Environmental Ethics in a Global Context
Department of Political and Economic Studies (Social and Moral Philosophy Discipline), Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki.
Related Degree Programmes:
Master’s Programme in Philosophy
This course is designed for students who are interested in environmental and ethical issues. It is recommended for undergraduate students of philosophy, social sciences, sociology, environmental studies, politics and economics. Previous studies in Philosophy and/or Ethics are helpful but are not required.
This course is an introduction to environmental ethics as a philosophical discipline helpful to analyse environmental case studies. It aims to raise awareness about the fundamental and ethical role of the natural environment in our lives. The theoretical part of the course introduces ethical theories and concepts, while a more practical section presents real case studies and ethical notions from different viewpoints.
Why is ethics important in the modern world and why should ethics be part of policy-making processes? In an attempt to answer such questions, this course will discuss ethical concepts – such as intrinsic and instrumental value, anthropocentrism and ecocentrism, and concern for future generations – together with different types of Environmental Ethics theories, such as Deep Ecology, Ecofeminism, Land Ethics, Utilitarianism, Gaia Theory and Animal Rights. The applicability of different ethical theories will be tested in light of selected case studies about natural disasters and environmental accidents, including the catastrophic failure at the Fukushima nuclear power plant on 11 March 2011 in Japan; hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking”; the unfair polluting policy of TEXACO (now Chevron) in the Ecuadorian Amazon and many others.
Tools and concepts which do not primarily belong to the ethical field such as the Free Rider, the Tragedy of the Commons, homo economicus and the Comedy of the Commons will be presented as helpful instruments for ethical deliberations.
This course attempts to give students the analytical apparatus to critically examine the role played by the natural environment in the life of humans and other living species. The course familiarises the students with basic concepts and theories of Environmental Ethics, fostering an understanding on how human factors weigh and carry responsibility for environmental problems. The students will be trained to see different perspectives, to apply moral theories and draw ethical conclusions from real-life cases in recent news. This enables the students to confront their views in class debates, to better understand themselves and colleagues, and to improve their skills of discussion, argumentation, group work and presentation.
Course format and teaching methods
Lectures, group work, screening of scenes from documentary films, and discussions will take place during the class. Small group tasks (in class and at home) are designed to acquaint the students with ethical concepts and theories, and help them apply them to natural disasters and environmental case studies.
Means and criteria of assessment
Student work is evaluated on a scale 0–5 and will be the outcome of different assignments:
1) Presentation in class: 15 min. presentation + 10 min. discussion (35%)
2) Several individual and group assignments during the course (40%)
3) Individual applied project (15%)
4) Attendance and active participation in class (10%)
There will be no final exams. The students will be evaluated during the whole course based on their attendance and active participation in class, homework, individual applied project and final presentation. The students will be required to work constantly during the whole Summer School. More instructions will be given during the first class.
Grading scale: 5 = excellent; 4 = very good; 3 = good; 2 = satisfactory; 1 = poor; 0 = fail.
– Assessment criteria (5 excellent):
the student has to be present in class for all the lectures and s/he should demonstrates an active involvement in the topics and in class discussion so that her/his inputs will enhance the overall value of the class discussions. All the 4 requirements above-mentioned are fully fulfilled according to the deadlines with an excellent result and a great understanding of the contents of the course.
– Assessment criteria (4 very good; 3 good):
the student has to be present in class for all the lectures or at least 95% of the time and s/he will participate actively in class discussion. All the 4 requirements above-mentioned are fulfilled according to the deadlines with a good level of understanding of the contents of the course.
– Assessment criteria (2 satisfactory; 1 poor):
the student has to be present in class for all the lectures or at least 90% of the time. All the 4 requirements above-mentioned are fulfilled (possibly according to the deadlines) with satisfactory level of understanding of the contents of the course.
– Assessment criteria (0, failed):
The students is not present in class at all and s/he does not deliver and fulfill all the 4 requirements above-mentioned at least in an understandable and sufficient level.