Final Exam Study Questions

EVSS 695: Environmental Philosophy

In class on Monday, I suggested that I would likely ask essay questions on the following topics. I will want you to both explain the issues involved in these topics (identify the main arguments/distinctions presented by the authors we’ve read) and have a thoughtful response to these debates from your own point of view. In addition, I am now considering a short answer section, where in two or three sentences you explain a distinction or argument or issue.


            a.         Natural (how to define, are humans and their activities natural, does it matter?)

            b.         Intrinsic value: Be able to distinguish 3 different senses of intrinsic value (and their opposites) and discuss whether nature has intrinsic value in any of these senses (and whether it matters).

            c.         Aesthetics of nature: Be able to identify the 6 or so different theories about what is involved in appropriate aesthetic appreciation of nature. Carefully evaluate the issues involved with aesthetic preservationism (including how some of those theories impact its prospects).

            d.         Climate change ethics. Singer, Caney, and Sinnott-Armstrong

            e.         Wilderness preservation and its critique. How important is it to environmentalism?

            f.         Convergence hypothesis: What is it, is it true, does it matter?

            g.         Moral standing: Anthropocentrism (including arguments for and against speciesism), sentiocentrism, biocentrism, and ecocentrism.


1.         What are Lynn White’s claims about “the historical roots of our ecologic crisis” in his famous paper of the same name? Do you agree with his assessment? Why or why not?

2.         Describe the debate over how to evaluate predation in nature and what our obligations are regarding it. What is your own view on this issue?

3.         What are the main ideas of Aldo Leopold’s land ethic? Evaluate the land ethic from your own perspective: Is it a strong environmental philosophy/ethic?

4.         Distinguish between at least three different senses of intrinsic value and explore how they are and are not related. Do you think the notion of intrinsic value in any of theses senses applies to nonhumans?

5.         Explore the debate between anthropocentrism and non-anthropocentrism in environmental philosophy. Which of these positions (if either) makes more sense to you and why? Relate this debate to the idea of “speciesism.”

6.         What is the “convergence hypothesis?” Is it plausible? Why or why not?

7.         How should we understand and evaluate exotic species (taking into account some of the ideas of Woods, Moriarty, Jamieson and Hettinger)?

8.         Explain the contemporary critique of wilderness (by Cronon and others) and evaluate it from your own perspective.

9.         Explain Holmes Rolston’s arguments in favor of saving nature rather than feeding people and then assess his reasons from your own point of view.

10.       Jamieson in his last chapter (“Nature’s Future”) uses the I=PAT formula and makes some claims about who the best and worst environmental citizens are. What is IPAT and what are his claims and what is your own view about each? Do you think Jamieson is right in his assessment of the three possible environmental futures (and what are they?)?

11.       Explain the critique of consumption as provided by Peter Wenz and others. From your own perspective, how important is it to change our pattern of consumption and why?

12.       Do we have obligations to future generation? What is their basis and what do they involve? What do such obligations not involved? What are Brian Barry’s answers to these questions? Do you agree with him?

13.       Explain Simon Caney’s argument that anthropogenic climate change violate human rights and evaluate if from your own perspective. (Make sure you explain what a human right is and which rights he things CC will violate and how.)

14.       Explain Peter Singer’s analysis of the ethics of climate change. What are some of the various positions he considers on how we should allocate greenhouse gases, and which one does he endorse? Evaluate his proposal from your own perspective

15.       What obligations concerning global warming does Sinnott-Armstrong deny we have and what are some of his reasons for this claim? What obligations concerning global warming does he think we do have? Evaluate his position from your own perspective.

16.       *I might simply ask, in light of the ideas of Caney, Singer, and Sinnott-Armstong explain your own position on climate ethics (addressing how you agree and disagree with these thinkers and how you would respond to their objections).

Parsons Aesthetics & Nature

17.       Why does Parsons believe aesthetic pleasure must be disinterested and disembodied and what do those concepts mean? Do you agree with him? Why or why not. Is it better to have a multisensory aesthetic appreciation of nature than a more limited appreciation?

18.       Terms/concepts/positions related to environmental aesthetics: Aesthetic preservationism, Positive aesthetics. Formalism, Post-modernism, Science approach, Arousal-being moved by nature approach, Moderate pluralism, Robust pluralism, Engagement approach, Analogy with art argument

19.       Identify, explain, and evaluate--both from Parson’s perspective and your own--the 6 different approaches to the aesthetics of nature that Parsons describes.

20.       What is aesthetic preservationism? Evaluate it form your own and from Parson’s perspective.

21.       What is positive aesthetics? How is it related to aesthetic preservationism, if at all? Do you accept positive aesthetics? Why or why not?

22.       Explain why Parsons approves or disapproves of environmental art. Do you agree with him?