CPT-55003 Selective Attention and Ethics (Philosophy from a Humanistic Perspective)

Code last year: (CPT-94803)


Credits 3.00

Teaching methodContact hours
Group work18
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 a challenge, since our attention is limited and therefore inevitably selective. As attention has increasingly become a scarce resource, we begin to see how valuable it is - after all, our selection defines our experience. Yet we are often hardly aware of how we spend our attention and what are the forces that steer us. In this course, we look at attention-guiding forces, and at ways to make progress in becoming more masterful in what we might call 'the art of attention'. We will also aim to understand attention phenomena in a less personal way, encountering different attention ideals and different ways to analyse attention. Attention is a philosophical and practical theme that deserves further understanding.

Environments are full of attention-guiding mechanisms - just think of the news, advertisements, social media. In order to understand their force, we also need to understand dominant and ingrained patterns in moving through our attentional landscapes, such as responding primarily to what is new and surprising. Emotions are also important guides: some things are very nice and emotionally rewarding to attend to, other things are not, and we often have a tendency to avoid information when we suspect it may lead to unwelcome insights. Only think of the suspicion that we may not be as good or bright or popular as we would hope to be.Turning away form unwelcome information, also called 'strategic ignorance', also tends to affect our openness to information that comes with unwelcome responsibilities, for example concerning climate - and it is a reason why more information is not always helpful for making us more responsible. And to what extent are we responsible for our attention habits?

Another guiding factor is that we are not only givers of attention, but also receivers, and that we all, to various extents, have a need to be seen and recognized. This is one of the reasons that leaving facebook is so hard. It also means that an analysis of the attention economy cannot just claim that our attention is stolen from us.

Topics include:

- attention mechanisms, attention and the news, attention in science and daily life, the attention economy

- attention as a reciprocal phenomenon; how it is pursued; how we can become addicted to it
- attention habits, unwelcome information and ambivalence; denial and strategic ignorance, evolutionary and social mechanisms;
- ideals and assumptions of attention; moral questions; the role of art, design and the imagination;

- practical investigation and attention exercises.

Learning outcomes:

After successful completion of this course students are expected to be able to:
- recognize and explain patterns, practices, and forces of selective attention.
- reflect on attention ideals and on selective attention form moral points of view

- imagine and devise ways to investigate attention in practice, and think of experimental ways to change your patterns of attention


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


Self-experiment 30%;

Essay-question 30%;

Essay 40%.


Texts on Brightspace.