Skip to main content

The Ethics of Life and Death: Humans, Animals and the Environment (Level 5)


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 5
  • Convenor: Professor Hallvard Lillehammer
  • Tutors: variable
  • Assessment: a 750-word essay (25%), 1000-word essay (35%) and short-answer, take-home examination (40%)

Module description

This module introduces you to some of the most important ethical questions currently faced by human beings in our relation to each other, to non-human animals and to the rest of the natural world. How should we think about the ethics of bringing human beings into existence? Is it our duty, or is it just wrong, to think that we should seek to bring into existence human beings with certain characteristics rather than others? What duties, if any, do we have towards future generations of human beings who either will, or will not, exist depending on what we currently do? Do these duties extend to non-human beings or other forms of sentient life? Under what conditions is it justified to end a human life, either for its own sake or for the sake of others? Do the same considerations apply to non-human animals? How should we think of our ethical relationship to the rest of nature, such as non-sentient species, artificial intelligence or ecosystems?

During the course of this module you will consider a sample of some of the most influential theories and arguments relating to the ethics of reproduction; health care; the ethics of human-animal relationships; vegetarianism and veganism; future generations; and the value of the environment, or deep ecology.

Indicative module syllabus

  • The ethics of procreation
  • Antinatalism
  • Duties to future generations
  • Duties to non-human animals
  • Vegetarianism and veganism
  • Euthanasia
  • Capital punishment
  • The ethics of AI
  • The value of the environment
  • Deep ecology

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • demonstrate detailed knowledge of different philosophical approaches to ethical questions that arise from our relationships with other human beings, with non-human animals, and with the environment
  • demonstrate an awareness of different ideas, contexts and frameworks deployed by contributors to philosophical debates over applied and practical ethics, and recognise some of their strengths and weaknesses
  • analyse and compare different philosophical theories of our rights and obligations toward future human beings, non- human animals and the natural world, and evaluate the outcomes
  • select appropriate criteria to evaluate philosophical accounts of the ethics of reproduction, death and dying, health care and deep ecology.