Environmental Ethics: Philosophy, Natural Resources and Indigenous People

Environmental Ethics: Philosophy, Natural Resources and Indigenous People

Course dates:
4 August, 2020 to 20 August, 2020
990 €
Multidisciplinary, Social Sciences
Application deadline:
Monday, 15 June, 2020
University of Helsinki
Helsinki, Finland


This is an introductory course on environmental ethics and it is conceived for students who are interested in environmental and ethical issues. It is intended for Bachelor's and first-year Master's students of humanities, social sciences, environmental studies, political sciences and economics. Previous studies in philosophy and/or in ethics may be helpful but are not required. (Doctoral students and philosophy students interested in the course are also welcome but please contact the course coordinator Corinna Casi by e-mail beforehand in order to check if the course fits your case.)

This course proposes an overview on Environmental Ethics as a philosophical discipline, progressing from philosophical theories to the analysis of environmental case studies. It aims to raise awareness about the fundamental and ethical role of the natural environment in our lives. This year the course will particularly emphasise presentations skills and discussions in class as a learning basis, together with the teachers' lectures.

The theoretical part of the course introduces traditional philosophical ethics theories and concepts, whereas a more practical section presents real case studies and ethical notions from different standpoints. Some of the case studies takes into account Indigenous peoples' perspectives and their worldview as a minority group.

Why is ethics, then, important to solve global challenges and understand conflicts and why should ethics be part of policy-making processes? In an attempt to answer such questions, this course will examine ethical concepts – such as Anthropocene, anthropocentric and non-anthropocentric ethics, intrinsic and instrumental value, Indigenous culture and way of life, possible origins of the ecological crises and concern for future generations – together with different types of Environmental Ethics theories. These include Deep Ecology, Utilitarianism, Gaia Hypothesis, Aristotelian Virtue Ethics, Deontological Ethics, Ecofeminism, Land Ethics, Teleological stewardship, Social Ecology and Animal Rights.

The relevance of different ethical theories will be tested in light of up-to-date case studies about natural disasters and environmental accidents. Examples of case studies are: the struggle to protect natural resources by Sami Indigenous people in the European High North, the North Dakota oil pipeline construction (2016–2017) near Indigenous lands; the unfair polluting policy of TEXACO (now Chevron) in the Ecuadorian Amazon; and the Water Wars in Bolivia and others.

The main lecturer of this course is Corinna Casi, a Doctoral Candidate in Environmental Ethics at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki. One or two lecturers will be invited during the course, and a possible visit will take place to the Finnish Environment Institute.

Corinna Casi graduated with a Master’s thesis in Moral Philosophy at the University of Bologna, Italy. She is currently living in Finland and working on her doctoral research at the University of Helsinki, focusing on Environmental Ethics and non-economic values of nature. She is part of VALUOBIOMAT, an interdisciplinary Strategic Research project funded by the Academy of Finland. She is also a member of the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS). She has taught at Helsinki Summer School in 2019, 2018, 2017 and 2015.

Casi's article 'Sami food practices and traditional ecological knowledge' is included in the book Sustainable governance and management of food systems: Ethical perspectives, edited by Eija Vinnari and Markus Vinnari, Wageningen Academic Publishers, 2019. Her contribution 'The Value of the Barents Region: More than a Resource Provider' appears in the volume Human and Societal Security in the Circumpolar Arctic: Local and Indigenous Communities, edited by Kamrul Hossain, Jose Miguel Roncero Martin, Anna Petrétei. Leiden, Boston: Brill Nijhoff, 2018.

Casi is also author of the chapter 'Ecological Significance in Nature Appreciation' in the NSU Anthology Experiencing the Everyday (NSU Press, Distributed by Aarhus University Press 2017). She is working on her contribution on Food Security policies in Sami Communities for a book on Food Security in the Arctic that will by published by Routledge in 2020.

Casi has been guest lecturer at Tampere University (2019), the University of Palermo, Italy (2018 and 2017), Århus University in Denmark and Aalto University in Finland (2015), the University of Latvia in Riga (2014) and the University of Iceland in Reykjavik (2013).

This course offers the students the analytical apparatus to analyse critically the interconnected relation among the natural environment, the life of humans and non-human living species. The course familiarises the students with basic concepts of traditional ethics and theories of Environmental Ethics, fostering an understanding on how human factors carry responsibility for environmental problems. The students will be trained to see different perspectives, to apply moral theories and draw ethical conclusions from real-life cases.

This enables the students to confront their worldviews in class debates, and to understand better themselves, classmates and future work colleagues as citizens of world. The course also aims at training the students’ skills in discussions, argumentation, group work, poster presentation and, above all, public presentations.

Lectures (60%) and other activities (40%). These include in-class group and pair work, one walk in nature and one external visit to the Finnish Environment Institute, the screening of scenes from documentaries, participatory debates and students’ presentations. Group and individual tasks (at home and in class) have the purpose to acquaint the students with ethical concepts and theories, and to train them to apply those theories to environmental case studies.


  • Degree and PhD students: Early Bird 900 EUR (until 28 Feb 2020) / normal fee 990 EUR
  • Professionals: Early Bird 1400 EUR (until 28 Feb 2020) / normal fee 1490 EUR
  • Students of the University of Helsinki and the students doing their exchange at the University of Helsinki before or directly after summer school 1 ECTS=15 EUR
  • Helsinki Summer School and University of Helsinki
  • Alumni receive a 50 EUR discount of the course fee, provided they do not already study at the University of Helsinki.