Philosophy & Ethics - Funded Research


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NWO Projects


MVI-project: Developing and implementing smart grids in India (2014-2019)

India faces two major challenges in the field of electricity generation and use. Its electricity demand is growing while its central grid suffers from severe performance deficits. Meanwhile, a significant part of India’s population does not even have access to the central grid. The Indian government aims to address these challenges in part by using smart grids, energy networks that use ICT to match supply and demand from multiple sources. However, successful smart grid development is not simply a matter of getting the technology right: social embedding, ethical acceptability and institutional support are at least as important. This project therefore sets out to answer the question: How can smart grids be successfully developed and implemented in rural India?

The project’s work is divided into five work packages (WPs). WP1 investigates technical specifications and develops a smart grid prototype. WP2 investigates how smart grids can be embedded and commercialized in the rural Indian energy market, using the Hidden Design method. WP3 investigates how societal and institutional factors affect the viability of smart grid implementation and use in India, using an ethnographic approach in combination with insights from transition studies. WP4 addresses ethical challenges, especially the question to what degree hidden design can replace deliberative processes as a fair and just method of stakeholder involvement. WP5 investigates which key factors affect the potential for upscaling smart grids throughout India. Goal of the project is to answer the research question by the actual responsible development and implementation of a smart grid prototype.

PI: prof. dr. G.P.J. Verbong (TIS); Project collaborators: dr. J.I. Höffken (TIS), dr. A.J.K. Pols (P&E), dr. A. Spahn (P&E)

The project’s official website can be found at You can also follow the project on Twitter at @smartgridsindia.

See also here.


VIDI-project: Darwinizing culture: the status of cultural evolutionary theory as a science (2014-2019)

Project coordinator: Krist Vaesen

The last couple of decades has witnessed a surge of attempts to Darwinize the cultural sciences. By applying biological theories and tools to cultural phenomena (e.g., cultural diversity, cultural revolutions), cultural evolutionists purport to make the study of culture a more progressive and more rigorous enterprise. Although their work has caught on astonishingly rapidly, and although it has faced several in principle objections, it hasn’t yet been subjected to thorough methodological criticism. In that light, exploiting the tools provided by the philosophy of science, the VIDI programme aims to answer the following question: To what extent can we trust methods devised for understanding biological phenomena, if these are applied to the realm of culture?


Medical trust beyond clinical walls (NWO-MVI; 2013-2014)


Project coordinator: Philip Nickel

Project team members in P&E: Felicitas Kraemer, Sander Voerman

Trust is identified by medical ethicists as a fundamental value in medicine. Telecare, the practice of medicine using information and communication technology to monitor and treat patients at home, redefines the relationship between patient and clinician and moves health care to a new context. This study aims to find out how chronically ill patients establish trust in telecare, and when this trust is well-grounded. Patients, clinicians and designers associated with two private companies will be interviewed, and an extensive database of existing patient survey data will be analyzed. An ethical framework will be used to evaluate the expectations and reasons grounding trust attitudes among chronically ill telecare patients.


Wise Choices and Smart Savings: Effectiveness and Acceptability of Persuasive Technology for Household Energy Saving (NWO-MVI; 2013 - 2014)

Project Coordinator: Andreas Spahn

One third of all energy consumption takes place within the build environment, and reducing that consumption is crucial for a sustainable society. However, technological innovations alone are not enough: people also have to change their energy consumption behavior. Persuasive Technology (PT) can motivate people to realize sustainable energy consumption by using less household energy. PT aims at persuading human agents to behave in socially valued ways, by giving information, providing feedback, and taking over actions. The success of PT that serves the public interest depends on the integration of sound technology, effective persuasive principles and careful attention to ethical considerations.

The current research brings together psychological and ethical expertise to investigate under which conditions PT can be used to reduce household energy consumption in a way that is both, psychologically effective and ethically acceptable. In order to address this question the research will provide guidelines for designing PT to influence household energy consumption behavior in a way that this PT are (1) morally acceptable (focusing on user-autonomy, and the discrepancies between PT goals and user goals), and (2) psychologically effective (focusing on effectiveness of persuasive strategies PT can employ). These two sets of guidelines'on the moral acceptability and the psychological effectiveness' will be combined in a joint case study in the 'Smart Home' in order to investigate whether the adherence to moral principles in the design of PT will have a positive or negative impact on their (psychological) effectiveness.

Research partners:

  • Dr. J. Ham, Human Technology Interaction, School of Innovation Sciences, Eindhoven University of Technology
  • Dr. R. Broeders, Human Technology Interaction, School of Innovation Sciences, Eindhoven University of Technology



Biofuels: sustainable innovation or gold rush? (NWO MVI, 2011-2015)



Researchers of the P&E group: Andreas Spahn, Auke Pols.


Biofuels are controversial. Policy makers and other stakeholders are struggling to find answers to how, and under which conditions sustainability could be realised, and how to encourage sustainable practices through guidelines and norms (e.g., derived from the Cramer Criteria). This project aims to address these strategic questions by investigating conceptual, ethical and political aspects of sustainability of biofuels. First, different organizational models for production and use will be studied, their institutional and policy governance; value- and resource trade-offs arising between economic, social and environmental sustainability dimensions generated by these different models; and their relation to societal controversies. It will then be analysed how contestations influence future development of biofuel technologies, and what policy lessons can be drawn from that.

The main research question is: What organisational models of innovation, production and use of biofuels can be sustainable in social, economic and environmental terms if appropriately governed, and how can, or should, sustainability be understood in this context?


Research partners (Selection):

  • Dr. H.A. Romijn, Associate professor of technology and development studies, School of Innovation Sciences, Eindhoven University of Technology, and member of WTMC.
  • Prof. K. Frenken, Professor of economics of innovation & technological change, School of Innovation Sciences, Eindhoven University of Technology, and member WTMC.
  • Dr.V. Vakulabharanam, Assistant professor in economics, University of Hyderabad, India
  • Dr K.N. Njau, Senior Lecturer, department of mechanical, chemical and process engineering, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania



Moral fitness of military personnel in a networked operational environment (NWO-MVI, 2009-2014)



Project manager: Lambèr Royakkers

Project team members: dr. Peter Essens (TNO), prof.dr. Desirée Verweij (NLDA), drs. Ing. Christine van Burken (TU/e), dr. Bart van Bezooijen (TU/e), prof.dr. Marc de Vries (TU/e)


Military operational personnel are increasingly confronted with unprecedented complexities in their expeditionary missions. Collaboration between diverse partners is an essential requirement in these operations. Military organisations increasingly make use of network technology to foster information sharing and interactions between the parties in the network. We use the phrase Network Enabled Operations (NEO) to describe the added value of a well-networked operational environment. Mission success is increasingly determined by the soldier’s capabilities to evaluate high-stake situations, to make balanced decisions, and to collaborate in ad hoc alliances. Ethics and morality play a crucial role in dealing with diversity of perspectives and balancing multiple interests of collaborating parties and own interests. This research program will investigate the critical competencies of military personnel needed for moral decision making in network enabled operations. This central question is subdivided into three subquestions: What characterizes moral fitness in a networked operational environment; which are the psychological and social conditions that enable morally responsible decision making in a networked operational environment; and, in what ways does a networked operational environment affect military behaviour? The analyses address three issues in NEO: information sharing, collaboration, and delegation of authority. The aim of this research program is to theoretically analyse and empirically assess the drivers of moral fitness for adequate decision making and collaboration. This should contribute to the strengthening and insurance of morally responsible actions and decisions of military personnel in a networked operational environment, resulting in changes in education, training and mission preparation for military personnel.



Persuasive Technology, Allocation of Control, and Social Values (NWO MVI 2009-2013)



Researchers of the P&E group: Anthonie Meijers, Andreas Spahn, Jilles Smids.


Social values can be in conflict with the interests or preferences of individual persons. Sustainability, for example, is widely viewed as crucial for our future. At the same time it is recognized that technology alone cannot bring about a sustainable society. Individual agents need to change their behavior as well. How do we motivate agents such that they realize our social values, even when these values conflict with their own private interests? This is where persuasive technology comes into the picture. It aims at persuading human agents to behave in socially-valued ways, by giving information, providing feedback, and taking over actions. The success of a persuasive technology that serves the public interest depends on the integration of sound technology, effective persuasive principles and careful attention to ethical considerations.

Persuasive technologies raise various ethical questions, many of which have to do with a conflict between the individual values of human agents and the social values that these technologies aim to promote. For example, a conflict between autonomy, privacy and control on the one hand and sustainability and safety on the other. Is a persuasive strategy morally justified if it leads to socially desired behavior, even if it interferes with or even sacrifices to some extent the user's auto­nomy? How can persuasion be distinguished from manipulation or coercion? How does persuasive technology affect the user’s responsibility? The distribution of respons­ibility between the designer and user seems to be of a different kind here: if a PT fails to persuade its user, who is responsible then for a possible negative conse­quence?

This philosophical project will study the ethical issues of technological 'persuasion'. It will more specifically look at the issue of control. The main research question is: What are morally acceptable ways of techno­logical ‘persuasion’?

The case of energy management and vehicle safety will be used to explore bottom up the various ethical issues involved. This will be combined with first attempts in the literature to sketch an ethical framework for persuasive techno­logies. No compelling guidelines that stem from a sound ethical analysis of the complex phenomenon of persuasion have been established so far. This is not surprising, given the little work that has been done on the topic. The project will probably profit from the philosophical analysis of the ways technology mediates our perceptions and actions, and from the work done in the context of value-sensitive design. It seems promising to apply both approaches to persuasive technologies and to elaborate on the specific ethical issues that arise once a technology becomes explicitly ‘persuasive’, that is intends a behavior change of the user. Also work done on ethical issues of persuasion in fields previously not linked to technology might serve as a valuable source of insights, as in rhetoric, advertisement ethics, and metaethics.


Research partners:

  • prof.dr. C.J.H. Midden (professor of social psychology, school of Innovation Sciences at TU/e);
  • prof. M. Steinbuch (professor of control systems technology, department of  Mechanical Engineering at TU/e)



Darwinism in the man-made world (NWO-Vidi; 2008-2012)



Researchers: Wybo Houkes and Stefan Mendritzki


Evolutionary models and techniques are increasingly, but controversially, applied to explain or even bring about technological change. We examine how these models are fine-tuned and validated in different disciplines: anthropology, archaeology, economics and engineering. In particular, we study to what extent they support claims of a ‘universal’ Darwinism, and to what extent the fine-tuning does and should reflect conceptions of technology as (the product of) intentional human actions.



Past NWO Projects

A list of past projects funded by NWO can be found here.





Ecis synergy projects



  • Building Responsibilities with Information Systems
    Synergy project, 2010

    Researcher: W.N. Houkes

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis: Uncertainty, Discounting and The Sustainable Future
    Synergy project and workshop at TU Eindhoven, 2010

    Researchers: R. Lowry, A.W.M. Meijers and M. Peterson.

  • Strategic Niche Management and social entrepreneurship in sustainability transitions
    Synergy project, 2009

    Researcher: L.M.M. Royakkers

  • The Secret Persuader: Psychological Mechanisms and Ethical Dilemmas of Ambient Persuasive Technology
    Synergy project, 2009

    Researchers: P.J. Nickel and A. Spahn