CPT-94803 Selective Attention and Ethics (Philosophy from a Humanistic Perspective)


Credits 3.00

Course coordinator(s)prof. dr. CN van der Weele
Lecturer(s)prof. dr. CN van der Weele
Examiner(s)prof. dr. CN van der Weele

Language of instruction:



We live among an overload of information. How to deal with that is an increasing challenge, since our attention is limited and therefore inevitably selective. Routines are important determinants of selective attention, in science as well as in daily life. Taking a closer look at our attention habits may surprise us: the patterns are often remarkable. Understanding these patterns takes us to the role of such things as framing and agenda setting but also to emotions and motivation. For example, knowledge can be dangerous or otherwise unwelcome; only think of the suspicion that we may not be as bright or energetic or popular as we would like to be. One strategy to deal with unwelcome information, about ourselves as well as more generally, is turning away from it in 'strategic ignorance'. The course also deals with other mechanisms and practices of selective attention. What we do and don't want to know is not only of practical and scientific interest, it is also ethically important. During the course, we will encounter perspectives from science, philosophy and art. They will serve as sources of moral reflection and investigation on selective attention.
Specific topics include:
- attention patterns, practices and challenges: how to live in a world of information overload; the attention economy; attention and the media; information landscapes; selective attention in science; specific practices of selective attention, e.g. the case of meat;
- mechanisms of selective attention: limited capabilities; habits, framing, agenda setting; incentives; unwelcome information and ambivalence; denial and strategic ignorance, evolutionary and social mechanisms;
- normative and constructive approaches: ideals and assumptions of attention; moral questions; the role of art, design and the imagination; practical investigation and attention exercises.

Learning outcomes:

After successfully following this course you will be able to:
- recognize and explain patterns, practices, challenges and mechanisms of selective attention.
You will be able to reflect on selective attention form moral points of view, and to imagine and devise ways to investigate attention in practice.


- lectures;
- exercises and assignments;
- literature study;
- presentation and discussion of cases, essay.


Assignments on blackboard 40 %; individual essay 60%.


Texts on Blackboard.