Final Exam Study Questions, Environmental Ethics, Fall 2008

Sagoff’s Animal Liberation and Environmental Ethics: Bad Marriage, Quick Divorce

1.         State and explain Mark Sagoff's criticism of animal activists (such as Peter Singer and Tom Regan).

2.         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.

3.         Discuss some of the potential differences between animal activists and environmentalists (and mention specific groups that fall into each camp).

4.         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?

5.         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?

6.         Does it make sense for a utilitarian like Singer to oppose human inflicted suffering of animals but not naturally occurring suffering of animals?

7.         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

8.         Explain what it means to say Paul Taylor's environmental ethic is an "egalitarian biocentric individualism." Define each term.

9.         Given Taylor's biocentrism, why does he think it follows that he must accept individualism rather than holism?

10.       What is the difference between Taylor's biocentrism and ecocentrism? What is the difference between Taylor's biocentrism and a sentience-centered environmental ethic?

11.       What are the four components of Taylor's "biocentric outlook on nature?" What function does this outlook serve for Taylor?

12.       Describe some of the ways that Taylor suggests human and nonhuman organisms are similar.

13.       Is Taylor correct in claiming that life on earth would do much better without us? Why or why not?

14.       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 idea?

15.       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 matters morally."

16.       Define "teleological." Which of the following are teleological entities: a tree, a human, a table, a tractor, a snake, a guided missile?

17.       What is the difference between welfare interests and preference interests? Give an example of one that is not the other.

18.       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?

19.       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.

20.       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?

21.       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")?

22.       What does Taylor think about the idea that humans--simply in virtue of their birthright--are superior to nonhumans?

23.       What is a prima facie duty? Give examples. What is the opposite of a prima facie duty? Are there any such duties?

24.       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.

25.       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?

26.       What conditions does Taylor think we must we meet before we can defend ourselves against other organisms?

27.       Is it ever morally permissible to harm (or even kill) innocents in self defense?

28.       Using examples, explain Taylor's distinction between a basic and a nonbasic (or less basic) interest.

29.       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?

30.       What is "distributive justice" according to Taylor. What does it mean in terms of our relations to nonhumans?

31.       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?

32.       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?

Ecoholism vs. Individualism (e.g., species vs. individuals)

33.       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.

34.       Do agree with Roger Caras that the conflict between concern for individuals and concern for species is a “nonissue?”

35.       Why do some bird lovers worry about feral cats? Describe what one such bird lover did (from our reading). Were his actions justifiable on your view?

36.       Briefly describe human restoration efforts concerning the California Condor. How should animal rights activists view the captive breeding programs like the one that involved the California condor?

37.       Describe some of the issues involved in the restoration of wolves to Yellowstone Park. Has it been successful? Was restoring wolves to Yellowstone National Park good for the individual wolves that where involved in the restoration project? Do you approve of this restoration effort? Why or why not?

38.       Why some Western states seek to kill sea lions? Should they be allowed to do so on your view?

39.       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?

40.       Why are there proposals to shoot goats on various islands? Do you agree with such proposals? Why or why not?

Leopold and Ecocentric Holism

41.       Do you agree with Leopold that the right to see geese is as important as the right of free speech?

42.       What is the slogan for Leopold's reappraisal? Using examples, explain what it means.

43.       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?

44.       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?

45.       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?

46.       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.)

47.       How are ecosystem health and ecosystem integrity related and different? Can one have one without the other?

48.       Explain how biodiversity and wildness value might conflict.

49.       Is Leopold's maximum holistic or individualistic? Explain why.

50.       With respect to individual members of the land community, is Leopold's position egalitarian or inegalitarian? Why?

51.       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?

Readings on Meaning and Value of the Natural

52.       Identify two distinct meanings of “natural” and do so by identifying their contrasts (natural as opposed to .......)

53.       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?

54.       In what sense of “natural” does the natural come in degrees? Give examples of 4 items in increasing degrees of naturalness.

55.       Evaluate the following claim: 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.

56.       Explain Bill McKibben’s reasons for claiming “the end of nature.” Assess these claims from your own perspective.

57.       Using an example from the reading, give reasons for and against the view we should provide medical treatment for wild animals. Which view makes more sense to you if either?

58.       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.

59.       Should the National Parks have a policy of letting nature takes its course in the Parks?

60.       Should humans manage nature (or “manage Planet Earth”)? 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).

Moriarty on Nature

61.       What are the two senses of ‘natural’ that Moriarty distinguishes between? Give examples of things not natural in each of these two senses and things natural in each of these two senses.

62.       Do these senses of natural allow for degrees, that is, more or less natural? Give examples.

63.       Does Moriarty think humans are natural (in each of these senses)? Why or why not? Do you agree with him on this?

64.       What is a “philosophical naturalist.” Does Moriarty embrace this view? Do you?

65.       Evaluate the following argument from your own and from Moriarty’s perspective: Since Humans are natural, what humans do is also natural.

66.       Explain the argument that embracing a nature/culture distinction is environmentally problematic. Do you think it is? What is Moriarty’s view on this?

67.       Explain Moriarty’s definition of “culture.” Do you think nonhuman animals have culture in this sense? Does Moriarity?


68.       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)?

69.       What are the major types of user groups that oppose wilderness designation?

70.       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 argument?

71.       What are the arguments for and against taking down the Glen Canyon Dam and thus draining Lake Powell?

72.       What are (were) some county officials in the West doing to block wilderness designation of land in their region?

73.       Discuss the pros and cons of keeping cars out of National Parks, such as Yosemite and the Grand Canyon.

74.       Why do rangers at one of the entrances to Yellowstone National Park sometimes wear gas masks?

75.       Describe the case concerning Douglas Thomkins’ attempt to create a National Park in Chile. What lessons can be learned from this?

Cronon On Wilderness

76.       Why does Cronon believe that “wilderness poses a threat to responsible environmentalism?” Do you agree? Why or why not?

77.       Explain Cronon’s account of how the perception of wilderness has changed and explain the two major factors he identifies as causing this change.

78.       Explain and evaluate Cronon claim that “wilderness environmentalism” fails to properly value human civilization (and is even misanthropic) and involves advocating “primitivism.”

79.       Explain and evaluate Cronon’s claim that wilderness environmentalism is an elitist, urban idea.

80.       In what way does Cronon think wilderness was actually causally, physically created by white European settlers?

81.       What does Cronon think about the idea that we should “export our notion of wilderness” to the developing world. Do you agree with him?

82.       Explain and evaluate Cronon’s reasons for claiming wilderness is a historically ignorant idea.

83.       Explain and evaluate Cronon’s claim that wilderness involves a harmful human/nature dichotomy.

84.       Explain and evaluate Cronon’s claim that wilderness environmentalism encourages us to ignore the protection of local, less that pristine nature.

85.       What does Cronon think wrong with a “wilderness environmentalism” that thinks solving env. problems involves setting aside wilderness areas?

86.       What does Cronon think are the virtues of the wilderness idea?

Owning Nature, Property Rights, Takings

87.       What principle justifying ownership suggests that the U.S. should own the moon?

88.       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 things?

89.       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 claims today?

90.       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?

91.       Why might some argue that making whales private property would protect them better than they are now protected?

92.       What is the “tragedy of the commons” and how does private ownership of what was once commons provide a solution to this tragedy? What is another solution?

93.       How does the endangered species act give landowners incentives to destroy potential habitat for endangered species? Consider the case of red-cockaded woodpeckers.

94.       What does the 5th amendment say about “taking” of private property? Does it allow it?

95.       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).

96.       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? (Hint: Consider the idea of “nuisance.”)

97.       Describe the David Lucas case on the Isle of Palms. Do you think Lucas should have been compensated as a result of the regulation that affected his property? Why or why not?

Hettinger on Who Owns Nature

98.       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 Hettinger what is wrong with this claim? Is undeveloped land “worthless”? Intrinsically? Instrumentally?

99.       What does it mean to say private property rights are not absolute? Do you agree with this statement?

100.     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?

101.     What is the difference between landownership conceived as lordship and conceived as trusteeship?

102.     Explain what Hettinger means when he claims that ownership of land is no one thing. Give examples.

103.     Is ownership of land more like owing children or owning a toaster?

Environmental Action

104.     If one believes animals have equal rights, does it follow that one ought to break into research labs and release the animals?

105.     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?

106.     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?

107.     What are the reasons for thinking non-civil disobedience for env. goals harms the environmental movement? What are reasons for thinking it helps?

108.     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?

109.     Is it always morally wrong to break the law? Is it always morally wrong to break the law in a democratic society?

110.     Describe a case where lawbreaking to protect the environment led to environmental protection.

111.     Who was “the Fox?”

Rolston on Environmental Aesthetics

112.     Does Rolston believe that a scientific understanding of nature is necessary (required) and/or sufficient (a guarantee) for the aesthetic appreciation of nature? Does he think it is necessary for the best aesthetic appreciation of nature? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?

113.     Can science get in the way of appreciation of nature? If so how? Give an example. Can science enhance aesthetic appreciation? Is so how? Give an example

114.     What are the two components that Rolston thinks are necessary for a proper aesthetic appreciation of nature? Which of these does Daniel Boone lack? Which of these might a scientist lack?

115.     If a person’s aesthetic appreciation is based on a false belief, does that mean that appreciation is deficient? Using an example explain both Rolston’s view and your own view.

116.     Do you accept that there are better and worse aesthetic appreciations of art and/or nature? That there are more or less appropriate aesthetic appreciations? Consider some of the examples we discussed.

117.     Must one appreciate an object for what it is in order to properly appreciate the object? Must one understand an object to properly appreciate it?

118.     Suppose one believes that the lakes in Minnesota were created by Paul Bunyan’s blue ox Babe and that one has a powerful aesthetic response to those lakes because of this belief. Is this an appropriate appreciation of nature? Is it as appropriate as an equally powerful aesthetic response based on knowledge of glaciation and how kettle ponds form?   What is Rolston’s view of this? What is your view?