PhD on how AI technologies could be used to improve ethics methodology

Eindhoven University of Technology
August 31, 2024
Offerd Salary:€27 milli
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Contract Type:Other
Working Time:Full time
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PhD on how AI technologies could be used to improve ethics methodology



Irène Curie Fellowship



Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences



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Job description

Can and should philosophers employ large language models or other artificial intelligence tools in the course of doing ethics? Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), in collaboration with the inter-university research consortium, "Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies (ESDiT)," seeks to hire a PhD student for a four-year project on whether (and if so, how) philosophers can use AI technologies to improve ethics methodology.

Job Description

In the last few decades, philosophers have speculated about how AI systems could support or enhance individual moral reasoning, deliberation, and other moral functioning. Following recent developments in AI research, philosophers may well ask what role AI can play within ethics as a discipline. Can AI technologies be used to improve the methods of ethics, including the methods that ethicists of technology use for responding to socially disruptive technologies?

Socially disruptive technologies pose new types of ethical challenges. AI could conceivably help us respond to those challenges by facilitating better ethical theorizing and decision-making. For instance, philosophers might attempt to incorporate AI technologies into processes of conceptual analysis, conceptual engineering, reflective equilibrium, development of new ethical principles and theories, generation of possible arguments and objections, generation of counterexamples to theories, preliminary identification of morally significant risks and benefits in scenarios, and so on. One way to approach such an ambition would be by using finetuning and special prompting to create large language model-based systems to perform or assist with some of these tasks. Philosophers might also try using AI systems to support exploratory anticipation and prospection activities—developing AI systems that help generate technomoral scenarios with a range of salient features, for human discussion and reflection. To facilitate group deliberation, philosophers might incorporate AI into systems for more frequently and efficiently eliciting, analyzing, and aggregating beliefs and preferences within groups, identifying and characterizing points of overlap and disagreement, and helping humans communicate with other humans about what their values are, what norms they endorse, their reasons for their moral views, etc. Insofar as decisions about technology design, implementation, maintenance, modification, etc., should be informed by the values and preferences of stakeholders, researchers might use AI systems to more effectively request and synthesize inputs from ordinary people about how various designs are falling short in ethically-significant dimensions. Alternately, philosophers may want to develop AI agents for engaging in dialogue or negotiating on behalf of individuals or interest groups.

The project is not committed from the outset to the idea that AI systems should be incorporated into ethics methodology any time soon or even ever. There are many potential objections to incorporating AI into ethics—e.g. that human individuals bear special duties to perform certain aspects of ethical reasoning or discernment for themselves, that use of AI within certain ethics tasks would reduce the value of those tasks, or that the opaqueness of the AI systems involved mean that humans cannot rely on AI systems for certain purposes.

In this PhD project, the student will characterize some ways in which AI might conceivably be used to improve ethics methodology and they will develop and defend a position on whether humans should or should not attempt to incorporate AI into ethical methodology in those ways.

This PhD position will be part of the Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies (ESDiT) programme, a ten-year international research programme of seven academic institutions in the Netherlands that started in January 2020. This programme has a combined budget of €27 million and is funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) in the Gravitation funding scheme for excellent research, and by matching funds from the participating institutions. The duration of the programme is from January 2020 to December 2029. The programme has the aim of achieving breakthrough research in at the intersection of ethics, philosophy, technology/engineering and social sciences, and to position its consortium at the top of its field internationally. A key objective is to investigate how new technologies challenge moral values and ontological concepts (like “nature”, “human being” and “community”), and how these challenges necessitate a revision of these concepts. The programme includes four research lines, “Nature, Life and Human Intervention”, “The Future of a Free and Fair Society”, “The Human Condition,” and “Foundations & Synthesis”.

This PhD position will be situated within the Foundations & Synthesis research line, and it will contribute to the ESDiT research objective on “ New approaches for ethical assessment and guidance of SDTs”. A fuller description of the Foundations & Synthesis research line, as well as the programme as a whole, can be found through the ESDiT website: https: // www.

You will be embedded within the Philosophy & Ethics group in the Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences at TU/e. Philosophy & Ethics at TU/e is a vibrant international community, consisting of around 30 members with research interests ranging from philosophy of science and technology to ethics and the philosophy of AI. We have strong cooperation with other departments and the new Eindhoven Artificial Intelligence Systems Institute (EAISI). TU/e is part of the 4TU Ethics consortium (https: // ), (comprised of TU/e, Delft, Twente, and Wageningen), where we cooperate closely on research and education of students.

The project will be supervised by Elizabeth O'Neill and Philip Nickel.

Please note that there are other vacancies in the Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies programme at different participating universities. In case several are of interest to you, we encourage you to apply to them simultaneously.

Job requirements

We are looking for a PhD candidate who has:

  • A completed master's degree in philosophy, preferably in normative ethics, applied ethics, metaethics, ethics of technology, or philosophy of technology.
  • Excellent speaking and writing skills in English.
  • An aptitude for independent work.
  • A background in computer science, especially machine learning, is a plus.
  • Conditions of employment

    A meaningful job in a dynamic and ambitious university, in an interdisciplinary setting and within an international network. You will work on a beautiful, green campus within walking distance of the central train station. In addition, we offer you:

  • Full-time employment for four years, with an intermediate evaluation (go/no-go) after nine months. You will spend 10% of your employment on teaching tasks.
  • Salary and benefits (such as a pension scheme, paid pregnancy and maternity leave, partially paid parental leave) in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities, scale P (min. €2,770 max. €3,539).
  • A year-end bonus of 8.3% and annual vacation pay of 8%.
  • High-quality training programs and other support to grow into a self- aware, autonomous scientific researcher. At TU/e we challenge you to take charge of your own learning process.
  • An excellent technical infrastructure, on-campus children's day care and sports facilities.
  • An allowance for commuting, working from home and internet costs.
  • A Staff Immigration Team and a tax compensation scheme (the 30% facility) for international candidates.
  • ESDiT PhD students are encouraged to spend a semester abroad, for which a budget is available to cover expenses; a generous conference travel budget is also available for the position.

    Everyone deserves to feel at home at our university. TU/e as well as the larger ESDiT research program encourage applications from women, scholars with disabilities, scholars from minority backgrounds, and other persons from groups that are currently underrepresented in philosophy.

    Information and application

    About us

    Eindhoven University of Technology is an internationally top-ranking university in the Netherlands that combines scientific curiosity with a hands- on attitude. Our spirit of collaboration translates into an open culture and a top-five position in collaborating with advanced industries. Fundamental knowledge enables us to design solutions for the highly complex problems of today and tomorrow.

    Curious to hear more about what it's like as a PhD candidate at TU/e? Please view the video.


    Do you recognize yourself in this profile and would you like to know more? Please contact dr. Elizabeth O'Neill, [email protected].

    Visit our website for more information about the application process or the conditions of employment. You can also contact [email protected].

    Are you inspired and would like to know more about working at TU/e? Please visit our career page.


    We invite you to submit a complete application by using the apply button. The application should include a:

  • Cover letter in which you describe your motivation and qualifications for the position
  • Curriculum vitae and the contact information of three references
  • Brief description of your master's thesis
  • One-page statement elaborating on your ideas for this project
  • Writing sample
  • We look forward to receiving your application and will screen it as soon as possible. The vacancy will remain open until the position is filled.

    Desired start date (negotiable): Dec. 1, 2024

    We do not respond to applications that are sent to us in a different way. Please keep in mind you can upload only 5 documents up to 2 MB each. If necessary, please combine files.

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