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PHIL 321: Environmental Ethics

PHIL 321: Environmental Ethics
Spring 2014
Updated: 1/20/14

Course Description:

This course is about moral considerability; it is about asking who and what matters. We will explore answers to both questions by critically engaging a variety of important normative, social, and applied ethical issues having to do with the environment and humans’ relationship to it. Doing so will require that we also think about moral considerability in light of social group membership (gender, race, class, and species). Though much of what we will engage can be properly classified as environmental ethics, a significant part of what we will engage can be properly classified as environmental justice. In short, in this class we will explore both what individual moral agents owe to each other and the non-human world, as well as to explore what justice requires (from both individuals and institutions).

The first two-thirds of our semester can be understood broadly to be anthropocentric (human-focused) and biocentric (life-focused), in which we will focus on what we owe to non-human animals and issues having to do with the production of food (including the impact of pollution on our food supply, what we owe to the hungry, and whether it is wrong to produce or consume genetically modified organisms). Then we will consider what obligations we have (if any) to future generations, engaging the problems of overpopulation, climate change, and geoengineering.

The final third of our semester can be understood broadly to be ecocentric (nature-focused). We will analyze what ‘wilderness’ means, before going on to explore Aldo Leopold’s “Land Ethic” and Arne Naess’ “Deep Ecology” as alternatives to or extensions of the normative frameworks we will already have studied. We will conclude the course by briefly considering the relationship between activism and love.

Required Course Materials:

Food Ethics – Pojman
Eating Animals – Foer
Ecofeminist Philosophy – Warren
The Elements of Style – Strunk and White (recommended)

Additionally, many assigned readings, as well as the syllabus, will be available on the class Blackboard page, which you can access by going to blackboard.smcm.edu All of the additional readings will be in .pdf format. You will be required to print at least 30 pages (in order to turn in your short long papers). If you plan to print the .pdfs I will provide, you will have to print considerably more. You should plan for this accordingly.

Course Requirements:

Your grade will consist of a collection of points you can earn over the course of the semester. Although your grade is out of 100 points, there are 105 possible points you can earn (although it is extremely unlikely that anyone will earn anything close to that many). Here is the breakdown of the assignments:

First paper 25 points
Second paper 25 points
Short papers 50 points (5 points each x 10 = 50 points)
Class Participation 5 points
105 Total Possible Points


You must write and turn in two long papers in order to pass the class. They should be 10-12 pages in length. In writing the long papers your job will be to explain and critically engage a particular philosophical position. Your papers must be informed by both our class discussion and relevant assigned texts. That means, for instance, that if you raise an objection that we defeat in class or that an author considers (but that you ignore) you will not be given credit for that objection. Your long papers should be submitted by email.

The 10 short papers should be roughly three pages in length. Your job in each will be to critically and philosophically engage all of the week’s readings. There are 14 eligible weeks in the semester, so you should pick and choose which papers or weeks you want to take off. You may write more than 10 short papers and I will count the 10 best grades towards your final grade. I will accept late papers turned in within one week of their due date with a 1 point penalty.

You should keep track of your grades over the course of the semester. You should also hold on to your short papers to be able to double-check grades with me at the end of the semester should there be a discrepancy between your records and mine. For more on how I will grade both your short and long papers, see “Writing Papers for PHIL 321” on Blackboard.


You are not required to talk in class, but students who are active participants will receive up to 5 extra points towards their final grade.
That does not mean that if you talk a lot you will receive any participation points. Instead, your job is to productively contribute to the class discussion, which will sometimes mean asking good questions, and other times will mean providing answers to my questions or your colleagues’ questions.

All students should be respectful of each other, of the authors, and of me at all times. Failure to do so will negatively affect your final grade.
If you choose to sleep, text, play on your laptop, or otherwise fail to engage with the class discussion, you should not expect to receive any participation points.


You are not required to come to class; I do not take attendance. However, doing so will most likely dramatically improve your chances of doing well on your papers. Since I do not take attendance you need not tell me why you have missed or will miss class (although you certainly may if you wish). If you routinely arrive late to class that will count against your earning a full participation grade.

Office Hours

I strongly encourage you to come and meet with me during my office hours or by appointment if you are having trouble with the class. I also just simply like talking about philosophy and getting to know students, so I would be glad to have you stop by even if you feel comfortable with how you are performing in the class. My office hours are Wednesdays from 3-5 and by appointment. My office is Margaret Brent 205.

Students with Disabilities

If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability and anticipate needing to make use of them, please contact me early in the semester so that we can work together to help you succeed in the course. Additionally, my office is on the second floor. If you are unable or prefer not to climb stairs, please let me know and we will arrange to meet elsewhere.

The Writing and Speaking Center

"The Writing and Speaking Center, located in the Library Annex, offers free consultations in writing and speaking for students at all levels and in all disciplines. No matter what you're writing and no matter where you are in the process (generating ideas, drafting, revising or proofreading), the peer tutors in the Center can assist you. These tutors are friendly students and also excellent writers with special training as writing consultants. They would not grade or correct your papers; instead, they'd coach you and help you become a better writer. Similarly, the tutors are also trained to help you plan and practice presentations and other speaking assignments. I encourage you to use the Writing and Speaking Center as much as possible. You can make a one-time or repeating appointment with the Center by visiting their website, www.smcm.edu/writingcenter, and clicking 'Schedule an Appointment.' At the same website, you can find helpful resources on many writing- and speaking-related topics."

What Does a Philosopher Look Like?

Like many disciplines in the academy, philosophy has historically been dominated by white men. Stereotype threat is a psychological phenomenon that causes people to underperform in a discipline in the face of a stereotype that says that “people like them” aren’t good at that discipline. As a result, the stereotype becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Luckily, it is also the case that telling students that there are no actual differences in performance in a class can defuse the anxiety that the stereotype creates and subsequently undermines those tendencies to underperform. (For evidence of both, see Stereotype Threat and Women’s Math Performance” by Spencer, Steele, and Quinn, available on Blackboard.) The stereotype that says that only white men can be good philosophers is false. For more on this, visit:


On Seeming Smart

Related to that point, regardless of whether you’ve studied philosophy prior to this course, you might often find yourself feeling intimidated by the way philosophers write or talk. This might be because philosophy, like all disciplines, employs its own jargon and concepts that you either might not have encountered before, or that you might have seen used differently. Jargon can be useful, but it can also be used to exclude people and make them feel like they don’t have a place in the conversation. Don’t feel that way and don’t be intimidated! If you don’t know what a term means, ask for a definition (or look it up). If you don’t know how a concept is being used, ask for clarification. For a very helpful essay that speaks to this (among other important things) see “On Being Good at Seeming Smart” on Blackboard or visit:


Reading and Discussion Schedule:
(all readings are in either Foer, Warren, Pojman, or are on Blackboard for download, marked with an [e])

Jan. 21-23 Week 1: Introduction to Environmental Ethics
Chapters 1 and 4 - Warren
Eating Animals – p. 1-17 – Foer

Jan. 28-30 - Week 2: Animals and Kant (and Kantian Deontology)
Rational Beings Alone Have Moral Worth – Kant (Pojman)
The Green Kant: Kant’s Treatment of Animals – Wilson (Pojman)
Eating Animals – p. 19-77 – Foer

Feb. 4-6 - Week 3: Animals and Singer (and Utilitarianism)
A Utilitarian Defense of Animal Liberation – Singer (Pojman)
Against Zoos – Jamieson [e]
Eating Animals – p. 78-148 – Foer

Feb. 11-13 - Week 4: Pollution and Food
We All Live in Bhopal – Bradford (Pojman)
People or Penguins: The Case for Optimal Pollution – Baxter (Pojman)
Environmental Racism – Bullard [e]
To Hell With You – Waggoner [e]
Chapter 8 – Warren
Eating Animals – p. 149-200 – Foer

Feb. 18-20 - Week 5: Nature, Animals, Regan, and Warren
On Nature – Mill [e]
The Radical Egalitarian Case for Animal Rights – Regan (Pojman)
A Critique of Regan’s Animal Rights Theory – Warren (Pojman)
Eating Animals – p. 201 – 267 – Foer

Feb. 25-27 - Week 6: Feminism and Vegetarianism
Chapters 3, 5, and 6 – Warren
Linking Sexism and Speciesism - Wyckoff

Mar. 4-6 - Week 7: What We Owe to the Hungry and GMO
Hunger, Duty, and Ecology: On What We Owe Starving Humans - Engel (Pojman)
Intellectual Property – Moore [e]
Can Frankenfood Save the Planet? – Rauch (Pojman)
The Unholy Alliance – Ho (Pojman)

Mar. 11-13 - Week 8: Overpopulation
The Tragedy of the Commons - Hardin (Pojman)
A Perfect Moral Storm - Appendix 1 – Gardiner [e]
Overpopulation and the Quality of Life – Parfit [e]
Climate Ethics and Population Policy – Cafaro [e]
    Mar. 14 – First Long Paper Due

Mar. 18-20 - Week 9: Spring Break!
No Class - Spring Break!

Mar. 25-27 - Week 10: Climate Change and Consumption
A Perfect Moral Storm – Gardiner [e]
Future Generations - Partridge [e]
The Virtue of Simplicity – Gambrel and Cafaro [e]
Climate Change and Negative Duties – Brooks [e]
    WGSX Colloquium

Apr. 1-3 - Week 11: Climate Change and Geoengineering
    Apr. 1 – No Class - Advising
The Desperation Argument for Geoengineering – Gardiner [e]
Gender and Geoengineering – Buck [e]

Apr. 8-10 - Week 12: Wilderness, Preservation, and Restoration
Faking Nature – Elliot [e]
The Experience Machine – Nozick [e]
The Big Lie: Human Restoration of Nature – Katz [e]
An Amalgamation of Wilderness Preservation Arguments – Nelson [e]

Apr. 15-17 - Week 13: The Land Ethic
The Land Ethic – Leopold [e]
The Conceptual Foundations of the Land Ethic – Callicott [e]
Chapter 7 – Warren

Apr. 22-24 - Week 14: Deep Ecology
The Deep Ecological Movement – Naess [e]
Deep Ecology – Fox [e]

Apr. 29 – May 1 - Week 15: Activism
An Apologia for Activism: Global Responsibility, Ethical Advocacy, and Environmental Problems – Shrader-Frechette [e]
Liking is for Cowards – Go for What Hurts – Franzen [e]
A Resistance Movement of One’s Own – VanDeVeer and Pierce [e]
Animal Liberation and Environmental Ethics – Back Together Again – Callicott [e]
    May 9 - Second Long Paper Due