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Environmental Philosophy

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What do we mean when we talk of the “natural world”?

How can philosophy help us think about our relationship with the environment? How can we justify acts of civil disobedience undertaken in defence of the environment?

Is it possible to avoid speciesism by placing the interests of animals on an equal footing with that of humans? By examining issues around our understanding of the natural world, you will gain an insight into the most contentious and pressing questions of our current age.

This course is eminently suited to an interdisciplinary programme of study since it touches on a broad range of subjects across the natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities.

Learning and teaching

The module will be delivered through ten 2-hour sessions, made up of lectures, class discussions, small group work, and debates. Class sessions will be supplemented by resources available to students via Learning Central.

Syllabus content

  • Week 1: Introduction – key concepts & course overview.
  • Week 2: ‘Finding – and Failing to Find – Meaning in Nature’, Simon P. James.
  • Week 3: ‘Equality for Animals?’, Peter Singer.
  • Week 4: ‘Do We Consume Too Much?’, Mark Sagoff.
  • Week 5: ‘Economics and the Roots of Environmental Destruction’, Joseph Wayne Smith & Gary Sauer-Thompson.
  • Week 6: ‘Climate’, Henry Shue.
  • Week 7: ‘Sustainability’, Alan Holland.
  • Week 8: ‘Future Generations’, Ernest Partridge.
  • Week 9: ‘Deep Ecology’, Freya Mathews.
  • Week 10: ‘Environmental Disobedience’, Ned Hettinger.

Coursework and assessment

To award credits we need to have evidence of the knowledge and skills you have gained or improved.

Some of this has to be in a form that can be shown to external examiners so that we can be absolutely sure that standards are met across all courses and subjects.

The most important element of assessment is that it should enhance your learning.

Our methods are designed to increase your confidence and we try very hard to devise ways of assessing you that are enjoyable and suitable for adults with busy lives.

For assessment, you will produce written work (an essay or equivalent assignment) up to 1600 words.

Reading suggestions

  • Environmental Philosophy
  • Jamieson, Dale (ed.). A Companion to Environmental Philosophy (Blackwell, 2001)
  • Sagoff, Mark. The Economy of the Earth: Philosophy, Law, and the Environment, 2nd edn (CUP, 2008)
  • Shue, Henry. Climate Justice: Vulnerability and Protection (OUP, 2014).
  • Singer, Peter. Practical Ethics, 2nd edn (CUP, 1993)
  • Smith, Kimberly K. Exploring Environmental Ethics: An Introduction (Springer, 2018)
  • General Philosophy
  • Honderich, Ted (ed.). The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (OUP, 1995)
  • O’Hear, Anthony. What Philosophy Is: An Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy (Penguin Books, 1985)

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.