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Philosophy of Technology


Admission requirements

  • BA students in Filosofie, who have successfully completed at least 70 ECTS credits of the mandatory components of the first and second year of their bachelor’s programme, including History of Modern Philosophy, Logica, Epistemologie or Wetenschapsfilosofie, Analytische filosofie, OR including History of Modern Philosophy, Cultuurfilosofie, Continentale filosofie, Philosophy of Mind.

  • BA students in Philosophy: Global and Comparative Perspectives, who have successfully completed at least 70 ECTS credits of the mandatory components of the first and second year of their bachelor’s programme, including World Philosophies: Modern Europe, Logic, Epistemology or Philosophy of Science, Language of Thought, OR including World Philosophies: Modern Europe, Philosophy of Culture, Concepts of Selfhood, and at least one of the courses World Philosophies: China, World Philosophies: India, World Philosophies: Africa, World Philosophies: Middle East.

  • Pre-master’s students in Philosophy who are in possession of an admission statement and who have to complete an advanced seminar, to be selected from package C.


Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the most important technologies today. Ever since its birth in the 1950s it has been the subject of intense philosophical discussion. These discussions have changed considerably as AI, in the course of its development, took on different forms and started to integrate itself in our daily lives. This course explores the way in which AI has changed, and the different sets of philosophical questions that were raised in the course of that development.

The course distinguishes four broad periods in the history of AI:
A. 1955-1985: GOFAI and rule-based expert systems.
B. 1985-2015: Neural networks and deep learning
C. 2015-present: AI integrated in daily life
D. Near future: how far could AI go?

Each period is covered in an introductory lecture and two sessions with student presentations. Discussion topics will include the following:

A. What is GOFAI? Turing test, Chinese Room experiment, strong and weak AI, and the computer metaphor in cognitive science. How do rule-based expert systems work? Is machine intelligence based on a caricature of human intelligence?
B. What are neural networks? How do they work and what can they do? What makes them different from GOFAI? What is deep learning? Is the brain a computer? Can neural network models really explain human cognition?
C. Machine learning, big data, and automated decision making. How smart algorithms are integrating AI in our daily lives. Epistemic opacity, algocracy and surveillance capitalism.
D. Utopian and dystopian views of AI. More general questions about our relation to technology: are we in control of technology, or is technology controlling us?

Course objectives

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

  • the basics of artificial intelligence in its various forms: GOFAI, rule-based expert systems, neural networks, machine learning and smart algorithms;

  • key concepts in philosophical reflections on artificial intelligence, including algorithms, rules and representations, strong and weak AI, epistemic opacity, algocracy and surveillance capitalism;

  • the main philosophical discussions about artificial intelligence since the 1950s;

  • key questions in the philosophy of technology in general.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • use philosophical sources and review philosophical literature;

  • prepare and deliver an oral presentation of philosophical arguments, using digital presentation tools;

  • collaborate with fellow students on preparing and delivering their presentation;

  • write a clear argumentative essay on a philosophical question raised by AI, or make a discursively articulate video presentation on the same.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Active participation in class (10%)

  • Oral presentation by small teams of students (40%)

  • Final project: essay (3000-4000 words) or video presentation (30 min.) (50%)

  • Reflection report (0%)


The final mark is the weighted average of the above components.


A resit is offered only for the final project (50%). Grades for participation and presentation remain in place. Students who have obtained a satisfactory overall grade for the first examinations cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Required reading:

  • Boden, Margaret A. (2018), Artificial Intelligence. A very short introduction (Oxford: Oxford UP).

Other required readings will be announced and/or made available through Brightspace. These will include selections from:

  • Boden, Margaret A. (Ed.) (1990), The Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence (Oxford: Oxford UP).

  • Bostrom, Nick (2014), Superintelligence. Paths, Dangers, Strategies (Oxford: Oxford UP).

  • Dreyfus, Hubert. L. (1992), What Computers Still Can’t Do. A Critique of Artificial Reason (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press).

  • Haugeland, John (Ed.) (1997), Mind Design II. Philosophy, Psychology, Artificial Intelligence. Revised and enlarged edition (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press).

  • Heim, Michael (1993), The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality (Oxford: Oxford UP).


Enrolment through MyStudymap is not possible for this course. Students are requested to submit their preferences for the third-year electives by means of an online registration form. They will receive the instruction and online registration form by email (uMail account); in June for courses scheduled in semester 1, and in December for courses scheduled in semester 2. Registration in uSis will be taken care of by the Education Administration Office.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga


Not applicable.