Paper Assignment: Nature, Technology and Society (Fall 2005)
This is 5-7 page paper (doubled spaced, typewritten) exploring the ethical and philosophical dimensions of an issue
that plausibly integrates the three themes of the course: Nature, Technology and Society. The paper counts for 33%
of your course grade and so it should be a significant effort.
Papers can focus on issues the course address, namely, the philosophy technology, biotechnology, the restoration of
nature, consumption and progress, and ecological design. But papers are not limited to the topics we have addressed.
You may choose any topic you wish, as long as it relates to the three course concepts and incorporates a significant
chunk of the course ideas in some fashion. Note that if there are issues or articles we have discussed that are relevant
to your topic, you must show an understanding of how they relate to your topic.
The paper should use one outside philosophical article (preferably) or book as a reference. Journals in the library that
might be useful include Bioethics, Environmental Ethics, Environmental Values, Hastings Center Report,
Ethics, Inquiry, Journal of Applied Philosophy, and Issues in Science and Technology. You can also look up
philosophical articles by subject in the Philosopher's Index (in the reference section) of the library.
Although I would like you to show familiarity with both the class material and one outside philosophical article, the
paper should mainly be your own thinking and analysis of the issue you choose to address.
A one paged description of the proposed paper is due on Friday, October 28th, 3pm mailbox 14 Glebe. This should
specify the topic of the paper and give a synopsis of its content. It should identify the major arguments, reasons, and
perspectives on various sides of the issue that you will be considering. It should identify a possible conclusion or
tentative thesis of the paper. It should also list a couple of key sources/articles (including class readings) you intend
to use and describe how they relate to (and how you will use them in) your paper project.
The paper is due on Friday, November 18th, 14 Glebe, 3pm (unless the topic concerns consumption, in which case the
paper is due Friday, December 2nd, 3pm, mailbox 14 Glebe). Please use recycled paper or print your paper on the
back side of already used paper, if at all possible. (Printing front and back also saves paper.)
A few suitable topics that might interest you, along with some references.
Philosophy of technology
- An analysis and critique of any article we read for class.
- Evaluating the Amish's use of technology and their criteria for appropriate technology
- Technology and good farming; Moral evaluation of demise of family farm
- A defense or critique of Luddism
- Can technology bring us closer to nature?
- Evaluation of the ideas of technological autonomy, determinism, or inertia
- Ethics of consumption (and over consumption); see the two videos in the Learning Resources Center; also see Affluenza: The All-Consuming
Epidemic by John De Graaf, David Wann, Thomas H. Naylor, Redefining Progress 2001 Berrett-Koehler ; ISBN: 1576751511 See below section
on "evaluation of consumption"
- An evaluation of the simple living movement; Graceful Simplicity: Toward a Philosophy and Politics of Simple Living by Jerome M. Segal, ©
1999 by Jerome M. Segal. Published by Henry Holt and Company LLC.
- Critique of progress
- Primitivism. https://www.primitivism.com https://www.schumachersociety.org/new.html
- A specification of appropriate technology
- Automobile as a tech that has changed our lives and values
- An evaluation of the "precautionary principle."
- Wendell Berry on farming or technology.
- A defense or critique or evaluation of biotechnology (or biotechnologies)
- Labeling genetically modified foods (for or against or evaluation of the issue)
- Ethics of cloning humans (or cloning in general?) See April 12 (what year?) issue of Science for an article by Dan Brock
- Ethics, gene therapy, and gene enhancement
- Ethical issues in biotechnology and environmental risk
- Biotechnology and sustainable agriculture
- Biotechnology and respect for nature
- Patenting and biotechnology; Patenting life see Jack Wilson, Patenting Organisms: Intellectual Property Law Meets Biology" in Who Owns
Life?, David Magnus (ed.) MIT Press, 2002. Jack Wilson, "Intellectual Property Rights in Agricultural Organisms: The Shock of the Not-So-New," in Genetically Modified Food: Science, Religion, and Morality, Michael Ruse and David Castle (eds.) Prometheus Press, 2002; Jack
Wilson, "Biotechnology Intellectual Property Rights--Bioethical Issues," Encyclopedia of Life Science. Nature Publishing Group, London,
forthcoming. I have an article on this too.
- Biotech, globalization and global justice. See article by Smith, Tony. "Biotechnology and Global Justice," Journal of Agricultural and
Environmental Ethics 11(1999):219-242. I explore two questions regarding agricultural biotechnology, one descriptive and one evaluative. What
role is agricultural biotechnology likely to play in globalization? And is the diffusion of agricultural biotech likely to move us closer to a just
global order? Before we can consider such questions, however, we must come to an understanding and assessment of globalization. Unfortunately,
this too is an immensely complicated and controversial topic. In order to make things a bit more manageable I shall drastically oversimplify
matters, restricting the debate to just two competing accounts of globalization. The first of these accounts, termed "neoliberalism," is familiar,
consisting of a set of ideas circulating constantly in the business press, trade publications, the popular media, and mainstream academic discourse.
Its main conclusion in the present context is reassuring: social mechanisms are in place to ensure that global justice is more or less automatically
furthered by the diffusion of agricultural biotechnology. The second perspective, which I shall term the "heterodox" or "critical" perspective, is in
contrast relatively unfamiliar. It leads to the disturbing conclusion that under present circumstances the rational development of biotechnology
may contribute to results that are irrational from a social and ethical perspective.
- Some questions concerning biotechnology and environmental justice: Who should control the evolution of biotechnology and who should
benefit from biotechnology? Should efforts be made to benefit the least well-off first and most? What are the consequences of biotechnologies in
terms of health, the environment, social justice and democracy? What are the ethical and/or political strategies for analyzing the plural and
conflicting values associated with biotechnology and for resolving conflicts? How far is it reasonable/acceptable/legitimate to go in genetically
modifying organisms? What are the normative differences, if any, between genetically modifying plants, genetically modifying non-human
animals, and genetically modifying humans? Should there be limits and if so, what justifies those limits? Should individuals who can afford it be
permitted to develop biotechnologies of their choice? Are there ethical, political, social limits to personal uses of biotechnology? When, if ever,
is the government justified in intervening with the private pursuit of biotechnological ends? What sort of reconceptualization of our relationships
to each other, to other animals and to the natural world does biotechnology require and what are the advantages and disadvantages of this
reconceptualization? What is the moral importance of public education and participation in decision making about these technologies?
- A critique or defense of attempts to restore nature; Is restoration the creation of an artifact or a faked nature?
- Is nature restoration a helpful paradigm for the human relation to nature? "This emergence of ecological restoration is, in my mind, the most
important environmental development since the first Earth Day. It allows people to participate in healing the wounds left on the earth,
acknowledging the human power to create as well as to destroy." Gary Paul Nabhan, 1991.
- Restoration versus preservation of nature; Wilderness areas from which humans are systematically excluded are "the most astonishingly unnatural
places on earth." Frederick Turner (1985, p. 45) "Human reproductions of nature are not substitutes for authentic nature but are authentic nature."
Frederick Turner (Harpers, 1990)
Evaluation of consumption
- Mark Sagoff, "Do we consume too much?" Atlantic Monthly and reply by Paul Ehrlich et al. He argues that it is a fallacy to think we are running
out of resources-lots of stats and facts supporting, but too much not much analysis; same old economics doesn't address env. issue here, but moral
reasons support claim consume too much. https://www.theatlantic.com/issues/97jun/consume.htm
- Laura Westra and Patricia Werhane, The Business of Consumption: Environmental Ethics and the Global Economy 1998.
- A.L. Hammond, "Limits to Consumption and Economic Growth: The Middle Ground," Philosophy and Public Policy, 15,4 (1995): 9-12.
- "The Ethics of Consumption," Report from the Institute of Philosophy and Public Policy (QQ) 15, 4. I have.
- David Crocker and Toby Linden, The Ethics of Consumption Rowman and Littlefield, 1997 (564 pages).
Some books, articles, and web sites that might stimulate your thinking for a paper
- David Ehrenfeld's Arrogance of humanism, and his new book David Ehrenfeld, Swimming Lessons: Keeping Afloat in an Age of Technology,
- Jared Diamond's Gun's Germs and Steel
- Edward Tenner, Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996).
- "The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World," by Michael Pollan. Random House, 2001.
- Jeremy Rifkin, The Biotech Century: Playing Ecological Roulette with Mother Nature's Designs" in E magazine may/June 1998. Same title book
- Martin Teitel and Kimberly A. Wilson, Genetically Engineered Food: Changing the Nature of Nature: What you Need to know to protect yourself,
your family and our planet (Vermont: Inner Traditions, Int'l Ltd., 1999.
- Technology and the Contested Meaning of Sustainability By Aidan Davison. Albany, NY: State of University of New York Press, 2001.
- S. Mills, ed., Turning Away from Technology, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1997
- B. E. Rollin, "The 'Frankenstein Thing:' The Moral Impact of Genetic Engineering of Agricultural Animals on Society and Future Science," in
Agricultural Bioethics: Implications of Agricultural Biotechnology ed. Steven Gendel et al. (Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1990), pp.
- Good web site on Michael Pollan: https://wp.rutgers.edu/courses/101/link_o_mat/pollan.html
- Jacques Ellul (French), The Technological Society (1954): "Technique" has become a Frankenstein monster that can't be controlled;
"Technique:" not just use of machines, but all deliberate/rational/efficient/organization; Created technique in prehistoric times as needed it, but
more recently been used by the well-to-do to make money, masses accept it for its comfort; Now search for efficiency an end-in-itself, dominating
man and destroying quality of his life
- Lewis Mumford (leading historian of technology) Myth of the Machine (1967 and 1970)
- Rene Dubos (research biologist) So Human an Animal (1968) won a Pulitzer Prize; Man is an animal whose nature (physical & social) formed
during course of his evolution; This basic nature-molded in fields and forests-not suited to life in tech world; Man's ability to adapt to almost any
environment is his downfall; Little by little he has accommodated himself to physical/psychic horrors of modern life; Must choose a different path
or are doomed
- Charles Reich Greening of America (1970); Spoke on behalf of youthful counterculture and its dedication to liberating consciousness-raising
- Theodore Roszak Where the Wasteland Ends (1972) A primitive spiritualism; A new "Arcadian" (simple, innocent, untroubled) criticism of
- John De Graaf: Turbocapitalism, Robert Franks, Winner Take All Society