Philosophy 155: Environmental Ethics
(10:50-12:05 & 12:15-1:30 T,Th: ECTR 111)

Ned Hettinger
Spring 2005
Web page:
Office Phone: 953-5786
Office: 16 Glebe, Rm. 201
Office Hrs: T,Th 1:35-2:05; W 10:30-1:30
(Also, stop by my office or make an appointment)

Course Description

If today is like other days on earth, human beings will add another 246,000 people to the planet, destroy over 50 square miles of rainforest, and endanger the existence of dozens of other forms of life. We will move 10 million tons of soil and rock and add millions of tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. In the U.S. alone, 55,000 vertebrate animals will be used in research and 13 million will die for food. 25,000 people will starve to death, most of them children under five.

How should we think about this human impact on earth and its inhabitants? Are we eroding the quality of our lives or perhaps even threatening our existence? Is this human influence on the planet an appropriate role for humanity? Does it treat others fairly (including other species and future generations)? Some would say that these concerns overlook nature's resilience, ignore humans' positive contributions to the planet, and fail to acknowledge humanity's unparalleled standard of living. Are they right?

This course will introduce you to environmental issues from an ethical and philosophical perspective. Its goal is to get you to think seriously and carefully about the moral dimensions of these issues and to help you develop your own views about the proper relationship between human civilization and the natural world.

Texts: Environmental Ethics: Concepts, Policy, Theory, Joseph DesJardins (at bookstore)

Packet of readings (that will be) available at Sas-E Ink (79 Wentworth, 577-2774) and on the Library's E-Reserves

Oral Presentations

Each student will give an oral presentation to the class. These presentations should be about 3 minutes long and will address a reading for that class period. Their purpose is to encourage you to teach and learn from each other and to facilitate class discussion. Find the central points from the reading that you think are worth bringing to your fellow students' attention, explain what they are, and then present your own thinking about the issues involved. These are not simply brief synopses of the reading, but mainly your responses to what you consider to be the significant points. You will sign up for the topic of your presentation. Do not miss your oral presentations. In cases where this is unavoidable, please contact me before the class.


Midterm Exam (23%) Thursday, March 3rd

Final Exam (23%)

It will stress the material from the second half of the course, but also include relevant material from the first half.

Major Paper (including a description of the project): (34%)

5-7 page paper exploring the ethical and philosophical dimensions of an environmental issue (e.g., obligations to endangered species or the meaning and value of wilderness). Alternatively, the paper might evaluate an environmental philosophy or ethic (e.g., Ecofeminism or Leopold's Land Ethic). A description of the proposed paper is due on Friday, March 25th, 3pm, 14 Glebe Mailbox. The paper is due on Friday, April 15th, 3pm, 14 Glebe Mailbox.

Reading Quizzes (10%)

Weekly unannounced quizzes on the reading for that day (no makeups).

Class Participation and Attendance (10%)

This includes oral presentation to the class, general quality of class involvement, and attendance. Attendance is particularly important in this class. I want you to learn from each other and from class discussion. Developing the skill of thinking philosophically requires practice and following examples. These can't be adequately done on your own. Poor attendance will lower your grade; extremely poor attendance (missing over two weeks of class) is sufficient grounds for failing the course. If you have a good reason for missing class, please write it on a piece of paper and include the date missed and your name. Please come to class on time: Assignments, handouts, reading quizzes and an attendance sheet are given at the beginning of class. It is your responsibility to sign the attendance sheet.