Paper Assignment and Topics, Nature, Technology, and Society (Fall 2010)

The paper should be 5-7 pages (double space, typewritten) and explore the ethical and/or philosophical dimensions of an issue related to the course topics (e.g., nature, technology, and society). 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, October 22nd. Please send it sometime on Friday by email: . (You can also put a hard copy in my 1st floor mailbox inside 14 Glebe by 1pm.) 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, November 19th. Please put a hard copy in my 1st floor mailbox inside 14 Glebe, by 1pm. Please use recycled paper, print your paper on the back side of already used paper, or print doubled sided. Keep an extra copy of the final paper for yourself.

 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 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 all are available electronically, except the last which requires interlibrary loan). In my comments on your paper proposal I will help you find a relevant article. Three suggestions for searching for articles by keyword:

                      Philosopher’s Index, through the library here:

                      Bibliography of International Society for Environmental Ethics:

                      My personal bibliography, available on course webpage:

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.


              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.

              Geo-engineering; an ethical and philosophical appraisal

              Importance and value of community and technology’s affect on it. In addition to Ehrenfeld, perhaps use Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community 2000

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

              Nanotechnology: A philosophical and ethical appraisal

              Does global climate change undermine the importance of restoring nature?

              Juliet Schor on consumption and sustainability

              Can there be (must there be?) prosperity without growth?

Philosophy of technology

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

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

              A defense or critique of Luddism

              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

              Evaluation of the ideas of technological autonomy, determinism

              Primitivism: a defense (or a critique) and relate to Paul Shepard reading. See

              A specification of appropriate technology (contrast with Drengson and Berry, for example)

              Automobile as a tech that has changed our lives and values

              An evaluation of the “precautionary principle.”

              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

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


              Biotechnology and sustainable agriculture

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

              Ethics of cloning humans (need to relate discussion to and go beyond Brock and Kass’ ideas)

              Human Enhancement: Take into account 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

              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

              Claudia Mills, “Are There Morally Problematic Reasons for Having Children?” (E.g. for spare parts) Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly 25,4 (Fall 2005), p. 2. I have.

              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.


              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)

Some books, articles, and web sites that might stimulate your thinking for a paper:

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

              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. 306-07.


              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;

              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

              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; 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.