Bioethics, animals and the environment: moral questions for the modern world
Time: 16:00 - 18:00
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
Course Code: HP203
Duration: 12 sessions (over 12 weeks)
What is the course about?
This course deals with fundamental moral questions in a number of areas of philosophical inquiry called applied ethics or practical ethics, covering a wide range of different forms of morally relevant human practices. All these practices share a theme that has preoccupied thinkers for a long time: the human/nature relationship. What is the moral import of humans‘ increasing control over, and interference in, their own (human) nature and the nature that surrounds them?
One key characteristic of this kind of ethics, which distinguishes it from more theoretical branches of philosophy, is its orientation towards concerns of everyday life. Like ethics in general, practical ethics asks what is morally right and wrong (and how we can possibly know that). However, it usually does so with reference to concrete human conduct and states of affairs in an age of advanced and very powerful scientific technology. This course invites you to take a closer look at ideas and debates in three major fields of practical ethics that emerged as independent disciplines in the second half of the last century: biomedical ethics, animal ethics, and environmental ethics.
This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.
What will we cover?
Part 1 looks at biomedical ethics and the moral status of human life, applying ethical concepts and theories to issues of health, disease, healthcare, and beginning- and end-of-life questions relating to human reproduction, ageing and dying. Topics will include justice in healthcare, the moral status of embryos and the hotly-debated topic of human enhancement (the optimization of the human body and mind using biotechnology), and we will consider the more general question of the reach of bioethical principles and ideas in a multicultural world.
Part 2 covers animal ethics, ie the moral status of animals. Which ethical principles should guide human treatment of non-human beings? What do humans owe animals, morally speaking? We will discuss the notion of animal rights, the idea that some animals have moral rights that are comparable to the rights of humans. We will also focus on the theory of utilitarianism, which plays an important part in contemporary ethics. We will apply ethical theories to moral issues such as keeping animals in captivity and killing them for food. Possible solutions, eg vegetarianism and in-vitro meat, will also be considered.
Part 3 focuses on environmental ethics, the moral status of the natural environment, a relatively new discipline mirroring the emergence of an ecological consciousness in the 20th century. It is primarily concerned with establishing the principles that guide human interaction with nature at large, including inanimate nature. Given the tremendous destruction modern industrialized societies have inflicted on the natural world, this is a pressing issue in an age of rapid climate change. We will look at the historical emergence of ecological thinking, some of the theoretical forms concern for the environment has taken, and the increasingly important ethics of climate change, addressing perhaps the single most important theoretical problem of environmental philosophy: Is it possible to find moral value in nature?
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
This course is designed to give you an overview of some of the main areas of contemporary practical ethics: biomedical ethics, animal ethics, environmental ethics. By the end of it, you should be able to orient yourselves within ongoing debates in these areas and feel more familiar with the themes and theories around which they revolve. Ideally, the course would help you to clarify your own position regarding questions which, in one way or another, concern us all: the moral status of human and non-human life and the duties we have towards the natural environment.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
The course is at an introductory level. Some prior knowledge of philosophy or the history of ideas would be helpful, but it is not a necessary precondition for attending the course. You need not have any particular skills – just an interest in contemplating and discussing the morals of some of the more pressing challenges facing modern life. Again, many of these challenges ultimately have to do with making sense of and evaluating the manifold ways in which humans interact with nature – be it their own biological nature or the animate or inanimate nature that surrounds them.
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
The course will be taught by weekly online classes on Zoom. The tutor will begin each session with a presentation of the week’s topic. This will be followed by an open yet focused group discussion of a number of talking points, consecutively introduced by the tutor, namely ideas and conceptions bound up with the particular topic in question. There will be no compulsory work outside the class. However, each session comes with a recommended reading provided by the tutor, a text of 10-20 pages by an author who has made a significant contribution to the debate. You are encouraged to read these texts in preparation for the classes. They will serve as reference points to which we can turn to illustrate or clarify specific issues and ways of thinking.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
There are no additional costs and you don’t need to bring anything to the classes. You may of course want to bring pen and paper or your laptop in order to take notes.
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
You may be interested in HP011 Introduction to moral philosophy.