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:
Initially I intended to do only the Philosophy minor but after completing the first semester I was sold.
The Philosophy minor made me aware that my whole mindset was adjusted to studying biology. I had gotten used to learning biological mechanisms, doing experiments and writing reports but I'd forgotten to look beyond this.
When I graduated high school and had to decide what to do next, I was absolutely clueless. I went to a bunch of education fairs and was overwhelmed by the possibilities. Everything seemed interesting! Philosophy already caught my eye but I was afraid it would be too theoretical for me. I thought it would only be reading about dudes that lived a thousand years ago. So in the end I chose Biology since it was a really broad study. Although I liked it, in the back of my mind I was still thinking about studying something else on top of it. The minor in my third year proved an excellent opportunity to take a closer look at philosophy. Initially I intended to do only the Philosophy minor but after completing the first semester I was already sold.
The Philosophy minor made me aware that my whole mindset was adjusted to studying biology. I had gotten used to learning biological mechanisms, doing experiments and writing reports but I had forgotten to look beyond this. The “why-questions” had faded to the background but became very prominent while I was studying for the Philosophy minor:
What does it actually mean to do research? How are ethics and science connected? What is permitted in science and what are the implications of discoveries for society?
So in short, I really liked philosophy. Doing the whole Philosophy bachelor’s would cost me an extra three years, so I decided to register for Philosophy of a specific discipline instead. This is a one-year programme so it wouldn’t delay me too much but I could still get some in-depth knowledge.
While doing the Philosophy minor I was mostly interested in ethics and social & political philosophy so I decided to do more of these courses. Last year I followed a course in ethics and we had to write an essay on a topic of our own choice. This seemed like a good excuse to try and combine philosophy with biology, so I wrote about evolution and morality. Being intrigued by this topic I even made it the topic of my thesis. It was about the question whether evolution can undermine the existence of objective moral values. This way I was able to look at the implications of evolution (my specialization within biology) in other fields.
However, this bachelor's is not necessarily just about your original discipline, you can also choose courses that are solely about philosophy. I am currently doing a course called “death and responsibility” and the lecture hours are the two most interesting hours of my week. The lecturer is somehow able to make Heidegger sound understandable and interesting. Last week I even spent a Sunday at the University Library to do the reading because I was really excited. I am now at the point where I can finish my bachelor and I am quite sad to leave this amazing faculty. Maybe I will just do a master to stay a bit longer.
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).