Paper Assignment, Nature, Technology, and Society (Spring 2015)

The paper should be 5-7 pages (double space, typewritten) and explore the ethical and/or philosophical dimensions of an issue related to course topics. Papers will typically develop in greater depth a specific topic addressed in the course, though other topics related to the course are acceptable. You choose your topic, but the paper must clearly be related to and tied into the course in some significant fashion. The paper counts for 34% of your course grade and so it should be a substantial effort.

A one page paper proposal is due Friday, March 20, by email to . The proposal should include a tentative title, a characterization of your topic, the major lines of argument you intend to pursue, a tentative thesis and/or conclusion, and a brief summary of one philosophical article you will use in your paper (including how you will use it) and a complete bibliographic reference to that article so I can find it. The paper is due on Friday, April 10, 1pm, paper copy, put in my mailbox, inside the philosophy department building next to the secretary’s office at 14 Glebe.

Please use recycled paper, print your paper on the back side of already used paper, or print doubled sided (if at all possible).

 A few key points:

        The paper should be a philosophy paper in which you focus on normative, evaluative, or conceptual issues (rather than factual questions addressed by the natural and social sciences). For some topics, factual and scientific information will be necessary. But the focus should be on the ethical and conceptual dimensions and on the questions of public policy involved. (Always ask: What should we do or think concerning this issue and why? What are the philosophical, ethical, and conceptual questions which must be answered if this issue is to be resolved?)

        The paper must show that it was written by someone who took this course. If an assigned article has bearing on your topic, you must discuss what it says about it and your response. Tie your paper into the central themes of the course, specifically the issues address in the philosophy of technology section of the course.

        At least one outside (meaning not assigned in the course) philosophical reading is required for this paper. Find a philosophy article, from a philosophy journal, that importantly relates to your topic and use it in your paper. I suggest using the journals: Issues in Science and Technology, Bioethics, Hastings Center Report, Journal of Applied Philosophy, Environmental Ethics, Environmental Values, Ethics and the Environment, Ethics, Place and Environment, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology (all are in the library and most are available electronically. In my comments on your paper proposal I will try to help you find a relevant article if you haven’t found one. Three suggestions for searching for articles by keyword:

                 Philosopher’s Index, through the library here:

                 Online bibliography of environmental thought:

                 Bibliography of International Society for Environmental Ethics:

                 My personal bibliography, available here

Although it is required that you use one outside philosophy paper, don't get bogged down on this dimension of the paper. I want you to think for your self. The outside reading is meant to ground your paper in philosophical thinking on your topic and to help stimulate your own thinking.

Talk with each other (and me) about your ideas. Read ahead for topics on the syllabus we have not yet discussed. Make sure you write on an issue you want to spend some time thinking about.

Here are some suitable topics that you might write about if they interest you, along with some references.

See the following for possible topics

Some Possible Paper Topics


1.      An analysis and critique of any article we read for class. Of course you will have to develop the issues well beyond what we said about them in class and tie them into your outside article.

2.      I recommend scanning the “Miscellaneous” links on our class webpage for ideas and articles.

3.      Geo-engineering; an ethical and philosophical appraisal

4.      Importance and value of community and technology’s affect on it. In addition to Ehrenfeld

5.      Information technology and psuedocommunities: An evaluation of Ehrenfeld’s views

6.      Nanotechnology: A philosophical and ethical appraisal See helpful audio here                                                            

7.      Synthetic biology: A philosophical and ethical appraisal. See Preson on “Synthetic Biology

Philosophy of technology

8.      Evaluating the Amish’s use of technology and their criteria for appropriate technology (I’ve found it difficult to find articles on this topic).

9.      Technology and good farming; Moral evaluation of demise of family farm

10.    A defense or critique of Luddism (consider using Dan Lyons “Are Luddites Confused?”

11.    A specification of appropriate technology (and inappropriate technology)

12.    Can technology bring us closer to nature? See Sarah Pohl, “Technology and the Wilderness Experience,” Environmental Ethics, 28,2 Summer 2006 p. 147-163. Available on web through library

13.    Evaluation of the ideas of technological autonomy, determinism

14.    Primitivism: a defense (or a critique) and relate to Shepard and Heinberg readings. See

15.    A specification of appropriate technology (contrast with Berry, for example)

16.    Wendell Berry’s philosophy of technology: Defense or critique

17.    Kirkpatrick Sale on technology

18.    Automobile as a tech that has changed our lives and values

19.    An evaluation of the “precautionary principle.”

20.    An analysis of the “mismatch argument:” Are we Pleistocene beings whose nature is mismatched to our high technology world?

21.    Ted Kaczynski (and Skrbina) on technology

22.    Bruno Latour’s philosophy of technology


23.    Biotechnology and sustainable agriculture (need to be careful here to make this philosophical and not simply scientific); compare with Kingsolver’s “Fist in Eye of God” paper

24.    Vandana Shiva vs Monsanto on GMO foods

25.    Labeling genetically modified foods (for or against or evaluation of the issue)

26.    Ethics of cloning humans (see Kass’ “The Wisdom of Repugnance” and Dan Brock “Cloning Human Beings.”

27.    Human Enhancement: See Michael Sandel’s ideas, add your own and relate to another article. Here are some possible outside articles Ronald Cole-Turner “Do Means Matter? Evaluating Technologies of Human Enhancement,” Report form Institute of Philosophy and Public Policy 18, 4 Fall 1998 p. 8-12 ; Eric Parens, ed., Enhancing Human Traits: Ethical and Social Implications, Georgetown U Press, Hastings Center Studies in Ethics. 1998 Read summary of arguments in eds intro. This covers some of the ground in the Hastings Center Report special issue on enhancement printed in 1997 Carl Elliott, “Enhancement Technology” in David Kaplan Ed, Readings in the Philosophy of Technology 2004 7 pages Carl Elliott, Better Than Well: American Medicine Meets the American Dream, Norton, June 2004 / paperback / ISBN 0-393-32565-2

28.    Claudia Mills, “One Pill Makes You Smarter: An Ethical Appraisal of Rise of Ritalin” Report form Institute of Philosophy and Public Policy 18, 4 Fall 1998 p 13-17

29.    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.

30.    Biotech, globalization and global justice. See article by Smith, Tony. "Biotechnology and Global Justice," Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 11(1999):219-242.

31.    Biotechnology and animals

Nature Technologies in the “Anthropocene:” Restoration of nature?

32.    Does global climate change undermine the importance of restoring nature?

33.    Impacts of climate change on how we should think about restoring nature (See article by Ron Sandler)

34.    A critique or defense of attempts to restore nature; Is restoration the creation of an artifact or a faked nature?

35.    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.

36.    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)

37.    The Anthropocene: Philosophical defense or critique. “No that we live in the age of man we need a new type of environmentalism that puts less emphasis on preserving nature untouched by humans and sees humans as part of nature and responsible for it.”

38.    How we do and should think about “nature” and the distinction (dualism?) between humans and nature

39.    Gardens as a model for a healthy human relationship with nature

40.    Age of Man Environmentalism? What’s to be said for it or against it?

41.    Rewilding: What it is and why it is important (or not)

42.    Pleistocene Rewilding: What it is and what is to be said in favor/against it?

43.    Deextinction: Should we revive extinct species? No Yes


44.    Exploration of the critique of consumption

45.    Consuming because others consume

46.    The relationship between consumption and happiness

47.    An analysis of “green and socially responsible consumerism”

48.    Simple living: What is it? Is it important? Possible? Valuable?   

49.    An evaluation of the simple living movement; What is simple living? Is it an important response to our environmental problems? See 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.

50.    Juliet Schor on consumption and sustainability

51.    Laura Westra and Patricia Werhane, The Business of Consumption: Environmental Ethics and the Global Economy 1998.

52.    A.L. Hammond, ‟Limits to Consumption and Economic Growth: The Middle Ground,” Philosophy and Public Policy, 15,4 (1995): 9-12.

53.    "The Ethics of Consumption," Report from the Institute of Philosophy and Public Policy (QQ) 15, 4. I have.

54.    David Crocker and Toby Linden, The Ethics of Consumption Rowman and Littlefield, 1997

55.    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

Some more related books and articles

56.    For a general article on the philosophy of technology as it relates to nature, see Chapter 31. Technology: Lori Gruen (Stanford University) in Dale Jamieson, Companion to Environmental Philosophy, Blackwell Publishing 2001 CofC call number GE40 .C66 2001

57.    Edward Tenner, Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996).

58.    Technology and the Contested Meaning of Sustainability By Aidan Davison. Albany, NY: State of University of New York Press, 2001.

59.    S. Mills, ed., Turning Away from Technology, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1997

60.    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. 306-07.