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Research Seminar Philosophical Anthropology and Philosophy of Culture A


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to students enrolled in the MA Philosophy 60 EC who have chosen for the track Philosophical Anthropology and Philosophy of Culture, and to students in the MA Philosophy 120 EC, specialisation Philosophy of Humanities.

Students in the one-year MA programme must complete the research seminar in their first semester, so this course is mandatory for above mentioned students starting in September. Students in the two-year MA programme must complete the compulsory research seminar in their first year.


Characteristics of the research seminar

The research seminar is a mandatory part of the MA programme. In this intensive seminar students will hone their skills necessary for writing a successful MA thesis so they are well prepared for writing their thesis in the following semester. In particular, the research seminar pays attention to topics such as formulating relevant research questions, composing research plans, and efficient writing. Students should enroll in the research seminar that belongs to the track in which the MA thesis will be written. The instructor of the research seminar will also the be the staff member who is responsible for making sure that the process of thesis writing remains on track.

Subject description

The subject of this seminar is: Human Agency: Between Life Drive and Death Drive?Human agency confronts us with an enigma: it can be base and extremely evil, but it can also display moving examples of responsibility and social sensitivity. Are man’s actions simply based on ‘motives’ and ‘rational choices’? Or are they intertwined with dimensions of being itself? These intriguing questions have been articulated in various ways, ranging from Freud’s famous (but highly controversial) distinction between a life drive and a death drive to T.H. Green’s notion of a spiritual dimension in human consciousness.

In this course we will reflect on human agency as an ontological phenomenon, beyond good and evil. Authors discussed are, apart from Freud and T.H. Green (1836-1882), Simone Weil (1909-1943) and Sabina Spielrein (1885-1942). We will start, however, by considering two literary texts that may be said to represent extreme positions: the time-honoured Bhagavad-gita and Euripides’ Bacchae.

Course objectives

This course aims to investigate human agency from an ontological (rather than an ethical) viewpoint. It does so by putting human agency into the perspective of ‘drives’ supposed to have a wider resonance than the sole individual’s as seen in isolation. In addition to these substantial themes, this seminar will devote attention to the skills necessary to write an MA thesis in philosophy.

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

  • philosophical and psychoanalytical debates concerning human agency and its fundamental drives;

  • ideas about human agency’s ontological embeddedness;

  • possible horizons in which to put common moral distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘evil’.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • present this knowledge in written form (essay);

  • formulate a philosophically relevant question;

  • formulate a research topic that reflects both knowledge and understanding of key discussions and methods relevant to the field;

  • formulate a research plan that is feasible within the time available for its completion;

  • write a coherent argumentative text within limited time.


See Timetables Philosophy 2014-2015 , Timetables MA Philosophy 60 EC/120 EC.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required for taking the exam.

Course Load

Total course (10 ECTS credits x 28 hours): 280 hours
Attending (14 weeks x 3 hours): 42 hours
Time for studying the mandatory literature: 90 hours
Time for completing weekly assignments: 90 hours
Research plan: 10 hours
Writing midterm paper: 15 hours
Comments: 8 hours
Writing final paper: 25 hours

Assessment method

  • Weekly assignments (30% of the final grade)

  • Detailed research plan (prerequisite for taking the exam)

  • Midterm paper (30% of the final grade)

  • Comments on research plan and midterm paper fellow student (prerequisite for taking the exam)

  • Expanded final paper, based on research plan, midterm paper and received comments (40% of the final grade)

One resit will be offered, consisting of the final paper. Any student who did not take the first examinations (assignments, midterm paper and final paper) cannot take the resit.


  • 15-11-2014: detailed research plan

  • 01-12-2014: midterm paper

  • 08-12-2014: comments on research plan and midterm paper fellow student

  • 26-01-2015: expanded final paper


Blackboard (digital learning environment) is used in the seminar for posting of instructions or texts, discussion, posting of questions for the instructor or fellow students etc. All assignments should be submitted on Blackboard.

Reading list

  • Required literature will be made available on Blackboard.

Studenten are required to do their weekly reading assignments in advance.


Please register for this course on uSis.
See Registration for courses and examinations

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable for courses in the column under the heading “Act.nbr”.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. H.W. Sneller


Although the course language is English it is highly recommended to study the reading texts in their original languages.