In addition to the two highly interdisciplinary clusters the institute has researchers in a more autonomous field of philosophy. This research is focused on philosophy of mind, culture and technology and mainly attached to the Dutch philosophical environment.
Western philosophy is traditionally biased toward the view that rationality is a human universal that reflects itself in culture. Cultural history on this view is by implication a largely continuous process; by the same token different cultures can ideally be compared in terms of their manner and degree of expressing human nature. A typical example is Hegel’s view of global cultural history as the gradual unfolding, or maturation, of the universal Geist. Conversely, cross-cultural differences too profound to be explained in these terms must be due to mere contingencies; cultural relativism is irrational by definition.
Individual researchers take issue with the received view on rationality and culture, yet without giving way to a facile form of cultural relativism. This research has three areas of particular interest.
The research of Dr. J.J.M. Sleutels explores how human nature can be said to reflect culture, rather than vice versa. This does not mean that alleged human universals such as rationality are simply exposed as culturally variable products, however. The relationship between man and culture appears to be much more complex. The human mind seems to be contingent upon specific aspects of changing cultural landscapes, including in particular technological systems of communication such as alphabet, writing, printing press and the Internet, each of which is in its turn dependent on human ingenuity. The challenge is to see how this mesh of mutual contingencies can be resolved. Research in this field addresses questions about the nature of past minds (of evolutionary and cultural ancestors) as well as about future developments of the mind that may be expected as a result of rapidly changing technological conditions.
The research of Dr. G.T.M. Visser tries to chart how modes of self-experience have changed in the course of history, not only by tracking the way in which these changes made themselves manifest in culture (most notably in art), but also by heeding the reactions they elicited from contemporaries. One particular example is the rise of modern experiential rationality, which inclines us to view our life as a project, an ensemble of experiences that can be actively managed by responsible agents. A countermovement is the cry for a spiritual, non-possessive and non-managerial attitude toward one’s life, in which elements of the Lebensphilosophie and of mystical traditions seem to return, such as the notion of Gelassenheit (‘releasement’) familiar from Meister Eckhart and Heidegger.