with the faculty’s student advisor, hoping some arrangement could be made, but feeling rather pessimistic about it.
The conversation I had that day characterises how the faculty sees its students. The emphasis was not on whether I had the right skill-set or profile to fit the programme, but on how the programme could be tailored to me, so that it would be conducive to my goals. The presumption appeared to be that I would succeed, given that I received the right guidance. I have set my goals (even) higher now, having decided to use the programme as a pre-master for the Research Master in Philosophy, which has quite strict selection criteria. I tend to get overwhelmed from time to time, when I think about having to meet these criteria. But, as I said before, I never get discouraged and that is because there is always someone, staff or student, who will take the time to take you through the material again, answer your questions and address your doubts, or to provide you with the necessary encouragement.
What you take from the programme strongly depends on your personal interests and background. No matter which courses you choose to follow, however, you will have the opportunity to learn from some of the brightest minds in philosophy. Though these philosophers all have their own take on what philosophy is about and which questions are relevant, there is one thing each and every one will teach you. You will learn to evaluate, and more importantly, value your own thoughts and ideas. Now, I believe this is something that you can only learn by doing philosophy. The moment you walk into your first lecture, and here I paraphrase prof. dr Martin Lenz, you join the huge conversation that is philosophy. Lecturers will ask you about your take on a philosophical problem, or your objections to a position, because your input is considered valuable. After a while, you will – hopefully – learn to see this too, and be able to contribute your unique views and ideas to the philosophical conversation.
Most importantly perhaps, the programme is also a lot of fun. Lectures are very interactive, so there is plenty of room for discussion with your lecturers and peers. There is a wide of range of interesting and challenging topics you can study, and when you find a topic you love chances are that there will be someone on staff that will happily take the time to tell you all about it. STUFF, the Faculty’s study association, organises all kinds of study-related and social activities, that will make your experience as a philosophy student even more enjoyable. To summarize, if you enrol in the Philosophy of a Specific Discipline Programme you will run a serious risk of never wanting to return to your main field of study. But that’s alright, because it’s never too late to become of a philosopher.
This is what academia is supposed to be like
Patrick (UK) studied Philosophy of a Specific Discipline. Here's his story:
It was a long and arduous career in engineering that led me to the philosophy faculty. With a two year stop-over in mathematics to orient my logical compass I felt that it was time to jump the monotonous tracks of the modern scientific paradigm and learn to think more independently. I sought respite in the halls of the philosophy faculty. And I found it.
Here in a grand old building tucked down a narrow, cobblestone alley, one is as free of the foot-worn, fact-gathering rat race of modern academia as one could be. It is by the nature of the art-of-thought that the pressure to fill a mould is replaced with encouragement to satisfy one’s curiosity and grow into oneself. Students are inundated with timeless ideas; gems of thought that are so variously faceted that there is always promise of a novel angle for the inquisitive mind, and tools of reasoning; to provide clarity of thought whatever the focus. This is what academia is supposed to be like: an intellectual journey as opposed to a subscription - though credit is also due to the ethereal nature of a philosophical career.
There is a surprise in store for everyone
The curriculum of Philosophy of a Specific Scientific Discipline begins with a unique one semester tour of the highlights of philosophy. Engaging lecturers deliver fundamental, invigorating ideas. From modern politics to formal logic to nihilist ethics, there is a surprise in store for everyone and everyone benefits from the breadth of coverage. These lectures are shared with diverse peers from across the university with a common passion for open-mindedness and truth. In the second semester a range of electives are offered and it is here that one sees further practical value in the programme. The courses are focused and relevant to one’s interests, and they are often shared with the most curious and engaging people one could hope to meet; the pure philosophy students.
Welcoming student association
The benefits of the programme are not limited to the curriculum, however. Once in the door one is also welcomed to the STUFF student association of the philosophy faculty. This was the highlight of the programme for me. The association is welcoming and active and will keep you entertained for the rest of your time in Groningen.