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PHIL235 Environmental Philosophy

An introduction to environmental ethics and other philosophical issues affecting environmental science and policy-making.

Why is the natural environment valuable? Is it just a set of resources for human consumption? How should scientists understand ideas such as biodiversity, sustainability and restoration? How should policymakers best harness conservation science? This paper is designed to help you analyse, debate and communicate philosophical and scientific issues relating to the environment.

Paper title Environmental Philosophy
Paper code PHIL235
Subject Philosophy
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Semester 2 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $955.05
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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One 100-level PHIL or BITC paper or 72 points
Schedule C
Arts and Music, Commerce, Science
Teaching staff

Teaching staff from Philosophy and the Bioethics Centre of Otago are to be confirmed.

Paper Structure


  • Introduction: What is environmental philosophy? What makes environmental philosophy distinctive, and how does this area of philosophy link up with the relevant scientific disciplines?
  • Introduction to critical thinking, as well as an analysis of philosophical and scientific reasoning
  • What Is the environment?
  • What are species?
  • What are ecosystems?
  • Distinguishing nature from culture
  • Environmental ethics
  • Anthropocentrism: Ecosystem services, demand value, transformative value
  • Biocentrism and ecocentrism
  • Deep ecology and intrinsic value
  • Environmental value
  • Māori and the environment: Mauri and kaitiakitanga
  • Environmental policy
  • Identifying stakeholders
  • Harnessing environmental science
  • Decision theory
  • What is biodiversity?
  • Constituents
  • Surrogates
  • Biodiversity and conservation policy
  • Environmental restoration
  • Ecological restoration (reference states and dynamics; ecological integrity)
  • Fidelity and authenticity
  • What is sustainability?
  • Sustainability and public policy
  • Intergenerational justice and climate change


  • Short essay 15%
  • Major essay 25%
  • Final Exam 60%
Teaching Arrangements

There are two sessions per week: one of 50 minutes, and one of approximately 80 minutes. Each session consists of some lecture and some in-class discussion.

Environmental Philosophy: From Theory to Practice by Sahotra Sarkar (2012) Wiley-Blackwell.
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective, Interdisciplinary perspective, Lifelong learning, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Ethics, Environmental literacy, Research, Self-motivation, Teamwork.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes

Students who successfully complete the paper will acquire:

  • The ability to present and assess philosophical arguments (both written and verbal) to an acceptable standard, especially in the area of the philosophy of science
  • A broad awareness and grasp of what is at issue in debates in the philosophy of science
  • A demonstrated ability to explain and assess philosophical positions and arguments in their own words and to think critically and independently about them
  • The ability to develop and analyse philosophical reasoning collaboratively in group discussion

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Semester 2

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Tuesday 11:00-11:50 28-34, 36-41
Thursday 12:00-13:50 28-34, 36-41