Research Prizes

Felix Schirmann
PhD dissertation:
The Good, the Bad, and the Brain: Theory and History of the Neuroscience of Morality.

Supervisor: professor G.C.G. Dehue
Co-supervisor: dr S. Schleim
Nomination: University of Groningen, Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences

Report of the Selection Committee
The research that underpinned this thesis has a remarkable focus: a neurobiological study of morality and immorality. Do people who commit crimes possess an aptitude for crime that can be detected in their brain and in their DNA? And can such bodily features even predict criminality? The topical and pressing nature of this subject is huge – just think of the role that these issues play in criminal cases. The remarkable thing about this thesis is its combination of neurobiological research and historical, philosophical, sociological and academic/theoretical aspects. Differences in historical periods and contemporary cultures can lend concepts other meanings. Think of the question of free will, which is not only empirical but also philosophical and judicial in nature. Erasmus and Luther disagreed on the issue. Felix Schirmann has a good eye for those culturally and historically determined differences and can express his observations in an excellent style. His thesis will therefore appeal to a wide readership.

Felix Schirmann (Berlin, 1984) studied Psychology at the Freie Universität in Berlin and at the University of Vienna. During his studies he focused on the theory and history of psychology and became fascinated with the philosophical aspects of the discipline. Prompted by a keen interest in the brain, he worked in a research group that examined the development of children’s brains. In 2010 he started his doctoral research at the University of Groningen, in which he explored the following questions: when, why, where, how, in which contexts, and with which consequences has morality in the brain been examined? His thesis analyses the possibilities, limitations and effects of the neuroscience of morality in the past and present. Felix Schirmann obtained his PhD in 2014 and is currently working as an author and scientific journalist in Berlin.