7 PhD positions for a radically multi-disciplinary research program on human nature & the humanities

by Ingrid Robeyns on December 1, 2010

While the humanities are under siege (in the UK; possibly all over Europe; or perhaps even in the entire world if Nussbaum is right in her book Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities), the Dutch Research Council decided last year to fund two large programs which would add to a strenghtening of the humanities. That said, our new right-wing government immediately decided to cancel their future additional investment in the humanities (whereas under the last government there was some talk that the humanities would ‘catch up’ with the other sciences, since it was clearly demonstrated that they suffered from underfunding relative to the social&behavior and the natural sciences).

I’ve been lucky to become involved in one of the two programs that got funding. Our program, Practical Self-Understanding, aims to investigate how the humanities can contribute to our self-understanding (or some would say: ideas of human nature), and in particular to ‘practical self-understanding’ in the natural, social and behavioral sciences. It’s the first time I am involved in a project that is so radically multi-disciplinary. The ‘senior team’ consists of a moral philosopher, a philosophical anthropologist (with another degree in history or arts), an evolutionary biologist, a psychiatrist, a philosopher in religion (with another degree in physics), a historian of 18th century philosophy, a literary scholar and a political philosopher (with another degree in economics). It is also the first time that I am involved in a project that, to me at least, seems so ‘off the beaten track’—it is still very open where our enquiries in the coming four years will take us. That open-endedness is a tad scary, but also very adventurous and exciting – and if we are to believe the science policy decision makers, it looks like it’s going to be increasingly difficult to get funding for such research in the future (the trend is to go for ‘safe’ research, where the ‘societal impact’ is roughly known beforehand). One of the things I plan to do is to study Herbert Gintis book The Bounds of Reason: Game Theory and the Unification of the Behavioral Sciences, which I heard him talk about last year, and who seems to have a similar strongly multi-disciplinary approach in his analysis of human behavior (and thus, I would think, either explicitly or implicitly also of human nature).

If anyone reading this is a well-qualified Master’s student (or is supervising one) who is looking for a PhD position in the Netherlands (Leiden, Rotterdam and Utrecht), do have a look at the (bi-lingual) description of the 7 PhD projects that we are about to fill in. PhD positions in the Netherlands are for 4 years, decently paid, and with good social insurance/welfare state protection. There are also two postdoc projects on offer. Application deadline is January 1st, 2011. And, of course, anyone who wants to share experiences with working in such a radically multi-disciplinary group, and/or has some good advice for us – the floor is yours.

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Linnaeus 12.02.10 at 7:07 pm

Sounds like there ought to be a historian of science *cough*me*cough* in there somewhere.

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