Université catholique de Louvain

Ethical and philosophical stakes of sciences in societies
In the last decades, the space occupied by science in our society has profoundly changed. The neutrality of science, epistemological and social, has been called into question. Integrated to research development, science is now sometimes considered as a simple element of a particular economic system. Such a position calls for a critical analysis. The complexity of t sciences and societies relations implies epistemological studies that aim to better specify the originality of science as a knowledge system. In addition, each particular technology interferes with social mechanisms according to modes that call for an ethical evaluation.

Since most ESST students that will come at the UCL are not trained as philosophers, we have planned a formation based on two tools.

  1. A 30h graduate seminar called Ethics in science-society relations. The seminar will deal with a theme in the area of the ethics of the relationship between science and society to be determined by its members in relation to research projects in which they are currently involved (examples of past themes: rethinking the authority of science in 2014, ethical stakes of sustainable development in 2013, nanotechnologies and societies in 2012). The 2017 seminar’s theme will be Ethical issues related to the ecological crisis. Upon completion of the seminar, the student should be able: to conduct research into a particular theme in the area of the ethics of the relationship between science and society based on a critical analysis of major works and texts by authors dealing with that theme, as well as on contributions presented within the framework of the seminar. To write a scientific paper on a precisely delimited topic that is germane to the theme of the seminar. To participate actively in cooperative research concerning the ethics of the relationship between science and society, especially through active participation in the discussion of contributions made within the framework of the seminar.
  2. Biweekly scientific meetings where all ESST students will be expected to present their work progress using as support slides or text (20-30min). During these meetings, scientific choices made by the students will be discussed. They will receive advice from the present academics and graduate students and the work for the next two weeks will be planned. Beyond the present CEFISES academics members, we will invite to certain meetings, when it is appropriate, academics from other fields. A list of interested experts is developed as the moment we write these lines. Through these mettings, ESST students will get well integrated to the research centre.
  3. Students with a passive understanding of French are also welcome to attend the following seminars: Advanced studies in philosophy of nature: Time in contemporary physics (because of the difficulty of the subject this seminar will be more like a graduate class). b) Seminar on philosophy of natural sciences: Emergence in material sciences: physics, chemistry and biology. These seminars will be given in French, but all written materials will be in English.

All theses will be co-supervised by the Prof. Bernard Feltz, by the Prof. Alexandre Guay or by the Prof. Peter Verdée. No student will have only one supervisor. No student will have only one supervisor.

Frequently and depending on the particular subject thesis, another co-supervisor will be added. Our final list of co-supervisors will be available soon.In order to give the best quality of supervision, no more than 3-4 students will be allowed in this specialization.

Some examples of thesis topics
These suggestions are only here to give a general idea of what it is possible to do. The definitive subject will be the result of exchanges between the student and the supervisors.

Scientific expertise, the relations between sciences and ideologies, the authority of science, the neutrality of science, intellectual propriety, biotechnologies and the status of life forms, ecology and sustainable development.

Examples of specific topics that could be explored from a philosophical point of view:

GMO, nanotechnologies, the mad cow disease, energy policy, electromagnetic wave and health

To come to the UCL does not presuppose speaking French. The graduate seminar and the supervision of students are performed in English.

Description of the research centre
Founded in 1958 by Prof. Jean Ladrière, the Center for Philosophy of Science and Societies (CEFISES) of the Higher Institute of Philosophy epistemological and social questions raised by today science. Interdisciplinary studies are central: philosophical analysis benefits from the scientific matters it considers. That is why most of the center members have dual training in philosophy and science.

Thanks to its close connection to scientific disciplines (physics, biology, cognitive or social sciences, economics…), the CEFISES examines, by means of analytic methods, general topics as well as issues specific to individual scientific disciplines. The fundamental question is the cognitive value of models, their link to reality and to different underlying conceptions of human and nature. Science is one of the most important features of modernity. It is central in the evolution of contemporary societies, at the national as well as the international level. The interdisciplinary Center for Philosophy of Science and Societies (CEFISES) aims at analyzing scientific activity in its various aspects and studying the new connections between natural and social sciences and philosophy which are emerging.

1) The first objective is to define the characteristics of (formal and empirical) various explanatory strategies, which are used in natural and social sciences in their search of truth. It means that the logics of explanation are studied in order to underline the relevance and limits of their cognitive purpose. The anthropology and metaphysics which are involved when a discipline tries to understand its object are taken into account too.

2) The second objective is to analyse the various interactions between science and societies, so as to check whether they fit democratic life. These interactions are especially studied in the impact of technology on the social working and ethics. Scientific and technological progress changes our way of living, representations and systems of values. This analysis leads to several proposals for a knowledge society which could serve humankind.

Main areas of research:

  1. Philosophy of natural sciences:

    1. The foundations of physics and the causal modeling in social sciences

    2. The issues of creation and teleology in nature

  2. Philosophy of social sciences:

    1. Governance theory and epistemology of social sciences

    2. Governance for sustainable development and new forms of collective action

  3. Science, Technology, Ethics, and Societies:

    1. The expert’s function about technological progress

    2. The concept of sustainable development, its connection with the international economic dynamics, the precautionary principle, and the situation of developing countries.

    3. The study of relation between science and religion

Université catholique de Louvain’s facts and figures

In 2011-2012,

UCL is a large, international community:

  • 27 261 students of 122 different nationalities,
  • a 5 623-member teaching, research, administrative and technical staff,
  • 150 000 alumni world wide.

UCL is responsible for the education of nearly one out of two French-speaking academics in Belgium and proposes courses in all possible disciplines:

  • 42 Bachelor’s programmes,
  • 35 60 credit Master’s programmes (one year)
  • 89 120 credit Master’s programmes (two years) offer some 203 study possibilities according to focus: teaching, research, or professional
  • 66 advanced Master’s programmes,
  • 74 minors and additional modules,
  • 220 continuing education programmes.

Research, performed in close collaboration with the private and public sector and international institutions, is one of UCL’s main activities:

  • 2 971 researchers
  • 1 982 PhD students, half of which are foreign visitors
  • 1100 research agreements signed in 2011, worth an over-all amount of around 150 million euro
  • 1 Noble Prize winner: Prof Christian de Duve (medicine, 1974)
  • 20 Prix Francqui winners
  • No. 1 French-speaking Belgian university (Times Higher Education Supplement international ranking 2009)
  • No. 2 French-speaking comprehensive university internationally (THES 09)


The philosophy library can be found here. Other documentation resources can found here.


Information and contact details for accommodation

Help to find accomodation as an international student can be found at this link.


Contact person

UCL representative in the ESST network

Prof. Alexandre Guay; Email: alexandre.guay@uclouvain.be