31 May 2018

Compete for the Leo Polak Thesis Prize 2018

The Leo Polak Foundation grants two prizes for Master's theses on a topic within the field of personal meaning-in-life and/or humanization of society.

The theme for 2017-2018 is:

Truth, personal truths, fake news

The domain of searching for truth has long been a central pillar of our culture. We can, for example, think of science, the judicial system or journalism. These professions cannot function without truth as a criterion within their practices, nor without truth legitimating their existence. Also, in our personal lives we take truth for granted, in the things we see or hear, and experience.

After the Second World War, however, postmodern thought has relativized truth: truth is a matter of perspective, as it depends on one’s point of view, heritage, cultural prejudices, gender, and so on. To put it differently: truth has become situated, context-dependent.

In the twenty-first century truth has become even more subjective. To put it bluntly: something is true, good or beautiful because I think or feel it is. You may disagree, but that would be your opinion, your truth.

This relativizing and subjectification of truth has left the truth without its previously unchallenged authority. Truth has gone through a crisis of legitimation. ‘Fake news’ has entered the scene, as have ‘alternative facts’. Some phenomena (Facebook, Trump) have certainly contributed to this process, but this crisis of legitimation also seems to be connected to the neoliberalization of our society and culture.

This ongoing neoliberalization has effected numerous areas of our society and culture that, each in their own way, have been influenced by market-based logic and market-forces: education, art, science, healthcare, free press, politics (which moved away from common interests towards the free market of specific group interests), worldviews and religions. Within this economic climate, subjective legitimation can be perfectly expressed with the motto ‘the customer is always right’.

Consequently, how can we know who is right if truth has lost its authority? Is truth for sale, and is the customer with the biggest wallet right by default? These questions do not just concern journalists and politicians, but scientists too. If scientific research follows the logic of supply and demand, does that mean that the outcomes of the research are for sale as well?

Is this the end of truth, or just a new beginning? Couldn’t we state that these questions of truth are moral questions as well?


The Leo Polak Foundation grants a first prize of € 1.250,- and a second prize of € 500,-The prizes are awarded by an independent jury. The prize is intended for students from a Dutch-speaking university or for Dutch-speaking Belgians and Dutchmen at a foreign university who in the academic year 2017-2018 have completed a master thesis. Applications are due on the first of October, 2018.

The assessment criteria are:

  • Scientific quality
  • Originality
  • Presentation and design

The thesis must have been assessed by a member of the scientific staff of a Dutch university or Dutch-speaking Belgian university. Only this person is allowed to submit the thesis. The thesis itself should be submitted anonymously, i.e. the name of the author (s) may not in any way be listed on or in the thesis. The thesis should be written in the Dutch or English language.

The members of the jury are:

Drs. Leo Samama (chair): musicologist, composer, president of the Leo Polak Foundation

Prof. dr. Joachim Duyndam, professor of Humanism and Philosophy

Dr. Els van Wijngaarden,  teacher and researcher of Care Ethics

Drs. Gijsbert van Eijsden, humanist chaplain and psychologist.


The deadline is October 1st, 2018. Submissions can only be accepted as a Word file on USB stick or CD-R, accompanied by 3 printed copies and a recommendation letter from the thesis supervisor, explaining why the thesis is eligible for a prize. Submit at address mentioned below.

For further enquiries, please contact:

Secretariat of the Leo Polak thesis prize

Bram van Boxtel
University for Humanistic Studies
Kromme Nieuwegracht 29
3512 HD Utrecht
tel. 030 2390100
e-mail: bram.vanboxtel@student.uvh.nl

The philosopher and criminal law theorist, freethinker and atheist Leo Polak (1880-1941) was from 1928 until his death Professor of History of Philosophy, Logic and Metaphysics at the University of Groningen. Being a Jew, in 1940 he was forbidden by the occupying power to continue working at the university. He was arrested and died late 1941 in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In his work he has contributed much to the philosophy of law, the problems of war and peace and ethics. Polak was a source of inspiration for philosophers, lawyers, humanists and reformers, polemologists and reformers of criminal law and of sexual morality. He was the inspirator for the People’s University and held numerous recitations for the Freethinkers Radio Broadcasting Association. As a freethinker and humanist, Polak was convinced that in order to attain unity among humans, ‘reason’ should by all means be preferred above the ‘division in faith’. The awareness of a fundamental commitment and cohesiveness of all people among each other, a bond that goes beyond all other forms of collectivity, was for Polak the core of humanism.