The ethical treatment of the natural and semi-natural world has been the subject of discussion among philosophers and conservationists for many thousands of years. From the Aristotelian hierarchy to modern conservation movements and sub-movements, our approach towards and regard for the natural world has undergone huge shifts over time. The debate continues today and has been intensified by societal, economic and cultural issues around Mankind’s increasing exploitation of natural resources.

Environmental philosophy took a leap forward in the 20th century with thinkers such as Aldo Leopold proposing new approaches to our treatment of the natural world. Ideas such as Deep Ecology and the Gaia Hypothesis, together with seminal works such as Carson’s Silent Spring, engendered heightened awareness of a shared responsibility towards the natural world, with environmental activism increasingly greatly towards the end of the century. The concept of ‘biophilia’ was introduced by E O Wilson in 1984.

The module takes an investigative approach to the origins of environmental ethics, exploring case studies and examining various facets of our philosophical approach, including religious and secular ethics. The usefulness of value systems will be explored as will notions such as anthropocentrism, especially against a background of environmental degradation and an increase in extinction rates.