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Unit information: Philosophy and the Environment in 2014/15

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Unit name Philosophy and the Environment
Unit code PHIL30112
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Burch-Brown
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Philosophy
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This is an advanced-level unit offering students the opportunity to study one or more key topics within environmental philosophy. Topics may include environmental ethics, green political theory, climate change, and environmental aesthetics. Central questions might include: (1) Can all of our duties in relation to the environment be traced back to duties to other people? Or can other entities – like non-human animals, plants, species, ecosystems, and wildernesses – have independent moral standing? (2) What do we owe to future generations and distant others, when it comes to dealing with environmental hazards like climate change or nuclear power? (3) Are there important differences between aesthetic responses to nature and aesthetic responses to art? In what ways, if any, does appropriate appreciation of nature depend upon background knowledge, such as understanding of natural history? (4) What does it mean to say that an entity is natural, and why should we care about naturalness? Would a world full of prosthetic trees be a worse world, and why?

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have (1) developed a strong knowledge of the literature in one or more areas of environmental philosophy; (2) developed a critical understanding of central concepts and approaches in environmental philosophy, e.g. independent moral standing, intrinsic and extrinsic value, discounting, the precautionary principle, duties to future generations, cognitive and non-cognitive approaches to environmental aesthetics; (3) demonstrated their ability to philosophically analyse and critically appraise the main arguments in the literature; (4) strengthened their skills in philosophical writing and argumentation, and (5) strengthened their skills in oral presentation of philosophical argument.

Teaching Information

Weekly lectures and weekly seminars.

Assessment Information

Summative assessment in three forms:

  • Essay (2,000 words) 40%.
  • Exam (2 questions in 2 hours) 50%.
  • Weekly journal 10%. Students will be asked to submit 10 entries in total over the course of the term, generally on a weekly basis prior to seminars. Entries should be 300-500 words. The student should use the journal entries to give a brief summary of one of the week’s readings, and then to reflect freely on the reading. For instance, in what ways is the author’s argument persuasive, and in what ways is it unpersuasive? What further questions does it raise, and how does it fit in with other material from the course?

No formative essays – instead, the instructor will use the weekly journal as a chance to give feedback on progress.

The journal, essay and exam will assess ILOs 1-4: (1) knowledge of the philosophical literature; (2) critical understanding of central concepts and approaches; (3) ability to philosophically analyse the main arguments in the literature; (4) skills in philosophical writing and argumentation.

Reading and References

  • Benson, John. Environmental Ethics: An Introduction with Readings. Routledge, 2000.
  • Gardiner, S, Simon Caney, Dale Jamieson and Henry Shue. Climate Ethics: Essential Readings. Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • Brady, E. The Aesthetics of the Natural Environment. Edinburgh: Ediburgh University Press.