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Sex and Death: From Darwinian Revolution to Philosophical Crisis


Admission requirements

  • Students in the BA programme Philosophy: first year BA has been successfully completed, as well as the second-year course Philosophy of Science (Wetenschapsfilosofie).

  • Prerequisites for students from other departments (including contractstudenten): successful completion of their first year BA, as well as the BA course Philosophy of Science (Wetenschapsfilosofie).

This course has a limited number of places available for students from other departments.


It is vital to understand the philosophical impact of the Darwinian Revolution, which has affected every aspect of our lives. The image that human beings long held of their place in the world, the meaning of their existence, and their view of the relationship they have to each other and to all living things were ruptured. The philosophical implications of Darwinism extend to almost all philosophical, ethical, moral, religious, social, and political domains. In this course, we will examine philosophical crises and conflicts that were created or spurred by the Darwinian Revolution, in scientific, ethical, and philosophical concepts, from life, species, and humanity to struggle, truth, and justice. Questions that we will consider include whether religion is compatible with evolution, the relevance of evolution for ethical and moral issues, and whether Darwinism can be extended to other domains, from politics and ideas to artificial intelligence. The overall focus of the class is the nature of crises that Darwinism has spawned, the relevance of “meaning” in a Darwinian world, and the extent to which Darwinism has impacted our most basic concepts and values.

The instructor will provide lectures, students will read most of a required text and a few published articles, and engage in class discussion as well as build a group blog.

Course objectives

This course aims to give students an overview of philosophical controversies spawned by the Darwinian Revolution and, in particular, the implications of Darwinism for general philosophical, ethical, social, religious, moral and political questions.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • the philosophical impact of the Darwinian Revolution;

  • the implications of Darwinism for ethical, social, religious, and political issues;

  • how Darwinism has shaped modern discourse about questions of “meaning”;

  • the impact of evolutionary theory on basic concepts and notions: Including the notion of “humanity,” “species,” “organism,” and “life”.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • provide an overview of the philosophical revance of evolutionary theory, and formulate ethical, moral, and political responses to its more controversial aspects;

  • draw on experience in formulating philosophical arguments and essays.


See Collegeroosters Wijsbegeerte 2014-2015, BA Wijsbegeerte (BA Plus-traject or Standaardtraject), derde jaar.
See Timetables Philosophy 2014-2015 , Timetable Undergraduate Courses in English

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures and seminars

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

Total course load (10 EC): 280 hours.
Attending lectures and seminars (14 weeks x 3 hrs.): 42 hours
Studying the compulsory literature (approximately 400 pages): 60 hours
Midterm paper (including reading / research): 58 hours
Final paper (including reading / research): 120 hours

Assessment method

  • Midterm paper, of 5+ pages (30% of the final grade)

  • Final paper, 10+ pages (60% of the final grade)

  • Class participation (10% of the final grade)

One resit will be offered, covering one or both of the papers.


Blackboard will be used for posting course material and sharing relevant links and supplementary information helpful to the student in the course.

Reading list

  • K. Sterelny and P. Griffiths, Sex and Death. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

  • Additional reading assignments will be posted on Blackboard; students will utilize the library’s online catalog, through which all additional reading assignments will be available.


Please register for this course on uSis.
See Inschrijven voor cursussen en tentamens
See Registration for courses and examinations

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the collegerooster in the column under the heading “”.

Exchange students and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Contractonderwijs
Registration Studeren à la carte: not applicable


A.W.M. Martin, MA