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Nature in Crisis: Ethical and Philosophical Problems

  • Duration: October-Decemeber
  • Fall semester , Exchange student
  • ECTS 15 ECTS
  • Application period 01 May

About the course

Humans influence nature in increasingly profound ways, a fact that has led some scientists to label the current geological epoch “the Anthropocene”. This influence is manifested in the ongoing climate crisis, in our relations to non - human animals, and in our ability to change our own nature. The levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are higher than in several hundred thousand years. Species are currently going extinct at a rate up to 1000 times the normal background rate. Only 4 % of all mammals are now living in the wild. The remaining 96 % consists of humans and livestock. Moreover, thanks to rapid developments in genetic engineering, humans have now an unprecedented ability to modify and perhaps enhance human nature as well as the genetic make-up of other species. These developments raise deep ethical issues concerning the value of nature and the obligations and responsibilities we incur from our ability to alter nature. 


Learning Outcomes:


The student

  • knows the central ethical approaches to the climate change, including topics from population ethics, and the literature on moral responsibility
  • knows the most prominent value theoretical approaches to nature, including ecocentric theories
  • knows the most prominent issues and theories within animal ethics, including deontological and consequentialist approaches
  • knows the ethical issues raised by recent developments in genetic engineering and the prospect of altering the human germline



The student

  • can discuss concrete and relevant moral problems pertaining to our interaction with human and non-human nature


General competence

The student

  • had  a thorough understanding of some of the most pressing ethical issues as well as the most prominent ethical theories concerning humanity’s relation to nature
  • had a sharpened understanding and eye for how these issues are present both in concrete everyday situations and in larger questions about the values and development of society
  • has analytic skills and ability for critical reflection over pressing ethical issues



Climate change: Who is morally responsible for the climate crisis? Who should bear the costs of mitigating the crisis? What are our duties to people afflicted by the climate crisis? What are our duties to future generations?

Species and extinction: The extinction rate of wild species is alarming. More than 99 % of all species that have existed have already gone extinct. Is extinction a bad thing? If so, why? Is it only because of the death of individual animals or is it particularly bad when a species goes extinct? What is the value of biodiversity?

Animal ethics: Humans rear and kill an enormous amount of animals for food production and medical research. What is the moral status of these animals? Can these practices be justified? What are our obligations towards these animals?

Genetic engineering: Recent development in genetic engineering and synthetic biology, such as CRISPR- cas- 9 raises the prospect of changing the genetic traits that will be inherited to future generations. This raises the prospect of not only eradicating genetic diseases but also, in the future, of enhancing human nature. Would this kind of enhancement be morally permissible? If so, what kinds of enhancements can be justified?


Teaching methods: 

The course demands that the students work on their own with the curriculum, participate in seminars and attend lectures where the central themes are raised and discussed. The students are required to deliver three mandatory written pieces of coursework.


Coursework requirements:

  • Three mandatory written pieces of coursework. The two first pieces are shorter (length to be determined in class) response papers, while the last is a longer piece (length to be determined in class) that is intended to be preparatory for the exam essay.



  • Individual home exam where the student writes an essay about a topic approved by the instructor. Often, but not necessarily, this essay will be a further development of the third written mandatory requirement. The length of the exam essay will be announced at the beginning of class.

Grading according to ECTS-system on scale A-E for passed and F for failed. 

More information


Free for exchange students in addition to semester fee