Evolution and the Mind
Course infoSchedule
Course moduleNWI-FFIL202A
Credits (ECTS)3
CategoryMA (Master)
Language of instructionEnglish
Offered byRadboud University; Faculty of Science; Institute for Science, Innovation and Society;
dr. P.C. Lemmens
Other course modules lecturer
dr. P.C. Lemmens
Other course modules lecturer
Contactperson for the course
dr. P.C. Lemmens
Other course modules lecturer
dr. P.C. Lemmens
Other course modules lecturer
Academic year2023
KW4  (08/04/2024 to 31/08/2024)
Starting block
Course mode
Registration using OSIRISYes
Course open to students from other facultiesYes
Waiting listNo
Placement procedure-
  • This course will enhance your understanding of the implications of the evolutionary conception of man for a whole range of philosophical issues, in particular relating to the mind and cognition;
  • It will teach you the prehistory, history and contemporary developments of evolutionary thought, particulary in relation to human evolution
  • It will introduce you in contemporary alternatives to the (neo-)Darwinist understanding of human evolution
  • It will, quite generally, allow you to view your discipline within a larger philosophical and historical perspective;
  • Finally, you will be trained in analyzing historical and philosophical texts, in engaging orally and in written form in conceptual analysis, and in responding in a coherent manner and in concise and correct English, Dutch or German prose to specific questions related to the theme of course. 
Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" (1859) claimed that all life forms had developed by means of a blind process of competition and natural selection. In "Descent of Man" (1971), Darwin specifically focused on human evolution, a topic he deliberately evaded in his 1859 book. "Descent of Man" triggered a whole range of problems and questions, many of which fall outside of the domain of biology. This course is devoted to the most important set of problems, namely to the implications of evolutionary theory for our understadning of the nature of humans in general and of the human mind in particular.
      Questions that arose already in 1871  are still discussed today: What remains of the traditional concept of "soul"? What role does "mind" play in the evolutionary account? How did the human mind evolve and does a Darwinist account suffice to explain its evolution?
      Or is it rather a meta-biological phenomenon demanding a meta-biological explanation and if so, what kind of explanation should we look for? Are mental abilities anything else than bodily features, and if so, do they provide an alternative selection criterion? 
      Furthermore, are our thoughts and mental deliberations anything else than just highly developed instinctive patterns or are they something qualitatively different and if so, what accounts for this difference? And how about our ideas of human freedom and of moral responsibility from an evolutionary perspective?
      More generally, what are the implications of the evolutionary perspective, Darwinist or otherwise, for epistemology, ethics, politics and religion? Should we, for example, take "evolution into our own hands," as the eugenic movement has claimed and today's transhumanists repeat? Should our legislation reinforce the survival of the fittest, or instead combat it?
      In this course, we will look at a range of answers that have been given to these questions, from Darwin's own time up to our own and discussing both Darwinist and non-Darwinist accounts of human evolution, particularly focusing on the idea that human evolution is not so much to be understood in terms of bio-evolution but of techno-evolution. The course will familiarize students with the idea of the profoud impact of technology on human evolution and in particular on the evolution of the human mind, and it will give an introduction into a variety of 20th-century and contemporary authors who theorize human evolution as techno-evolution.

Instructional Modes

Presumed foreknowledge
This is a course at the master's level, so it is a requirement that students possess a bachelor's diploma in one of the sciences (or in philosophy).
Test information
Three intermediate assignments and a final essay. Course attendance is mandatory. Students being absent for more than 40% of the course will write a longer final essay.

Required materials
Learning Management System (Brigthspace)
Will be distributed during the course

Instructional modes
Course occurrence

Final Result
Test weight1
OpportunitiesBlock KW4, Block KW4