Final Exam Study Questions, Environmental Ethics, Spring 2005
Sagoff's Animal Liberation and Environmental Ethics: Bad Marriage, Quick Divorce
- State and explain Mark Sagoff's criticism of animal activists (such as Peter Singer and
- Is Sagoff right that an animal liberationist can't be an environmentalist and vice-versa?
Why does he claim this? State and evaluate his argument for this position.
- Discuss some of the potential differences between animal activists and environmentalists
(and mention specific groups that fall into each camp).
- What does Sagoff mean when he says that Mother Nature makes Frank Purdue look like a
saint? Is he right about this? Why or why not?
- How should an animal activist (e.g., one who believes in animal rights or that animal
suffering is equally important to human suffering of the same extent) respond to the
suggestion that we reintroduce predators to control ungulate populations? Can an animal
activist positively value predation?
- Does it make sense for a utilitarian like Singer to oppose human inflicted suffering of
animals but not naturally occurring suffering of animals?
- Explain and evaluate the following response that Tom Regan might give to Mark Sagoff's
criticisms: (1) Animals have only negative rights (not to be interfered with) but no
positive rights (to assistance); (2) Only moral agents can violate rights, and because
nature is not a moral agent, when nature causes harm to animals, no rights are being
violated. Humans only have a duty to prevent rights violations. Thus animal activists
only opposed human caused suffering and killing.
Biocentric Individualism and Paul Taylor
- Explain what it means to say Paul Taylor's environmental ethic is an "egalitarian
biocentric individualism." Define each term.
- Given Taylor's biocentrism, why does he think it follows that he must accept
individualism rather than holism?
- What is the difference between Taylor's biocentrism and ecocentrism? What is the
difference between Taylor's biocentrism and a sentience-centered environmental ethic?
- What are the four components of Taylor's "biocentric outlook on nature?" What function
does this outlook serve for Taylor?
- Describe some of the ways that Taylor suggests human and nonhuman organisms are
- Is Taylor correct in claiming that life on earth would do much better without us? Why or
- Does it make sense to think of evolution as a process heading toward and culminating in
the production of the human species? Why or why not? What is Taylor's view about this
- Explain and evaluate: "Only if your are a sentient being can anything matter to you.
Therefore, only sentient beings can have morally considerable interests. Since it doesn't
matter to a tree what happens to it, if we consider only the tree, nothing we do to it
- Define "teleological." Which of the following are teleological entities: a tree, a human, a
table, a tractor, a snake, a guided missile?
- What is the difference between welfare interests and preference interests? Give an
example of one that is not the other.
- What does Taylor mean when he tells us to judge events from the point of view of a
plant? Do plants have points of view? Does Taylor think stones have points of view?
Does he think plants are conscious?
- What would Taylor say about the following argument? "Tractors need oil. Plants need
water. So if plants have a good of their own, then so do tractors." What do you think
about this argument and Taylor's response to it? Does arguing that we should respect the
good of all living things mean that we must also respect the good of machines? Don't beg
the question by assuming that only living organisms count morally.
- Does Taylor think that species, ecosystems, and abiotic biological/geological entities and
processes are morally considerable? Why or why not? What do you think about the
moral considerability of each of these?
- Paul Taylor presents an argument denying that humans are superior to other living things.
Present this argument as fully and persuasively as you can. Is this argument a good one?
Do you think humans are superior to other creatures (be careful to define "superior")?
- What does Taylor think about the idea that humans--simply in virtue of their birthright--are superior to nonhumans?
- What is a prima facie duty? Give examples. What is the opposite of a prima facie duty?
Are there any such duties?
- What is restitutive justice? Give an example of a situation that Taylor thinks calls for
restitutive justice and then give an example of a way of meeting the demands of
restitutive justice. Does Taylor think giving to the Nature Conservancy is a matter of
charity? Using an example, explain how proportionality is relevant to Taylor's principle
of restitutive justice.
- How would Taylor respond to the objection that if plants and animals have inherent worth
equal to humans, then it follows that we ought to allow an advancing bear to eat us and
should not kill bacteria that are making us sick?
- What conditions does Taylor think we must we meet before we can defend ourselves
against other organisms?
- Is it ever morally permissible to harm (or even kill) innocents in self defense?
- Using examples, explain Taylor's distinction between a basic and a nonbasic (or less
- Does Taylor ever think it is morally permissible for us to sacrifice the basic interests of a
nonhuman for the nonbasic interests of a human? If so, under what conditions and why?
If not, why not? Is Taylor's answer to this question compatible with his idea that humans
and nonhumans have equal inherent worth?
- Explain Taylor's distinction between human interests that are "intrinsically incompatible
with respect for nature" and those that are "intrinsically compatible with respect for
nature." Give examples of each and explain how they are examples of these two
- What is "distributive justice" according to Taylor. What does it mean in terms of our
relations to nonhumans?
- Explain Taylor's view on the morality of eating. Is he for or against vegetarianism? Does
he think that it doesn't matter whether we eat animals or plants (since they have equal
inherent worth)? How does his principle of distributive justice relate to this issue?
- In order to live, must all living things consume other living organisms? Why or why not?
Must all life feed itself by killing and eating other life? (Hint: Think about plant life.)
Are there ways humans can feed themselves without killing other organisms? If there are
(were), do you think we should try to do this?
Leopold and Ecocentric Holism
- Do you agree with Leopold that the right to see geese is as important as the right of free
- What is the slogan for Leopold's reappraisal? Using examples, explain what it means.
- What is the moral "extensionist" approach in environmental ethics? Why do some think
it involves an arrogant and condescending attitude toward nonhumans? In what way is
Leopold's ethic not extensionistic?
- Describe Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic. What does he mean by land? How would believing
in the land ethic change our attitudes toward the land? Describe the current conception of
land that Leopold is criticizing. What alternative conception of land does he propose?
Does this reappraisal of land (and the human relationship to land) make sense to you?
- State "Leopold's Maxim" and explain what purpose it serves in his land ethic. Explain
and give examples of each of its components (viz., integrity, stability, and beauty). What
sorts of policies toward the land would violate each of these components? How might
critics argue that these components aren't the right goals for land management? Do you
agree with the critics or with Leopold?
- Explain how Leopold's suggestion that we preserve the stability of biotic communities
fits or does not fit with the recent trend toward "disequilibrium ecology." ( It's okay if
you can't answer this question.)
- How are ecosystem health and ecosystem integrity related and different? Can one have
one without the other?
- Explain how biodiversity and wildness value might conflict.
- Is Leopold's maximum holistic or individualistic? Explain why.
- With respect to individual members of the land community, is Leopold's position
egalitarian or inegalitarian? Why?
- What is the ecofascism objection to Leopold's land ethic (or any holistic ethic)? Is this a
good objection to Leopold's position? Why or why not? How might Leopold defend
himself from the charge of ecofascism?
Ecoholism vs. Individualism (e.g., species vs. individuals)
- Give some examples where respect for natural systems and species involves the sacrifice
of the good of some individual organisms. Discuss how you might resolve such conflicts.
Does the good of the species/ecosystem outweigh (ever? sometimes? always?) the good
of individual members of that system? Give a plausible example where the good of the
system outweighs the good of an individual in it. Now give a plausible example where the
good of the individual outweighs the good of the system.
- Do agree with Roger Caras that the conflict between concern for individuals and concern
for species is a "nonissue?"
- Describe some of the issues involved in the restoration of wolves to Yellowstone Park.
Has it been successful? Do you approve of this restoration effort? Why or why not?
- Was restoring wolves to Yellowstone National Park good for the individual wolves that
where involved in the restoration project? Why or why not?
- How should animal rights activists (e.g., Tom Regan) view the captive breeding
programs like the one that involved the California condor?
- Do species have interests (e.g., a good of their own)? Do humans have obligations to
species (over and above obligations to their individual members)? Do we have
obligations to preserve all species? Even the "creepy crawlies"? Even species going
extinct on their own?
- Why are there proposals to shoot goats on various islands? Do you agree with such
proposals? Why or why not?
Hettinger and Throop, Ecocentrism and Wildness
- How to Hettinger and Throop define "wild?"
- Do they think that something is either wild or it is not wild (with no other options)?
- Explain some of the examples/intuitions they give to support the idea that wildness is
- What do they mean when they say wildness is a "contextual value?"
- Explain both the objection that there is no wild land left on earth to value and their
response to that objection.
- What are Hettinger and Throop's views on whether or not humans are part of nature?
Discuss and evaluate.
The Natural and Human Management
- Identify two distinct meanings of "natural" and do so by identifying their contrasts
(natural as opposed to .......)
- In what sense of "natural" is it true to say that everything humans do is natural? In what
sense of "natural" is if foolish to say that everything humans do is natural?
- In what sense of "natural" does the natural come in degrees? Give examples of 4 items in
increasing degrees of naturalness.
- Evaluate: If X is natural, then this guarantees that X is good or morally right. Give some
examples that should make one worry about this claim.
- Explain Bill McKibben's reasons for claiming "the end of nature." Assess these claims
from your own perspective
- What is the National Park Services Policy that explains why it objected to snowmobilers
attempt to rescue a drowning bison? Evaluate this policy from your own perspective.
- Should humans manage nature? What are the reasons for thinking we have no choice but
to do so? What reasons are there for thinking we should not do so? What reasons are
their for thinking this involves a contradiction (e.g., a human managed natural area).
- Is there a morally relevant difference between species whose origin is due to humans
(e.g., domesticated animals or human introduced exotic species) and species whose origin
is not (e.g., wild animals or native species)? (E.g., dogs versus wolves? Sand burs vs
Kudzu?) Is one of greater value than the other? What reasons might someone give for
claiming they are and how strong are they?
Hinchman and the Arctic Refuge; Oil, Alaska, and Energy
- Describe the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and discuss the controversy concerning
drilling for oil in the 1002 area. Present both drilling and anti-drilling arguments as
forcefully as you can. Do you favor drilling for oil in ANWR? Why or why not?
- What is the relationship between the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and the Alaska
- Describe the Exxon Valdez oil "spill."
- How much of America's officially designated wilderness lands are in Alaska?
- Describe in some detail the perspective of the native peoples of Alaska concerning
drilling in Arctic Refuge. Do the natives peoples of Alaska favor drilling in The Arctic
Refuge? Why or why not?
- Do white Alaskans favor drilling for oil in their pristine state? Why or why not?
- Sandra Hinchman suggests the Inupiat Eskimos are inconsistent concerning their views
about drilling for oil in Alaska? Explain her reasons.
- What are the reasons given by defenders of the Arctic Refuge for claiming the Refuge is
unique biologically, ecologically, and ethically? Do these make sense to you?
- What are some of the new technologies that give support to the idea that we can drill for
oil in the Arctic Refuge in an environmentally responsible manner?
- Explain why some think that drilling for oil in the Arctic Refuge could lead to "cultural
- How much oil is in the Arctic Refuge? Are their other ways to address the problem that
the Arctic Refuge oil is supposed to address? Consider conservation measures.
- If drilling in the Arctic Refuge could be done in an env. friendly way, with minimal
impact on caribou (and other species there) and minimal impact on the Gwich'in Indians,
would the fact that drilling would undermine the Arctic Refuge's pristine, virginal
character be a strong reason not to drill? Why or why not?
Wilderness and Cronon's Trouble with Wilderness
- According to the U.S. Wilderness Act, what role should humans play in wilderness?
How does the act define a wilderness (and people's relationship to it)?
- What are the major types of user groups that oppose wilderness designation?
- Explain the argument according to which wilderness would actually be helped if people
had a greater tolerance toward human presence in wilderness. Do you agree with this
- What are the arguments for and against taking down the Glen Canyon Dam and thus
draining Lake Powell?
- What are some county officials in the West doing to block wilderness designation of land
in their region?
- Discuss the pros and cons of keeping cars out of National Parks, such as Yosemite and
the Grand Canyon.
- Why do rangers at one of the entrances to Yellowstone National Park sometimes wear gas
- Describe the case concerning Douglas Thomkins' attempt to create a National Park in
Chile. What lessons can be learned from this?
- Why does Cronon believe that "wilderness poses a threat to responsible
environmentalism?" Do you agree? Why or why not?
- Explain Cronon's account of how the perception of wilderness has changed and explain
the two major factors he identifies as causing this change.
- Explain and evaluate Cronon claim that "wilderness environmentalism" fails to properly
value human civilization (and is even misanthropic) and involves advocating
- Explain and evaluate Cronon's claim that wilderness environmentalism is an elitist, urban
- In what way does Cronon think wilderness was actually causally, physically created by
white European settlers?
- What does Cronon think about the idea that we should "export our notion of wilderness"
to the developing world. Do you agree with him?
- Explain and evaluate Cronon's reasons for claiming wilderness is a historically ignorant
- Explain and evaluate Cronon's claim that wilderness involves a harmful human/nature
- Explain and evaluate Cronon's claim that wilderness environmentalism encourages us to
ignore the protection of local, less that pristine nature.
- Why does Cronon think wrong with a "wilderness environmentalism" that thinks solving
env. problems involves setting aside wilderness areas.
- What does Cronon think are the virtues of the wilderness idea?
Owning Nature, Property Rights, Takings, and Converse on Owning Nature
- What principle justifying ownership suggests that the U.S. should own the moon?
- John Locke argues that someone comes to own a previously unowned object by mixing
her labor with it. Is this a good argument justifying ownership of previously unowned
- Locke advocates a labor theory of value according to which 99% of the human value of
land comes from the labor mixed with this. According to Converse, what is wrong with
this claim? Is undeveloped land "worthless"? Intrinsically? Instrumentally?
- A Lockean restriction on the justifiability of owning land was that there must be as much
and as good left for others after one has appropriated land. Why might this void land
- What are some landowners doing to prevent people from using the rivers/creeks that run
through their property? What is one of the criteria that the law uses to determine if a
moving body of water is public or private?
- Why might some argue that making whales private property would protect them better
than they are now protected?
- What is the "tragedy of the commons" and how does private ownership of what was once
commons provide a solution to this tragedy? (It's okay if you can't answer this question.)
- How does the endangered species act give landowners incentives to destroy potential
habitat for endangered species?
- What does the 5th amendment say about "taking" of private property? Does it allow it?
- How does a "regulatory taking" differ from eminent domain taking (e.g., when
government physically takes a citizen's property to build a road through it).
- Under what conditions do all sides of the debate agree that the government may
permissibly restrict what a landowner does on his property and not owe him/her any
compensation for lost economic value?
- Describe the Lucas case. Do you agree with the decision in that case? Why or why not?
- What does it mean to say private property rights are not absolute? Do you agree with this
- Do private property rights in land include the right to destroy? Do they include a duty to
preserve? What relevance do these questions have for the issue of whether or not the
community must compensate landowners for regulations on their land?
- What is the difference between landownership conceived as lordship and conceived as
- Explain what Converse means when he claims that ownership of land is no one thing.
- Is ownership of land more like owing children or owning a toaster?
Radical Environmental Action
- If one believes animals have equal rights, does it follow that one ought to break into
research labs and release the animals?
- Describe the four cases Peter Singer gives to help explore the question of the morality of
law breaking. Which of these cases were justified in your view? Which not? Why?
How does one decide when it is permissible (or perhaps obligatory?) to break the law?
- What is the difference between environmental civil disobedience and environmental
sabotage (ecotage)? For what reasons does the second not count as civil disobedience? Is
one easier to justify than the other?
- What are the reasons for thinking noncivil disobedience for env. goals harms the
environmental movement? What are reasons for thinking it helps?
- If your favorite natural area (Bull Island, Yellowstone, Smoky Mountain National Park)
was going to be destroyed (by development), would you be willing to break the law as
part of a campaign to protect it? Could such activities ever be justified?
- Is it always morally wrong to break the law (in a democratic society)?
- Describe a case where civil disobedience to protect the environment led to environmental
- Who was "the Fox?"
- Who is Paul Watson and what is the 'Sea Shepherd Conservation Society?" Describe
some of their activities. What are the arguments-pro and con-for their activities.