Philosophy 150: Nature, Technology, and Society

(T,Th, Education Center 111)


            Ned Hettinger                                                                                     Office: 16 Glebe, Rm. 201

            Spring 2015                                                                                        Off Hrs: Tues/Thurs 12:15-1:00

            Email:                                                                           Wed, 11:30-2:00

            Webpage:                                                    (also stop by my office or make

            Class webpage: an appointment)


Course Description and Goals

          This course is an introduction to philosophical thinking about the relationships between technology, nature and society. It is divided into four parts. We first consider general issues in the philosophy of technology, focusing on Luddist philosophy (i.e., a skepticism toward the assumption that new technology always constitutes progress). Secondly, we narrow our focus to examine a couple of technologies: Information technology and biotechnology. We then study what might be called “Nature Technologies” and ask about the possibility of restoring nature in the “Anthropocene.” Specifically we examine geoengineering, rewilding, and de-extinction as attempts to rehabilitate nature in a world whose climate is changing and consider the different conceptions of nature involved. Finally, the course examines the critique of consumption and progress and considers simple living and ecological design as responses to concerns about technology’s effect on nature and society.

          The main aim of this course is to help you to develop your own understanding and evaluation of the appropriate relationships between nature, technology, and society.

          General education student learning outcomes and assessment: (1) Students analyze how ideas are represented, interpreted or valued in various expressions of human culture, namely technology and its relations to nature and society. (2) Students examine relevant primary source materials and interpret the material in writing assignments. The assessment of these outcomes will be measured in the student’s final paper.


          The readings will be posted on the class webpage:


          Midterm Exam (21%) Thursday, Feb 26th (right before spring break)                                  

          Final Exam (25%) in our class room

          Major Paper (34%) 5-7 page paper exploring the ethical and philosophical dimensions of an issue concerning nature, technology, and society. Papers will typically develop in greater depth a specific topic addressed in the course. Students choose the topic, but the paper must clearly be related to and tied into the course. A paper proposal is due on Friday, March 20, by email to The paper is due on Friday, April 10, 1pm, paper copy, 14 Glebe inside mailbox.                                       

          Reading Quizzes (10%) There will be unannounced quizzes on the reading for the day (approximately 10 for the semester). I do not give quiz makeups, but I do give “free quiz opportunities” that can be used to substitute for a missed quiz. Also, if you will be absent, you may email me a summary of the reading for that day before the class begins and this will count for the quiz, should there be one.

          Class Participation and Attendance (10%) This includes general quality of class involvement and attendance. Attendance is particularly important in this class. I want you to learn from each other and from class discussion. Developing the skill of thinking philosophically requires practice and following examples. These can't be adequately done on your own. Poor attendance will lower your grade; extremely poor attendance (missing over two weeks of class) will dramatically lower your grade. If you have a good reason for missing class, please email me an explanation. Please also come to class on time. Assignments, reading quizzes and an attendance sheet are given at the beginning of class. It is your responsibility to sign the attendance sheet. If the sheet somehow misses you during the class, please come up after class and sign it.


Grading Scale 

          I use the College’s numeric grading scale. A = 4.0 , A- = 3.7, B+ = 3.3, B = 3.0, B- = 2.7, C+ = 2.3, C = 2.0, C- = 1.7, D+ = 1.3, D = 1.0, D- = 0.7, F = 0.0