Environmental Ethics: Philosophy, Natural Resources and Indigenous People

Helsinki Summer School 2020 was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kindly note that Helsinki Summer School 2021 will not be arranged due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


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. 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. The 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
  • concern for future generations

together with different types of Environmental Ethics theories, which 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.


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. Her doctoral research focuses 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)
  • University of Palermo, Italy (2018 and 2017)
  • Århus University in Denmark (2015)
  • Aalto University in Finland (2015)
  • University of Latvia in Riga (2014) and
  • 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
  • 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.


The students' work is evaluated on a scale 0–5 and will be the outcome of different assignments:

1) Presentation in class: 15 min. presentation + 10 min. discussion (35%)
2) Several individual and group assignments during the course (40%)
3) Individual applied project (IAP) (15%)
4) Attendance and active participation in class (10%)

There will be no final exam. The students will be evaluated during the whole course based on their presence and active participation

  • in class
  • home tasks
  • the Individual applied project as a poster presentation and
  • their final presentation.

The students will be required to work during the whole Summer School and to be prepared to do some homework every day after the lectures.

More instructions will be given during the first class.

Grading scale: 5 = excellent; 4 = very good; 3 = good; 2 = satisfactory; 1 = poor; 0 = fail.

Assessment criteria (5 excellent):
The student shows well-structured ideas supported by arguments and by wide, deep and clear use of ethical concepts and theories from the course. The student has to attend all the lectures and demonstrate an active involvement in the topics and in class discussion so that her/his inputs will enhance the overall value of the class discussions. The student will meet these four requirements and deadlines with excellent results and show a great understanding of the contents of the course.

Assessment criteria (4 very good; 3 good):
The student shows structured ideas supported by arguments and by very good/good and understandable use of ethical concepts and theories from the course. The student has to attend all the lectures or be present at least 95% of the time and s/he will participate actively in class discussion. The student will meet the four requirements and deadlines with very good/good results and show a good level of understanding of the contents of the course.

Assessment criteria (2 satisfactory; 1 poor):
The student shows ideas supported by superficial use (or no use at all) of ethical concepts and theories from the course. The student has to attend all the lectures or be present at least 90% of the time. The student will meet the requirements and possibly the deadlines, too. S/he will show a satisfactory level of understanding of the contents of the course.

Assessment criteria (0, failed):
The student does not use ethical theories and concepts discussed on the course while expressing her/his ideas. The student does not attend the classes at all, nor does s/he deliver and fulfil the requirements at an understandable and sufficient level.


City Centre Campus

There will be classes from Monday to Friday between 5 August and 20 August 2020. The classes are held at 9.00–13.30.

Preliminary Course Schedule

Mon 3 Aug
HSS Registration begins

Tue 4 Aug
Registration continues
University’s Welcome Reception & Opening Party

Wed 5 Aug
Introduction to the Discipline  of Practical Philosophy
Introduction of the course (Corinna Casi)
Getting to know each other 
11–11.30 Break
1st Lecture:  What is ethics? Traditional Ethical theories, Applied Ethics and intro to Environmental Ethics
Home task 1

Thu 6 Aug
2nd Lecture: Environmental Ethics
11–11.30 Break
Environmental Ethics, different theories
Home task 2

Fri 7 Aug
3rd Lecture: Anthropocentrism, Biocentrism, and different Environmental Ethics theories - part 1-
11–11.55 Break
12–14.45 Excursion
Home task 3

Mon 10 Aug
4th Lecture: Environmental Ethics theories - part 2 -
11–11.30 Break
Criticism of Anthropocentrism and Ecocentrism
Case Study
Home Task 4

Tue 11 Aug
5th Lecture: Environmental Ethics and the Indigenous People
11–11.30 Break
Case study concerning Indigenous People and natural resources
Home Task 5

Wed 12 Aug
Environmental Presentations by the students
11–11.30 Break
Documentary movie
Discussion of the movie
Home task 6

Thu 13 Aug
Group work in class
11–11.30 Break
Environmental Presentations by the students

Fri 14 Aug
Environmental Presentations by the students
11–11.30 Break
Possible visit to the Environmental Center (TBC)
Home task 7

Mon 17 Aug
Environmental Presentation by the students
11–11.30 Break
6th Lecture: Guest lecture

Tue 18 Aug
7th Lecture: Wilderness, nature conservation, endangered species and animal rights
11–11.30 Break
Environmental Presentation by the students
Home task 8

Wed 19 Aug
(IAP) Individual applied projects:  students poster presentations
11–11.30 Break
(IAP) Individual applied projects: students poster presentations

Thu 20 Aug
Filling in the HSS online
student feedback
11–11.30 Break
Conclusion of the course
Feedback day
Final words


  • Aquinas, Thomas, The Summa Contra Gentiles, Part II, Book 3, Chapter CXII (London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne Ltd., 1928) 88–92.
  • Attfield, Robin. 2014. Environmental Ethics: An Overview for the Twenty-First Century. Oxford: Polity Press (selected parts).
  • Bentham, Jeremy, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, printed in 1781 and published in 1789 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907 reprint of 1823 edition) (selected parts).
  • Blackstone, William. 1974. Philosophy and Environmental Crisis. Athens: University of Georgia Press, (selected parts).
  • Cronon, William, 1995. 'The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature', In William Cronon, ed., Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1995, 69–90.
  • Feinberg, Joel. 1974. 'The Rights of Animals and the Unborn Generations' in Blackstone ed., Philosophy and Environmental Crisis, pp 43–68.
  • Gaard, G. (2011). 'Ecofeminism revisited: Rejecting essentialism and re-placing species in a material feminist environmentalism'. In Feminist Formations, 23(2), 26–53.
    Plumwood, Val The mastery of nature, London: Routledge, 1993: Ch. 7.
  • Goodpaster, Kenneth E., ‘On Being Morally Considerable’, Journal of Philosophy 75 (1978), 308–325.
  • Leopold, A., 1949, A Sand County Almanac, Oxford: Oxford University Press, (selected parts).
  • Locke, John, 'Nature as Economic Resource', In Two Treatises on Civil Government: Chapter V: 'Of property' (London: M. J. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1970), 129–141.
  • Mill, John S. 1962 [1861]. Utilitarianism in M. Warnock (ed.) Utilitarianism, London: Collins, (selected parts).
  • Næss, A., 1973. 'The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement', Inquiry 16, reprinted in Sessions 1995, pp. 151–155.
  • Nussbaum Martha C., 'The Costs of Tragedy: Some Moral Limits of Cost‐Benefit Analysis' in The Journal of Legal Studies, Published by: The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Vol. 29, No. S2 (June 2000), p. 1005–1036.
  • Pojman Louis P., 'What is Ethics?' (4–12) in Environmental Ethics: Readings in Theory and Application, 6th edition, edited by Louis P. Pojman and Paul Pojman, Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2012.
  • Passmore, John, Man’s responsibilities for Nature: Ecological Problems and Western Traditions, London: Duckworth, 1980, Ch. 1 p. 3–11.
  • Perreault, Tom, 'Popular Protest and Unpopular Policies: State Restructuring, Resource Conflict, and Social Justice in Bolivia' in David V. Carruthers, 2008, Environmental Justice in Latin America: Problems, Promise, and Practice, p. 239–246. (Water War in Bolivia).
  • Plumwood, Val (2000). Integrating ethical frameworks for animals, humans, and nature: A critical feminist eco-socialist analysis. Ethics & the Environment, 5(2), 285–322.
  • Regan, T. and Singer, P. (eds), 1976. Animal Rights and Human Obligations, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall (selected parts).
  • Rolston III, Holmes, 'Values in Nature', in Environmental Ethics: 3, pp. 113-128, 1981.
  • Routley (later Sylvan), Richard, ‘Is There a Need for a New, an Environmental, Ethic?’, Proceedings of the World Congress of Philosophy (Varna, Bulgaria, 1973), pp. 205–210.
  • Taylor, Paul W. 1986. Respect for Nature: A Theory of Environmental Ethics, Princeton: Princeton University Press, (selected parts).
  • White, Lynn Jr. 1967. 'The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis', Science 155 (March 10, 1967): 1203–1207.
  • Warren, K. J. (1990). 'The Power and Promise of Ecological Feminism'. In Environmental Ethics, 12(2), 125–146.