How to enhance the enhancement debate? – A multi-methodological approach

The Dutch Research School of Philosophy (OZSW) and the Erasmus University Rotterdam invite PhD students in philosophy to register for the course “How to enhance the enhancement debate? – A multi-methodological approach” to take place from August 28th – 30th 2019.

Organizing university

Erasmus University Rotterdam


August 28th-30th 2019


Erasmus University Rotterdam, Campus Woudestein, Burgemeester Oudlaan 50, 3062 PA Rotterdam, Nederland; Sanders Building, 1-12 and 1-13

Type of activity


Type of activity

For this activity PhD students and ReMa students can – after successful completion – earn a certificate. However, the OZSW is not accredited to reward students with credits/ECTS directly. The study load is mentioned on the certificate, which can usually be exchanged for ‘real’ credits (ECTS) at your home university. More information. The study load for this activity is 5 ECTS

Primary target group

PhD students

If places available, also open to

Postdoctoral researchers and research master students

Application/registration deadline

1st of August 2019.

About the topic

In November 2018 a Chinese scientist announced that he had used CRISPR/Cas genome editing techniques to create the world’s first genetically edited babies. This announcement (re)stimulated a broad public debate about the risks and ethical pitfalls of biomedical enhancement. This workshop will address the following pressing questions about human enhancement that reach beyond the debate about the pros and cons of particular biomedical techniques:

  • Ethical limits and regulations:
    • Which ethical limits should be defended with regard to different techniques of enhancement – and, more specifically, on which philosophical grounds?
    • How shall we define the limits and relations of the moral responsibility of individual scientists, the scientific community, policy and legislation?
  • Goals and ideals:
    • Shall we use cognitive enhancers in order improve our individual contribution to human progress – be it the progress of science, culture or morality?
    • Shall we aim at overcoming diseases and death or even create a new transhuman species? Is this a threatening perspective or just the logical extension of our natural pursuit of perfection?
    • Which philosophical, religious or (pop-)cultural ideals of the perfect human being are implied in the enhancement debate?
  • Our self-understanding as human beings:
    • How do growing opportunities of enhancement change and challenge our self-understanding as human beings? How does the ideal of self-optimization change our bodily experience?
    • Is striving for perfection a natural feature of being human? And what makes the difference (if there is any) between the use of biomedical enhancement and the use of other, more traditional techniques of self-improvement, self-cultivation or self-optimization?

The current bioethical debate on human enhancement is heated, emotional, and controversial. The discussion often tends towards two extremes: either it gets bogged down in details while evaluating different methods of enhancement; or it gets lost in struggling with big questions about limits and ideals of being human.

Aim / objective

It is the main goal of this workshop to enable the participants to avoid these extremes, enrich the debate, and develop their own philosophical viewpoint. Therefore the topic of human enhancement shall be discussed from different angels in order to get a new grip on it. The method of detailed evaluation of specific cases will be confronted with the method of ‘asking the big questions‘. The participants will be introduced to different methodological approaches by experts in different philosophical fields, such as normative and applied ethics, neuroethics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of culture and technology, anthropology, phenomenology, and political philosophy.

  • The participants will gain a deeper understanding of the ethical and societal challenges of human enhancement.
  • They will distinguish between different uses of the concept of enhancement – in contrast to therapy but also with regard to the ideals and standards that determine what is considered as well-being or as “better than well”.
  • They will be enabled to recognize the philosophical, ideological and methodological presuppositions that shape the different positions in the enhancement debate.
  • They will learn to take and defend different viewpoints by giving short presentations on how different philosophers from different periods would argue about a particular aspect of the debate. Thereby they will practice the sound application of different philosophical methodologies and theoretical backgrounds to the discussion of a topical issue.
  • They will consider cultural and pop-cultural influences on the imagery of the enhanced human being (films, literature, arts…).
  • They will discuss with experts and improve their skills for communicating and for publishing their research.



August 28th

10:00 Arrival; Coffee

10:15-10:30 Welcome, Practicalities

10:30-11-30 Introduction into three fields of the enhancement debate

1) Ethical limits and regulations (Maartje Schermer)

2) Goals and ideals (Katharina Bauer)

3) Our self-understanding as human beings (Hub Zwart)

11:30-13:30 Short presentations of the participants: Research projects

13:30-14:30 Lunchbreak

14:30-16:00 Presentation & Discussion: Farah Focquaert, Moral Enhancement

16:00-16:30 Coffeebreak

16:30- 18:00 Presentation & Discussion: Caroline Harnacke, Normality / Disability

18:30 Dinner (facultative)

20:00 Film and Discussion: Black Mirror


August 29th

9:45 Coffee

10:00-11:30 Presentation & Discussion: t.b.a., Cognitive Enhancement

11:30 Coffeebreak

11:45-13:30 Presentation & Discussion: t.b.a., Human Enhancement & Technology

13:15-14:30 Lunchbreak

14:30-16:30 Working Groups:

Short presentations / statements from the perspective of different philosophers; initiating a discussion “between these philosophers”…

18:00 Dinner and drinks (facultative)


August 30th

10:15 Coffee

10:30-12:00 Presentation & Discussion: Trijsje Franssen: Human Enhancement in Art and Fiction

12:00-12:45 Lunchbreak

12:45-14:00 Presentation and discussion of the results of the working groups:

How to enhance the enhancement debate? What can different philosophical positions and methodologies contribute to the debate?

14:00-15:00 Q&A: publishing papers, establishing academic networks; Information about preparing the paper that has to be submitted after the course in order to gain the certificate (5 ECTS).


Farah Focquaert (Ghent)

Trijsje Franssen (Leiden)

Caroline Harnacke (Tilburg)



Required preparations

Please prepare two short presentations:

  • What are your research interests and projects? How are they related to the topic of human enhancement? What is your methodology? What is your main interest in or your main question about the topic of human enhancement? (max. 10 minutes; can be combined with a poster)


  • Choose a philosopher to whom you particularly agree or disagree! She or he could be, but does not have to be one of “the classics”. It is not necessary that this philosopher has explicitly commented on the topic of enhancement. Formulate a short (provocative?) statement or thesis from the perspective of the philosopher that you have chosen about the topic of human enhancement. Ideally, this statement should clearly relate to one of the three fields of the topic that shall be discussed during the workshop: ethical limits and regulations; goals and ideals; self-understanding of human beings. Be prepared to present the statement (max. 5 minutes) and to represent and defend the position of “your philosopher” in a discussion on human enhancement.


You are expected to read all the assigned literature, to do assignments, to actively participate in the discussions and to write a paper at the end of the course. After your registration, you will receive a list with mandatory and optional literature and further information about the assignments.


  • 250 euro’s for non-OZSW members
  • 200 euro’s for OZSW members

Location / accommodation details

For further information about the location (see above) and accommodation, please contact the organizers:

How to apply / register

Please register using the link below. The maximum number of applications is 25. In case of too many applications, the coordinator of the course will make a selection. In case of too little applications, the course will be cancelled. In case of cancellation, the OZSW will inform participants at least one week in advance. The OZSW is not responsible for any (accommodation) costs that students may have made in preparation for the course.

Registration/application form


Katharina Bauer (Erasmus University Rotterdam) Hub Zwart (Erasmus University Rotterdam) Maartje Schermer (Erasmus University Rotterdam)

Contact info

For further information, please contact Katherina Bauer at the following e-mail address: For practical inquiries, please contact