Course Syllabus

Environmental Philosophy

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 Wind turbine in Welsh forest, Stuart Allen

Semester & Location:

Fall 2023 - DIS Copenhagen

Type & Credits:

Elective Course - 3 credits

Major Disciplines:

Environmental Studies, Philosophy, Sustainability



Faculty Member:

David Possen - contact via Canvas inbox

Time & Place:

Mondays & Thursdays, 11:40 - 13:00 in N7-B11

Description of Course 

To understand the current climate crisis is to ask the question of man’s responsibility towards nature.  In this philosophy course, we work with this question through a critical study of the philosophical tradition, providing a Scandinavian perspective on environmental issues and sustainability in relation to the philosophical discourse, and relating these findings to current discussions of sustainability and the ethical implications of our modern day lifestyle.

Environmental Philosophy at DIS is composed of four modules. In Module 1, we explore the environmental movement’s philosophical underpinnings. Here we confront several of the core questions that today’s environmentalists must urgently resolve, such as: “How do we balance our own needs against those of future human generations?”  “What is truly in the best interests of other species, and of the biosphere as a whole?” 

In Module 2, we turn to America, birthplace of the modern environmental movement.  Following a tour of the American tradition of philosophical environmentalism — from Thoreau to Rachel Carson — we consider several live flashpoints in American environmental policy, such as the troubling legacy of interaction between conservationism and racism, and the policy implications of radical animal rights activism.

This grounding in American environmental philosophy equips us to devote the rest of the course to a closer look at European environmental thought. Module 3 examines what major thinkers of the continental tradition — including Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard — teach about our place in the natural world and our responsibilities toward it.  The centerpiece of this module is Heidegger’s essay The Question Concerning Technology, the foundational text of twentieth-century European environmentalism.

In Module 4, finally, we scrutinize the specifically Scandinavian and 21st-century perspective on sustainability and ecological health set forth by the influential “deep ecology” movement.  We end with a course-wide debate on the merits, viability, and future of Scandinavian deep ecology against the backdrop of both the European and American traditions of environmental philosophy.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this course, you will be able to

  • identify the major beliefs, commitments, and ideologies at play in current environmental policy debates, and thus be able to see through and behind mere slogans;
  • perceive how common policy arguments and positions fit into the broad historical arc of environmental thinking — and appreciate the centrality of the anthropocentrism debate to this arc;
  • articulate your own views on core environmental policy questions with clarity and a sense of how they fit into the existing tradition and debate;
  • understand the distinctive role that Scandinavian thinkers and societies have played in the global environmental movement’s recent history.

Course Format

Environmental Philosophy at DIS is a participatory discussion-based seminar. Classes typically consist of a 30-minute introductory lecture followed by 50 minutes of discussion moderated by the instructor.

The course includes a half-day field trip to the Hvidovre-Avedøre wind farm just outside of Copenhagen.  We will also present a screening of The Call of the Mountain, the “cult classic” film on deep ecology, followed by analysis of the film with one or more guest speakers from Denmark’s community of environmentalist intellectuals.

Course Requirements and Grade Components

Our readings are short and pithy. Students are expected to come to class ready to discuss and debate them in detail. Students are graded on their participation. This mark makes up 15% of the final grade.

The first writing assignments are two one-page response papers. One of these is to be written at the close of Module 1, and the other shortly before our field trip to the Hvidøvre-Avedøre Wind Farm. These response papers are graded pass/fail; each counts for 5% of the final grade. 10% total.

An essay-based take-home midterm at the close of Module 2 is designed to ensure that every student has acquired a sufficiently deep familiarity with the American tradition of philosophical environmentalism to flourish in Modules 3 and 4. The midterm contributes 25% of the final grade.

Following Module 3, students are expected to write a term paper of medium length (12-15 pp.) on a topic inspired by our readings in Continental environmental philosophy.  This paper is graded at both the draft stage and the final stage, at the end of the semester. The grade on the draft paper contributes 10% of the final course grade, while the grade on the completed paper contributes 30%. Thus 40% of the final course grade is based on students’ work on this term paper.

The remaining 10% of the final grade is based on students’ preparation and performance in the course-wide debate on deep ecology, which is held each semester on the last day of class. 





Writing assignments (two 1-page response papers)




Term paper draft


Term paper final


Debate preparation and performance




Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, “It’s Not My Fault: Global Warming and Individual Moral Obligations,” in Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Richard B. Howarth, eds., Perspectives on Climate Change: Science, Economics, Politics, Ethics (Burlington: Emerald Group Publishing, 2005), pp. 221-253.

Derek Parfit, “Energy Policy and the Further Future: The Identity Problem,” in Douglas Maclean and Peter G. Brown, eds., Energy and the Future (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Allanheld, 1983): 166–179.

Stephen M. Gardiner, “A Perfect Moral Storm: Climate Change, Intergenerational Ethics, and the Problem of Moral Corruption,” Environmental Values 15 (2006), pp. 397-413.

Bjørn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 328-342.

Jonathan Ledgard, “Bjorn Lomborg is the World’s Most Optimistic Statistician,” Strategy + Business 38 (Spring 2005) [].

Mark Lynas, “Natural Bjorn Killer,” The Ecologist, 33:2 (March 2003), pp. 26-29. 

Arne Næss, “The Deep Ecological Movement: Some Philosophical Aspects,” in Philosophical Inquiry 8:1-2 (1986), pp. 10-31.

Henry David Thoreau, “Walking,” The Atlantic Monthly 9:56 (1862), pp. 657-674.

John Muir, “A Near View of the High Sierra,” in The Mountains of California (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books), pp. 38-58.

Aldo Leopold, “The Land Ethic,” in A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There (New York: Ballantine Books [Oxford University Press], 1986 [1949]), pp. 237-263.

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1962), pp. 3-12, 70-83.

Robert D. Bullard, “Neighborhoods ‘Zoned’ for Garbage,” in Bullard, The Quest for Environmental Justice: Human Rights and the Politics of Pollution (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2005), pp. 43-61.

Susan L. Cutter, “Race, class, and environmental justice,” Progress in Human Geography 19:1 (1995), pp. 111-122.  

Peter Singer, “All Animals Are Equal,” in Animal Liberation (New York: HarperCollins, 2009 [1975]), pp. 1-24.

Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Scepticism, ed. Julia Annas and Jonathan Barnes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 1-22.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, tr. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Random House, 1974), pp. 167-182 (§§109-125).

Arthur Schopenhauer, “On the Basis of Morals,” in The Two Fundamental Problems of Ethics, tr. Christopher Janaway (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 219-244 (§§19-20).

Søren Kierkegaard, “The Care of Self-Torment,” in Christian Discourses, tr. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), pp. 70-80.

Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” trans. William Lovitt, in Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), pp. 3-35.

Hans Jonas, The Imperative of Responsibility: In Search of an Ethics for the Technological Age, tr. Hans Jonas and David Herr (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), pp. 1-24.

Arne Næss, Ecology, Community, and Lifestyle, tr. David Rothenburg  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 163-183, 193-212.

Warwick Fox, “Transpersonal Ecology: ‘Psychologizing Ecophilosophy,’” The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 22 (1990) 1: 59-76, 89-94.

James Lovelock, The Revenge of Gaia: Earth’s Climate in Crisis and the Fate of Humanity  (New York: Basic Books, 2006), pp. 135-145. 

Luc Ferry, The New Ecological Order, tr. Carol Volk (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995), pp. 59-90.

Academic Regulations  

Please make sure to read the Academic Regulations on the DIS website. There you will find regulations on: 


DIS - Study Abroad in Scandinavia -


Course Summary:

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