Midterm Study Questions
Environmental Philosophy

(Not yet complete)

Questions for Cafaro (Toward an Env Virtue Ethics)

1.         Why does Cafaro think ethics and environmental ethics is incomplete w/o virtue ethics? What does virtue ethics add to traditional utilitarian and deontology (Kantian) ethics of duty and action? How is it different from these?

2.         In what way does virtue ethics provide “positive” reasons for acting environmentally (in contrast with the negative proscriptions environmentalists often give?

3.         Who are the three environmental writers Cafaro describes and explain their key environmental virtues?

4.         What does Thoreau mean by simplicity and what benefits does it provide? Why is it an environmental virtue?

5.         How important is widespread knowledge of nature as a motivation for people protecting nature?

6.         Cafaro identifies a number of common themes in the three writers he considers concerning what is involved in human flourishing. Identify and explain three of these.

7.         How does Cafaro propose to answer the objection that the good life for humans can be lived in a largely artificial world so we do not need wild nature?


Study Questions Hursthouse EVE (Environmental Virtue Ethics)

1.      What is “the green belief?” Do you accept this idea?

2.         Briefly explain the difference between a utilitarian, a deontology (Kantian–respect for individual rights), and a virtue ethics approach to ethics.

3.         Identify and illustrate some of the vices that Hursthouse thinks have led to env problems.

4.         Do you agree that to solve env problems we should start seeing many ordinary enjoyments as greedy and self indulgent? Give examples. What does Dale Jamieson think about this claim?

5.         How are pride, vanity, dishonesty and cowardice vices that contribute to env problems?

6.         Explain the virtue of humility and identify the opposite vice. How are these two related to environmental problems?

7.         Explain what a virtue is (don’t just give examples).

8.         Explain how the virtue of wonder is an environmental virtue according to Hursthouse.

9.         According to Hursthouse, do emotions (like wonder) have proper and improper objects (can they be assessed as rational or unjustified)? Why or why not? What do you think? Give her examples of how wonder might go astray in an env unhealthy way.

10.       According to virtue ethics (or environmental virtue ethics=EVE), how should we act? Is this helpful recommendation? Are env philosophers or native people’s good models?

11.       According to Hursthouse, what is wrong with Hill’s virtue ethics account of why it is wrong to needlessly destroy trees and with Kant’s account of why it is wrong to needlessly harm animals?

12.       Explain the objection that claims EVE is unjustifiably anthropocentric. How does Hursthouse respond to this claim? What is the “top value” for virtue ethics? Human flourishing? Being virtuous?

13.       What is the relationship between being virtuous and flourishing according to Hursthouse? Is being virtuous necessary for flourishing? Is it sufficient? What about the case of the tyrant who requires immoral behavior to avoid torture?

14.       What are Hursthouse’s reasons for suggesting the pessimistic possibility that we will not be able to solve our env problems virtuously, that to live rightly oriented with nature we will have to do things that conflict with other virtues

Study Questions Gardner, Ethics and Global Climate Change

1.         Why does Gardner think “climate change” is a better way to describe this env problem than is “global warming”? What does he think the core problem is? Temperature increase?

2.         What are the IPCC reports and why does it make sense to base climate change (=CC) policy on the IPCC reports?

3.         What is an example of one possible “catastrophic” effects of CC?

4.         What is the “no regrets” argument for policies to mitigate CC?

5.         Explain the difference between adaptation and mitigation in response to CC. What are some reasons to mitigate?

6.         Explain the moral objection to discounting the future involved in cost benefit analyses

7.         Explain the precautionary principle and apply it to CC.

8.         What is the consensus view of philosophers writing on the CC problem about who should bear the costs of CC?

9.         What are the two basic facts suggesting extreme injustice concerning CC?

10.       Describe the two backward looking approaches to who should respond to CC and evaluate them from your own perspective. How are these approaches different?

11.       Is ignorance of effects of burning fossil fuels a good response to these backward looking arguments?

12.       Explain the proposal suggesting allocating emissions on an equal per capita basis. Would this change the current emission levels of countries? How might this effect population growth?

13.       Is there a moral difference between “luxury emissions” and “subsistence emissions” and how does this affect the proposal for equal per capita emissions?

14.       Explain the pros and cons of the proposal for a right to subsistence emissions.

15.       Explain the pros and cons of the proposal to allocate emissions so it benefits the least well off.

16.       Explain the pros and cons of the proposal for a “fair chore division” where the marginal cost to prevent CC is equal for all participating.

17.       Briefly describe Gardner’s assessment of how the world has responded to threat of CC.

Study questions Parfit’s The Identity Problem

1.         Can actions harm future people? Even if they don’t exist? Is it morally wrong to harm future people? Give an example.

2.         Explain using an example of Parfit’s or your own, how it is possible to harm future people without making them worse off. Contrast this with an example where harming future people does make those people worse off.

3.         Contrast Parfit’s lazy nuclear technician example with his choose the risky energy policy example. In what way does he think they are importantly different? (This question is identical to the above question.)

4.         Does Parfit think wrongs require victims? Do you? How does this relate to the risky energy policy choice he discusses?

5.         Explain why choosing the risky depletion energy policy will lead to different people existing in 200 years as compared to the conservation energy policy. How does this matter in terms of our ability to explain why the risky depletion energy policy is problematic.

6.         Explain why choosing the risky depletion (CC) energy policy does not make anyone worse off, despite causing great suffering and death as a result of climate change?


Questions Shue, Creating a More Dangerous World

1.         Risk is a function of two factors, according to Shue. What are they?

2.         What is Shue’s tobacco company analogy and do you think it a fair comparison?

3.         Shue argues that when three conditions are met, one has an obligation to act even with uncertainty. What are those conditions? Explain them in detail. (Hint: There are 3 conditions and the 2nd has two important dimensions to it and so does the 3rd.) Apply this argument to CC. Do you agree it is a good argument?

4.         Evaluate: That something is uncertain (has no calculable probability) suggest that its objective probability is likely to be small.

5.         Explain why Shue thinks the cost of preventing losses due to CC are not excessive. Do you agree with him?

6.         Identify the four ways failing to act on climate change involves massive losses.

7.         Evaluate from your own and Shue’s perspective: If we fail to act on climate change we are guilty of a sin of omission (not a sin of commission); we are guilty of failing to stop a more dangerous world from coming into existence.

8.         What does Shue mean by “desperate dangers” of CC? Does he think there is evidence that such dangers will come about in this century?

9.         What is it about future people that makes Shue think it especially problematic for us to create dangers for them?

10.       Does Shue imagine any conditions under which he believes it would be permissible to burn almost all the carbon that is now stored in fossil fuels?

11.       At the end of his paper, Shue argues that we should present our obligations concerning CC as providing the future with a “legacy of security” a magnificent gift. I worried that this was not compatible with his point about how failing to address CC was not a sin of omission, but a sin of commission. Explain the tension between these two ideas.

Question on Caney Climate Change, Human Rights, and Moral Thresholds

1.      How is climate change an issue of international security?

2.         What are some of the possible benefits of CC?

3.         Explain the three fold distinction between mitigation, adaptation and compensation concerning CC.

4.         Define the notion of a “human right.” What sorts of moral approaches does it prevent?

5.         What is the difference between positive and negative rights? Which type does Caney’s arguments about CC rely on and why?

6.         Caney thinks CC violates 3 human rights. Identify them and then explain how Caney believes CC violates these rights. Does it matter for his argument that CC is anthropogenic (=human caused)?

7.         *Why does Lomborg claim more people will be saved by CC than killed? How does Caney’s human rights approach respond to this argument? Is this an effective response?

8.         What is a cost/benefit approach to climate change? What sorts of considerations does it ignore that a human rights approach pays attention to? (Hint: Distribution of cost/benefits and if costs push people below a threshold. Explain these.)

9.         How does Caney’s human rights approach deal with the costs responding to climate change? Explain his position.

10.       What role does compensation play in the human rights approach to CC? Does this approach agree with the idea imposing costs on people is permissible as long as you compensate them?

Questions on Singer, One Atmosphere

1.         Using an example, explain what Singer means when he says we have bizarre new ways of killing people.

2.         Explain Singer’s attitude about suing for damages caused by climate change.

3.         Does Singer believe U.N. sanctions are justified against carbon polluting nations? Relate this to the apartheid analogy

4.         What are some objections to pricing the costs of CC that Singer discusses?

5.         What is the discount rate and what are some objections to it?

6.         Use Singer’s village sink example and the idea that there is as much and as good left in common for others to explain moral dimensions of releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

7.         Have the poor of the world benefitted from the rich’s carbon emissions?

8.         What is Singer’s argument that the wealthy developed world owes the developing world compensation

9.         Explain the “tree planting counter-argument” to the claim the U.S. is a carbon polluter and Singer’s response to it.

10.       How does Singer respond to the objection that the developed world was ignorant of the harm caused by CO2 emissions and so is not responsible for that harm caused?

11.       Explain Singer’s “equal per capita emissions proposal” and how Singer proposed to respond to the problem that it might give an incentive to increase populations.

12.       What is emissions trading? How might it make it easier for the developed world to meet GHG goals? What are the arguments for and against it?


 Questions for Gardner, Geoengineering (=GE), The Lesser Evil?

1.         What is GE? What particular GE procedure does Gardner focus on and what are some of its technical problems/worries?

2.         Explain the “lesser evil” or “arm of the future” (=AFA) argument for GE that Gardner addresses. Is the conclusion that we should implement GE?

3.         What does Gardner mean by “perfect moral storm?” What are the three elements of the storm? What does the storm explain? What is “political inertia” with regard to CC? What is a “tragedy of the commons?”

4.         What are some of the political problems with implementing GE? Is GE administratively simple to implement? Why does Gardner believe that GE is likely to be politically illegitimate?

5.         What role does Gardner believe ethical and political considerations should play in GE (in comparison to scientific ones)? Explain his reasoning

6.         What are Gardner’s objections to the claim that “surely simply research on GE is harmless”?

7.         Why might it not be appropriate to prepare for an evil choice? Give an example (e.g., use Gardner’s torture analogy).

8.         How might GE research bring about the nightmare scenario it is a response to?

9.         What are some other options to GE as a way of assisting the future in case of dramatic CC?

10.       Why does Gardner argue offering the future an evil way out of dangerous CC is not enough?

11.       Is choosing the lesser evil morally heroic or morally wrong? Explain the thinking on both sides.

12.       Can you think of situations where all the options are so morally wrong they are “unthinkable?” Or situations that it would be wrong to plan for now?

13.       What is a “marring evil?” Give an example (use Gardner’s). Do you thing such evils exist? Is putting people in a situation where they must make such a choice permissible?

14.       What are some of the moral objections to choosing to address CC by planning for GE?

15.       Is GE a “tarnishing choice?” A marring evil? Why does Gardner suggest it might be?

Questions on Sinnott-Armstrong (=SA), “It’s Not My Fault”

1.      What is it that SA claims we have no moral obligation to do? Does he think it would be morally good to do what we don’t have an obligation to do.

2.      What moral obligations concerning climate change (=CC) does he think we do have?

3.      Who should environmentalists be working on for behavior change?

4.      Does SA think individual actions and keeping one’s hands clean is an important response to CC?

5.      Is it hypocritical to argue for a policy/law that would prevent you from doing what you continue to do? Explore using an example.

6.      Does SA think we have a moral obligation not to perform an action if it ought to be illegal? Give examples. What do you think about this claim?

7.      Is it more important to work for political change on CC than to lessen one’s own CC footprint? Or is it the reverse? Or equally important?

8.      Do SA’s arguments claiming we have no obligation to avoid wasting gas also show we have no obligation to work politically to try to prevent CC?

9.      What does SA think about the claim that collective obligations entail individual obligations? Use his bridge example.

10.    Why does SA think wasteful driving will not harm anyone? Is he right? Does this show that we are not killing anyone or violating their rights by wasteful driving? What do you think?

11.    Give SA’s example of an action that is neither necessary (required) nor sufficient (enough) for a harmful result any yet we still rightfully identified it as a cause of that result (helping to cause the harm). In response to the charge that wasteful driving is causing the harms of GW in the same way, he claims that causes must be either intentional or unusual, and wasteful driving is neither. Explain his argument here.

12.     What is SA’s response to the claim that wasteful driving is harmful: Because it sets a bad example? Because it makes the problem worse?

13.    Use SA’s airport example, to explain what he thinks of this claim: We have moral obligations not to perform an act when this makes us part of a group whose actions together cause harm.

14.    What is SA’s counterexample to the claim that “we ought not to perform an act when it would be worse for everyone to perform an act of that kind”?

Questions on Sandler’s Problem of Inconsequentialism

1.      Give an example of a environmental problem that is “longitudinal collective action problem” and now an example of one that is not.

2.      What is the problem of inconsequentialism?

3.      What does Sandler mean by “virtue-oriented ethical theory?” How does it specify a virtue? How does it specify right action?

4.      What is the “political response” to the problem of inconsequentialism and what problems does Sandler see with it?

5.      Why does Sandler think a problem of inconsequentialism still arises even if a collective action scheme is in place?

6.      Explain the four types of responses to problem of inconsequentialism that Sandler describes (viz., appeal to agent benefit, duty, amplifying effects, and character). Which make most sense to you?

7.      According to Sandler, why can’t act utilitarianism respond well to problem of inconsequentialism? Is he right?

8.      According to Sandler, why can’t Kantian ethics respond well to problem of inconsequentialism? Is he right?

9.      Explain why Sandler thinks Virtue oriented ethical theory responds well to the problem of inconsquentialism.