Final Exam Study Questions

Environmental Ethics, Spring 2010


            -I have put a star on some of the questions I think most important. (That does not mean I will not ask about questions without a star.)

            -There will be no questions on Jamieson on natives versus exotics


Key Terms/concepts: Anthropocentrism, sentiocentrism, biocentrism, ecocentrism, holism, individualism, egalitarianism , in-egalitarianism, instrumental value, 3 different senses of intrinsic value, moral considerability, Jamieson’s view of moral considerability and what is intrinsically valuable (not the same), Leopold’s maxim, Leopold’s reappraisal, Taylor’s biocentric outlook on nature, Taylor on human superiority, welfare interests, preference interests, the interests (?) of machines; Taylor on self-defense, restitutive justice, minimum wrong, and distributive justice; ecosystem integrity, stability, health; biodiversity; wildness; ecofascism objection to Leopold; last man argument, Jamieson’s definition of un-natural, end of nature, definition of wilderness (in the Wilderness Act), Cronon’s criticisms of wilderness, climate change, ozone depletion, no regrets argument, environmental justice and climate change, civil disobedience, non-civil disobedience, nature as (not) a delicately balanced/stable system, net primary productivity, IPAT, population data, China and C02, ecological footprint, social ecology, Parfit’s non-identity problem, life boat ethics, definition of stainable development, Jamieson on saving the planet; stationary state economy

Study Questions on Taylor’s Biocentric Egalitarian Individualism

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.         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?

8.         *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."

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

10.       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?

11.       *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 simply assuming that only living organisms count morally.

12.       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?

13.       *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 explain what you mean by "superior")?

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

Study questions on Taylor’s Priority Principles

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

2.         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?

3.         *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?

4.         *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.

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

6.         *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?

7.         In order to live, must all living things consume other living organisms? Why or why not? (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?

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

9.         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?

Questions on Ecocentric holism vs. Individualism (e.g., species /ecosystems vs. individuals)

1.         *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.

2.         Do agree with Roger Caras that the conflict between concern for individuals and concern for species is a “nonissue?” Is emotional concern for the plight of individual wild animals appropriate? Is it “unscientific?”

3.         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?

4.         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?

5.         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?

6.         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? Was it good for the ecosystem? Do you approve of this restoration effort? Why or why not? Why do some oppose the restoration?

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

8.         Why was the Navy shooting goats on San Clemente Island? Do you agree with that policy? Why or why not?

Leopold and Ecocentric Holism

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

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

3.         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?

4.         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?

5.         *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?

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

7.         Explain how biodiversity and wildness value might conflict.

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

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

10.       *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?


Study questions on Jamieson on Ecocentrism

1. What are some of Jamieson’s objections to the concept of “ecosystem” and to the idea that they have moral standing and we morally ought to protect their interests?

2. What of moral concern to many environmentalists does ecocentrism leave out?

3. Does Jamieson think it makes sense to extend moral considerability (moral standing and perhaps even rights) to abiotic entities? How does Jamieson think we should protect such entities?

4. What is Jamieson’s own environmental ethics? What view of moral standing does he take? Does he limit what he values to what has moral standing?

Questions on Jamieson on Intrinsic Value

1.         *What are the four different senses of intrinsic value that Jamieson discusses? (Ignore the 3rd)

2.         *What is the last man argument? Which type of intrinsic value is it an argument for? Is this a good argument?

3.         What is the regress argument for intrinsic value? Which type of value does it purport to prove exists? Is it a good argument?

Questions on Jamieson on Ways of Valuing Nature

1.         Does end valuing (IV1) imply there is objective intrinsic value (IV4)? Why or why not?

2.         *If something is not morally considerable (IV2), does that mean we can’t intrinsically value it as an end (IV1?)

3.         *What is Jamieson’s view of moral considerability? Does this mean he does not intrinsically value non-sentient nature?

4.         *Does Jamieson think that beings who are morally considerable get protection before beings who are not morally considerable but intrinsically valued as an end?

5.         *Does Jamieson think that what is intrinsically valuable is more important than what is instrumentally valuable? What is his example to dispute this? Do you agree with his argument here?

6.         What is “prudential value” of nature? Does Jamieson think this is a good reason for valuing nature? Does he think it is the only good reason? Does he think it is a sufficient reason?

7.         Does Jamieson think nature’s aesthetic value is a good reason to protect it? Does he think it is a sufficient reason?

8.         What does it mean to say nature’s beauty is subjective? Objective? Which of these does Jamieson argue for and how?

Questions on Readings on Meaning and Value of the Natural

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

2.         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?

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

4.         *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.

5.         Give some examples that should make one skeptical of the idea that humans should look to animal behavior as a model for how we should live and act.

6.         Should space billboards be allowed? Why or why not? Have they ever been proposed?

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

8.         Evaluate the claim that the most remote areas of the planet (such as the upper reaches of Mount Everest) are still pristine.

9.         *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 the National Parks have a policy of letting nature takes its course in the Parks?

10.       Should humans manage nature (or “manage Planet Earth”)? What reasons are there for thinking we should not do so? What are the reasons for thinking we have no choice but to do so? What reasons are their for thinking this involves a contradiction (e.g., a human managed natural area). Consider the idea that we should manage ourselves rather than nature.

11.       If humans were offered a ring (by the gods) that would allow us to totally manage all of nature (including human nature), should we accept that ring?

Study Questions for Jamieson on Natural Values

1.         *What is Jamieson’s definition of “natural?” Can something be influenced by humans and still be natural on his view?

2.         *Give an example of something that is not natural according to Jamieson’s definition and then an example of something that is natural (by his definition), but is nonetheless influenced by humans

3.         Why does Jamieson accept or reject that we are at the “end of nature.”

4.         What is the idea behind the “social construction of nature?” What does Jamieson think about this idea?

5.         *According to Jamieson, what are some of the values that lie behind our attraction to what is natural?

6.         Is there naturalness within us, according to Jamieson? Give examples.

7.         *Using examples, explain how naturalness value can conflict with biodiversity values, with aesthetic values, and with prudential values.

**Will not be tested on

Jamieson on Natives versus Exotics


1.         *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)?

2.         What are some of the typical reasons that people have for opposing wilderness designation?

3.         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?

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

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

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

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

8.         Describe the debate among environmentalists over whether to put solar panels in the Mojave Desert? What are two environmental values that conflict in this case?

Cronon On Wilderness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Study questions on Climate Change

1.         *Explain in some detail the problem of climate change, including its causes and potential impacts.

2.         *What is the difference between the climate change problem and the problem of ozone depletion?

3.         What sorts of policies do we need to adopt to address climate change?

4.         *What is the no regrets argument for responding to climate change?

5.         *What issues of environmental justice does climate change raise?

Environmental Action

1.         *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?

2.         Describe a case where lawbreaking to protect the environment led to environmental protection. Describe a case where lawbreaking to protect animals let to the protection of animals.

3.         What does Singer think about the suggestion that the ends can never justify the means?

4.         Is it always morally wrong to break the law? (Think of Oscar Schindler.) Is it always morally wrong to break the law in a democratic society?

5.         *What is civil disobedience and how is it different from other types of lawbreaking?

6.         *What is the difference between environmental civil disobedience and environmental sabotage? For what reasons does the second not count as civil disobedience? Is one easier to justify than the other?

7.         What are the reasons for thinking law breaking for env. goals harms the environmental movement? What are reasons for thinking it can help?

8.         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?

9.         If one believes animals have equal rights, does it follow that one ought to break into research labs and release the animals? If one believes that fetus are persons with the same rights as you and me, then is it permissible to shoot abortion doctors?

10.       Who was “the Fox?”

11.       Describe “no impact man.”

12.       How is foie gras made?

Questions on Jamieson’s Ch. 7: Nature’s Future


1.         *Does Jamieson think that the environmental challenge for humanity is to preserve stable equilibrium-seeking systems? Why or why not?

2.         Explain in some detail the problem of climate change, including its causes and potential impacts.

3.         What are some reasons for thinking we live on a human dominated planet?

4.         *What is Net Primary Productivity (NPP) and what % do humans as a whole appropriate? Which regions of the world appropriate the greatest percentage of NPP? Why might one think this makes them less nature friendly? (See p. 189-190)

5.         *Explain Commoner’s and Ehrlich’s IPAT formula. Using examples, explain how each of the three factors affects environmental impact. In the end, which factor does Jamieson believe is actually most important in our world for determining whose environmental impact is the most extensive? Which country in the world has the greatest environmental impact and why?

6.         *What is the size of the earth’s population today? About how many years until we add another billion humans? Name the three largest countries in terms of population. Where is most of the population growth occurring? What must be done to control human population growth in a “morally acceptable” way, according to Jamieson?

7.         *Evaluate the following claim from your own and Jamieson’s perspective. The most serious environmental problem is the exploding human population of the developing world. That is what we need to control if we are to solve environmental problems.

8.         *Which country is the largest single emitter of carbon dioxide (=CO2)? Why might one argue that China is not solely responsible for its emissions of C02? Which country in the world emits the most CO2 per person?

9.         How efficient is the U.S. in terms of use of carbon in producing goods when compared with other countries in the world?

10.       *Explain the concept of ecological footprint. How does the U.S. compare with China, India, and Europe in terms of ecological footprint?

11.       *What does Jamieson think “the most effective thing an American can do” if he wants to minimize his environmental impact? Why does he think this? Is he right?

12.       *What is a “social ecologist?” Explain why Jamieson does or does not accept this idea.

13.       *Describe global inequality and poverty in terms of fractions.

14.       Explain some of the reasons one might be skeptical about the idea that we have strong duties to future generations in the further future.

15.       *Explain Parfit’s non-identity problem and how it undermines the claim we might harm future people (fail in out duties to them) if we keep living unsustainably. Explain the response to this problem that suggest looking at the issue in consequentialist/utilitarian terms rather than deontological (duties to particular individuals) terms.

16.       Is Dale Jamieson who lives in NY city better off than he would have been if the island of Manhattan had been left a wilderness? Discuss.

17.       *Explain Garrett Hardin’s life boat ethics argument against feeding the hungry (use the idea of the commons in your response). Do you accept this argument against feeding hungry people? What is Jamieson’s response to it?


18.       *What is the famous definition of “sustainable development” that came out of the Rio Earth Summit?

19.       Describe two of the results of the Rio Summit and explain Jamieson’s evaluation of them.

20.       *Evaluate the claim that humans need to “save the planet.” What does Jamieson think about this claim?

21.       *Do our current environmental problems constitute a catastrophe according to Jamieson?

22.       Does Jamieson think that everyone can live as American’s do? Why or why not?

23.       *Does Jamieson think it is possible for the rich developed countries to keep the poor countries of the world undeveloped, so that we in the developed world can continue our lifestyles? Why or why not? In what ways might the developing world do great damage to things the rich countries value?

24.       *What does Jamieson think the rich countries need to do in terms of third world development if we are to an avoid environmental disaster?

25.       What is Jamieson’s assessment of the likelihood of Americans changing their way of life by reducing consumption and increasing efficiency and sustainability?

26.       *What does Jamieson think about the connection between wealth/affluence and happiness? Although Europeans have less income and wealth than in Americans, why might one think they are better off than we are?

27.       *What is a stationary state economy? Does it entail a lack of progress in human improvement? Why or why not? What does John Stuart Mill think about this?

28.       What are some of the problems Jamieson sees with moving Americans toward lower consumption and increased efficiency?