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PhD Defence

Understanding existential self-understanding

21 June 2017
Academy Building
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden


‘Who am I really?’ When people ask themselves this question, they often find themselves in situations or dilemmas that may be labeled ‘existential’. They need to take an important decision, for example, and reflect on what is of fundamental importance to them. Also without explicit self-reflection, people’s behavior and experiences are influenced by what they care about most. Several philosophers have reflected on this existential aspect of selfhood. These days, cognitive neuroscientists too investigate e.g. love and self-reflection. What contributions to our understanding of the existential aspect of human lives can philosophy and cognitive neuroscience (CNS) make?

Van Stee investigates existing CNS research into love and self-reflection and existing philosophies of existential selfhood, by Harry Frankfurt, Søren Kierkegaard and Charles Taylor, amongst others. She argues that CNS and philosophy are not in opposition with each other, as they address different types of questions. Moreover, CNS may benefit from cooperation with philosophy where reflection on moments of interpretation in its research process is concerned. Van Stee develops conceptual review as a tool to do so. She ends with a philosophical view on existential selfhood and existential self-understanding that improves on existing philosophies and integrates insights from CNS where applicable.


  • Prof. W.B. Drees


PhD defences are free; you do not have to register.

PhD dissertations

PhD dissertations by Leiden PhD students are available digitally after the defence through the Leiden Repository, that offers free access to these PhD dissertations. Please note that in some cases a dissertation may be under embargo temporarily and access to its full-text version will only be granted later.

Press contact

Inès van Arkel, Scientific Communications Adviser, Leiden University
+31 71 527 3282