Philosophy 150: Nature, Technology, and Society

(T,Th, 12:15-1:30: Ed Center 111)


            Ned Hettinger                                                                                     Office: 16 Glebe, Rm. 201

            Spring 2013                                                                                        Off Hrs: Tues/Thurs 1:45-3:00

Webpage: Wed, 10:30-12

            Email:                                                                           (Also, stop by my office or

            Webpage:                                                                 make an appointment)

            Class Webpage:

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 examine some specific technologies, including information technology, biotechnology, and geoengineering. We then study the theory and practice of restoration of degraded nature and ask whether this technology can provide a model for a healthy human relationship with nature. We will also consider the impact of climate change on the possibility of restoration and clarify what is at stake in the debate over different conceptions of nature. Finally, the course examines the critique of consumption and progress and considers simple living and ecological design as responses to concerns about technology’s affect on nature and society.

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


          The readings will be posted on the class webpage.


          Midterm Exam (23%) Thursday, Feb 28th                                         

          Final Exam (23%) Thursday, May 2nd, 12-3, 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 29, by email to The paper is due on Monday, April 15, 3pm, 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 is sufficient grounds for failing the course. 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