The course will examine the
(1) The bearing of the themes,
concepts, problems, theories and methods of moral philosophy upon
current environmental issues.
(2) Value implications of
ecological principles and concepts.
(3) Five approaches to
environmental ethics (i.e., perspectives on man's relationship and
responsibility to nature) -- viz. Anthropocentrism, Animal
Liberation, Rights of Nature, Gaia-Centrism ("The Land Ethic"),
Biophilia (evolved needs for nature).
(4) Issues in Environmental
Ethics: Moral Psychology (Attitudes toward the Environment),
Responsibility toward the Environment, The Significance of
Wilderness, Environmental Policy-Making, and the Duty to Posterity.
In a research paper, the
student will either (a) propose, explain and defend an environmental
policy or law exhibiting a code of responsibility to nature -- an
environmental ethic; or (b) write an imaginary dialog,
exhibiting the student's understanding of two opposing viewpoints
regarding a timely issue of environmental policy or philosophy, and
his/her critical evaluation of these positions.
There will be two essay
examinations, a mid-term and a final, with questions selected from a
list distributed early in the course.
The instructor's preferred
definition of Environmental Ethics, is "human
responsibility to nature and the remote future." The key concept
in this definition is responsibility, which entails: (a)
knowledge of the consequences of an act or policy, (b)
capacity to carry out that act or policy, (c)
freedom to do otherwise, and (d) a value
significance of those consequences -- as these consequences
affect the welfare or worth of morally significant beings (persons,
animals, natural objects, etc.). Environmental ethics is a new field
of moral philosophy, primarily because of the recent emergence of
knowledge (in science) and capacity (in technology)
regarding humanity's impacts upon nature and the future.
To become acquainted with
concepts and methods of philosophical ethics that apply to issues
regarding mankind's dealings with the natural world.
To critically assess
alternative approaches to, and defenses of, a code of
responsibility to nature (i.e., an "environmental ethic").
To gain a clear
understanding of the obstacles in moral philosophy, public
policy-making and public attitudes to a coherent and sound system
of environmental ethics.
To offer the student a
repertory of resources and skills with which to formulate his/her
own environmental ethic and to articulate and defend these ideas
with clarity, consistency and coherence.
Donald VanDeVeer and
Christine Pierce, (eds), Environmental Ethics and Policy
Book, (Wadsworth, 1994).
Ernest Partridge (ed):
Readings in Environmental Ethics, (Portions of
an unpublished work in progress: Environmental Ethics --
Approaches and Issues).
Ernest Partridge (ed):
A Handbook for Philosophy Students, (On Reserve,
ATTENDANCE AND DEADLINE POLICY
The final grade will be
determined by (a) attendance and class participation, (b) written
assignments, (c) The Mid-Term and (d) Final Examinations, evenly
PLEASE NOTE: The
success of this course depends upon preparation, attendance, and
timely submission of assignments. Accordingly, most classes will
being with a brief (five-minute) quiz on the assigned readings at the
beginning of class. In addition, students will be required to submit,
at the beginning of each class, a 3x5 card with a question or comment
on the assigned readings. The three lowest grades (or absences) on
the cards and quizzes will be excused. Please note that these
quizzes and cards also serve as a check of attendance. Late
submission of assigned papers will be penalized.
This class has a
"folder" on the campus computer network: [Discontinued].
Here you will find all handouts (except the Anthology), my
lecture notes, Discussion Questions on the readings, and "late
breaking" news and notes. In addition, you will find such items of
general interest as advice on writing term papers, taking exams,
study strategies, and our departmental newsletter, The Digital
Give a brief account of a
recent solitary encounter with wilderness. Impressions and feelings
are to be emphasized more than events or ideas. (For more about this
assignment, see pp. 1-2 (only!), Introduction to
A -- "There Oughta
Be a Law!"
(a) Select a controversial
issue in Environmental Policy or Philosophy. For Example:
Population Growth and
Cost-Benefit Analysis in Policy-Making
The Rights of Animals and Nature
Wilderness: Development vs. Preservation
Individual vs. Collective Responsibility
Responsibility to Future Generations
Traditional Religion and Ecological Values
Anthropocentrism vs "Eco-Centrism"
Etc. (Student's choice, with approval of instructor).
(b) Propose a Public Policy,
Executive Order or a Law pertaining to this issue. (In a paragraph of
not more than 200 words).
(c) Explain the meaning and
implications of this Policy or Law.
(d) Present a "Brief" (a
defense) of this Policy or Law, designed to convince a
B -- "Dialogue on
(a) Select a controversial
issue in Environmental Policy or Philosophy. (See List (a), above).
(b) Construct a dialogue
between two radically opposed positions. For
Paul Ehrlich vs. Julian Simon
Wilderness: David Brower vs. Floyd Dominy
Religion and Ecology: Lynn White vs. Paul Santmire
Shallow and Deep Ecology: Gifford Pinchot vs. John Muir
Animal Rights: Tom Regan vs. Baird Callicott
Economics & the Environment: Mark Sagoff vs. William.
In this dialogue, display the
two points of view, their essential differences, and their points of
conflict and agreement (if any). Have each participant criticize the
other's position. Be sure that the primary focus is on the
philosophical/ethical issues, rather than empirical facts and/or
(c) Late in the dialogue, or in
a concluding section of the paper, express your position regarding
this controversy. Respond critically to the issues raised in the
dialogue, and defend your position with citations and other evidence
of independent research.
Note: There is no need
to portray faithfully the points of view of actual persons (current
or historical). If you prefer, you may present the well-considered
and coherent positions of hypothetical proponents
ABOUT THIS COURSE:
THEMES, OBJECTIVES AND CONCEPT
In a sense, everybody has an
environmental ethic. Everyone, that is, has an operating pattern of
attitudes, feelings and behavior toward the natural environment and
future generations. Very few have a critical, informed, or even
explicit environmental ethic -- e.g., an ethic with philosophical
merit. The overriding objective of this course is to invite you to
improve the philosophical merit of your codes of responsibility
toward the natural world -- your "environmental ethic."
The following themes are
prominent in the course:
"The kit of
philosophical tools." Early in the course you will be
introduced to basic distinctions of moral philosophy such as
facts and values, rights and
duties, and utility and autonomy. You
will also examine such fundamental moral concepts as
person and responsibility. Methods of moral
deliberation will be briefly examined. Topics in this opening
section of the course have been selected for their proven
applicability to subsequent material.
"The Question of
Cognitivism." This is simply the issue of whether or not
an environmental ethic can be said to have a rational foundation
-- that is to say, whether or how facts and logic have bearing
upon competing claims of responsibility toward nature and/or
toward the future.
Anthropocentrism/Eco-Morality Debate." Is "human
interest" morally supreme? Or must it, in recognizable
circumstances, give way to the interests of other creatures, or
even, in some sense, to the "interests" of non-sentient
"The Moral Ties
that Bind." A major task of moral philosophy is the
identification of the restraints that morality places upon our
capacities and unreflective impulses. Morality teaches us that
there are limits upon our behavior towards other persons, and
conversely upon their treatment of ourselves. These limits are
conventionally referred to as rights, duties, and obligations. In
environmental ethics, we ask if analogous restraints apply to our
dealings with other organisms, species, and ecosystems.
Reductionism/Holism Controversy." Is man's responsibility
to nature best understood by examining the "elements" of
biological knowledge and of human desire and need, or is such
moral insight best acquired by "grasping" the context of the
organic man-life- nature system. In brief: do the parts imply the
whole, or does the whole inform the parts? This leads directly to
the next theme:
and Moral Psychology." Philosophers have long noted that
hedonism and egoism are self-defeating -- i.e.,
that a determined and deliberate search for pleasure ("hedonism")
and self-interest ("egoism") is less likely to secure these ends
than the pursuit of other-directed objectives. This ancient
insight is supported by contemporary research into game theory and
moral psychology. Is there an analogous "paradox of
anthropocentrism," which indicates that humanity's welfare is best
achieved by focusing, not on humanity alone, but also upon the
welfare of nature?
Preferences, and Policy. The enduring philosophical
question of "what is the nature of the Good" appears in
environmental policy as the question, "what Goods should we seek,
and what 'Bads' should we avoid, in our collective dealings with
the natural environment?" The predominant method of environmental
policy analysis is to define these "goods" and "bads" in terms of
individual preferences as reflected in economic (or "market")
benefits and costs, which in turn reflect "consumer preferences."
We will ask if this approach gives sufficient weight to moral
The course is designed to be
"open ended." You will be introduced to concepts and methods of
critical moral reflection and invited to consider a variety of
theories of ecological morality. These "tools" and "approaches" will
then be elaborated and tested through their application to specific
environmental issues (such as extinction, wilderness preservation,
population, pollution, policy-making, the duty to posterity, etc.).
Ideally, you will complete the course with an attitude sited
comfortably between the apathy of extreme relativism or skepticism,
on the one hand, and unyielding dogmatism on the other. This "middle
ground," called falliblism, holds that while one is entitled
to hold beliefs based upon sound evidence and logic, that belief
should always be open to revision or even abandonment in the face of
new and stronger evidence and logic.
The course adopts no particular
philosophical position. Indeed, the suitability of traditional
philosophical perspectives and methods to deal with many
environmental issues is open to serious scrutiny. (Many contemporary
philosophers have displayed an untypically dogmatic inclination to
apply ready and familiar philosophical concepts, methods and notions
in their treatment of issues of environmental value and
responsibility). It may be true that "environmental ethics" might
best be regarded as an extension of traditional ethical theories. But
if so, that contention requires validation. It is, in itself, one of
the fundamental issues of environmental ethics.
The perspective and approach of
this course, then, is foundational. It reflects the assumption that
the problems of environmental ethics are grave, urgent, and, in many
cases, unprecedented. In addressing these problems, it is assumed
that some traditional habits and modes of thought and analysis must
be re-evaluated, and in some cases may have to be reconstructed or
even discarded and replaced. That option remains open throughout the
The formulation of a personal
environmental ethic remains, ultimately, your own responsibility.
Hopefully, it will be a life-long quest.
(*) Indicates Readings in VanDeVeer and Pierce.
Otherwise, the Selections are in Readings in Environmental
APPROACHING ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS
Ethics: An Introduction (Partridge)
2. Ethics for
and Pierce ("V & P"): "Moral Argument and Ethical Theory
*V&P: "Influential Ethical Ideas and Theories"
Warren/Partridge: "Ethics, Moral Problems and the Concept of the
Partridge: "Can the Environmentalist Escape Philosophy?"
3. Ecology for
"Why put a Value on Biodiversity?
*Wilson: "The Diversity of Life"
*Wilson: "The Little Things That Run the World" / Sidelight
*V&P: "Preview" Degrading the Planet
*Carson: "Silent Spring
II. THEORIES OF
Anthropocentrism: Man Is the Measure
"People or Penguins. . . "
*Simon: "Can ... Natural Resources Really be Infinite? Yes!"
Hardin: "The Born Again Optimist."
Partridge: "Holes in the Cornucopia"
Liberation & Animal Rights
"Preview" The Other Animals.
*Singer: "Animal Liberation"
*Regan: "The Case for Animal Rights"
Partridge: "Three Wrong Leads..."
7. Rights of
"Should Trees Have Standing?"
Feinberg "The Rights of Animals and Unborn Generations"
-- The Land Ethic
"The Land Ethic"
Partridge: "The Foundations of Aldo Leopold's 'Land Ethic'"
Views of Environmental Ethics
"Native American Attitudes to the Environment
*V&P: "Preview" Deep Ecology...
*Devall/Sessions: "Deep Ecology"
*Warren: "The Power and Promise of Ecological Feminism"
Evolved Needs for Nature
"What's Wrong With Plastic Trees?"
Iltis: "Can One Love a Plastic Tree?"
IN ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS:
Psychology and the Environment
"Are We Ready for an Ecological Morality?"
Feinberg: "The Paradox of Hedonism"
Partridge: "Why Care About the Future?"
for the Environment
"Holism and Contextualism"
*Hardin: "The Tragedy of the Commons"
Significance of Wilderness
(Several): Literary Reflections on Wilderness
Stegner: "The Wilderness Idea"
Partridge: "Meditations on Wilderness"
14. Economics and
"Preview," Letting the Market Decide.
*Freeman: "The Ethical Basis of the Economic View"
*Sagoff: "At the Shrine of our Lady of Fatima..."
*Kellman: "Cost Benefit Analysis: An Ethical Critique"
*Leonard & Zeckhauser: "Cost Benefit Analysis Defended"
Parfit: "An Attack on the Social Discount Rate"
*Daly: "Boundless Bull."
15. The Duty to
R. & V.
Routley: "The Nuclear Train to the Future"
DeGeorge: "The Environment ... & Future Generations"
Partridge: "On the Rights of Future Generations"
Partridge: "Posterity and 'The Strains of Committment'"
An Ecomoralist's Summary and Credo.