Environmental Ethics

Humanities & Social Sciences
Course Code
PHIL 2123
Semester Length
Max Class Size
Method(s) Of Instruction
Course Designation
Certificate in Global Competency
Industry Designation
Typically Offered
To be determined


Course Description
This course is focused on our ethical understanding of, and our obligations to, the
environment, and on notions such as ecological citizenship, urban philosophy, ecological diversity, and sustainability. It considers the significance of the various components of the environment—forest, land, wilderness, species, ecosystems, and cities—and critically examines the claim that the value of these components are directly dependent upon human needs and interests. The course also evaluates the importance of the interests of future generations of humans, and of non-human animals.

Among the questions addressed in this course are: How high of a priority should the developing global community make the protection of the environment? Are concerns about ecological diversity and sustainability compatible with a competitive international economic market? How should we treat natural resources, such as oil, water, potash, fish, etc.? How much might socio-economic systems have to be changed and in what direction? How should we plan and modify our cities to meet our environmental concerns and obligations? How should our food and consumer choices reflect our environmental commitments? This course will attempt to uncover and explicate the fundamental assumptions involved in the various stances taken on these questions.
Course Content
  1. The Nature of Ethics
    • includes the relation between ethics and morality, and morality and law. A simple introduction to the basic types of theories: such as consequentialism (e.g. utilitarianism), deontological theories (e.g. Kantian ethics), virtue ethics (e.g. Aristotelian ethics), natural law theory, social contract theories, and rights theories. (The development of ethical frameworks for the resolution of moral issues concerning the environment may be developed in greater depth in #4).
  2. The Value of the Environment
    • as it pertains to existing people, future generations, and non-human animals. A consideration of the duties we may have to such individuals and the implications such duties would have for our treatment of the environment. This may include a consideration of the moral foundations for such duties, of the question of whether people have a right to a livable environment, and of the question of whether animals are merely or mainly an environmental resource to be used by human beings. It will not involve an in-depth discussion of the animals’ rights issue per se, as this is generally a component of another course (Philosophy 1102).
  3. Value in Natural Objects in the Broader Environment
    • generally land, trees, species, wilderness, ecosystems, and the biosphere. This would involve a consideration of their moral and possible legal status, and of specific viewpoints on their value, emphasizing the reasoning for why they may or may not have value and which of them deserve respect. This may include such topics as the development of cultural awareness about their importance, deep ecology, the idea of nature as a kind of artifact, and other perspectives.
  4. Foundations for an Environmental Ethics
    • a consideration of the ethical traditions in western thought, their critiques and alternative ethical perspectives including: a consideration of utilitarianism, rights theories, contractarianism, natural law theory, libertarianism, etc.; critiques of western ethics as involving (anthropocentric) moral humanism, human moralism (moral extensionism), moral atomism, reverence-for-life ethics, environmental fascism, and other hierarchical ethical frameworks; land ethics, deep ecology, holism, First Nations perspectives, eco-feminism, etc. and their critiques.
  5. Ethical Concerns Pertaining to Economics and Ecology
    • a consideration of the extent to which market mechanisms suffice for regulating the environment and the extent to which there are legitimate environmental concerns for interfering with the free market; and an ethical consideration of the cost-benefit analysis approach to economic activity. This may also include a discussion of our duties to limit consumption and economic growth in order to protect the environment, and of duties of social justice, such as how our duties to people and countries less well-off weigh against our duties to the environment.
  6. Ends and Means
    • a consideration of the notion of ecological citizenship, such as which ends are most important to focus individual and societal resources, and the appropriate means for achieving these ends responsibly. This may also include a consideration of the morality of deception, violence, civil disobedience, and participation in public policy discussions, etc. to attain environmental goals. Additional considerations may include the type of socio-economic system we should advocate (e.g., bio-regionalism) and the type of individual life-style we should adopt.
  7. A Consideration of the Ethical Dimensions
    • of one or two specific environmental problems in the Lower Mainland, the Province, or the world, e.g., pesticides and chemical pollution, protection of fish resources, nuclear energy and radioactive pollution, fracking, population and economic growth, climate change, etc. (Rather than focusing on one or two problems directly, some course sections may discuss a variety of problems through the other content areas.)
  8. A Consideration of Urban Philosophy and Ecology of the City
    • to address what makes a city a good (“virtuous”) city and how to build and maintain sustainable cities. Since cities are built environments located within natural environments, considerations to be addressed may include: a concern for the type, amount, and provision of water and power, transportation; the protection of public and private spaces; and food choice (e.g., Locovore).

All eight of these general areas will be covered, but some items covered may be emphasized more heavily than others.

Learning Activities

The course will employ a variety of instructional methods to accomplish its objectives, including some of the following:

A combination of lecture and discussion (possibly including student presentations).  Some class sessions may involve formal lectures for the entire time (allowing time for questions), in which case a later class session will allow discussion of the lecture and reading material.  Other class sessions may involve a combination of informal lecture and structured discussion.

Means of Assessment

Evaluation will be based on course objectives and will be carried out in accordance with Douglas College policy. The instructor will provide a written course outline with specific criteria during the first week of classes.

Any possible combination of the following which equals 100%:

(No one evaluation component within each category may exceed 40%)

     Percent Range               Examples
Tests, quizzes, short written assignments       20% - 50% Three 10% tests       30%
Written class presentations, essays, essay exams      30% - 60% Two 30% essays       60%

Instructor's general evaluation
(may include attendance, class participation,
group work, homework, etc.)

    0% - 20% Attendance/
Participation             10%
Total                                100%
Learning Outcomes

Successful students will be able to:

  1. Explain the ethical theories and concepts covered in the course.
  2. Demonstrate an understanding of the moral controversies covered in the course.
  3. Reflect in a critical way about moral issues which arise concerning the environment.
  4. Develop more effective methods for making up their minds about moral issues pertaining to the environment.
  5. Apply ethical theory to the resolution of moral issues concerning the environment.
  6. Explain the moral reasoning involved in viewpoints directly opposed to one another.
  7. Develop their own reasoning about the moral controversies.

Textbook Materials

Texts will be updated periodically. Typical examples are:

  • Cragg, Wesley, Greenbaum, Allan, & Wellington, Alex (Eds.). (1997) Canadian Issues in Environmental Ethics. Toronto, ON:  McGraw-Hill Ryerson.
  • Pojman, Louis P. (2005) Environmental Ethics – Readings in Theory and Application, (4th ed.). Belmont,     CA:  Wadsworth.
  • Williston, Byron. (2012) Environmental Ethics for Canadians.  New York: Oxford University Press.




No prerequisite courses.


No corequisite courses.


Course Guidelines

Course Guidelines for previous years are viewable by selecting the version desired. If you took this course and do not see a listing for the starting semester / year of the course, consider the previous version as the applicable version.

Course Transfers

These are for current course guidelines only. For a full list of archived courses please see

Institution Transfer Details for PHIL 2123
Capilano University (CAPU) CAPU PHIL 208 (3)
Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) KPU PHIL 1112 (3)
Langara College (LANG) LANG PHIL 1XXX (3)
Okanagan College (OC) OC PHIL 251 (3)
Simon Fraser University (SFU) SFU PHIL 1XX (3)
Thompson Rivers University (TRU) TRU PHIL 1XXX (3)
Trinity Western University (TWU) TWU PHIL 1XX (3)
University of British Columbia - Okanagan (UBCO) UBCO PHIL 1st (3)
University of British Columbia - Vancouver (UBCV) UBCV PHIL 1st (3)
University of Northern BC (UNBC) UNBC PHIL 1XX (3)
University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) UFV PHIL 318 (3)
University of Victoria (UVIC) UVIC PHIL 2XX (1.5)
Vancouver Island University (VIU) VIU PHIL 233 (3)

Course Offerings

Summer 2023