Philosophy 155: Environmental Ethics

(Maybank 206)

              Ned Hettinger                                                                                                                         Office: 16 Glebe, Rm. 201

              Spring 2012                                                                                                                            Office Hrs: T, Th 11-1

              Office Phone: 953-5786                                                                                                       (Also, stop by my office or              

              Email:                                                                                         make an appointment)

              Web page:

              Course web page:


Course Description

              If today is like other days on earth, human beings will add another 200,000 people to the planet, destroy over 150 square miles of rainforest, and endanger the existence of many other forms of life. We will move 10 million tons of soil and rock and add millions of tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. In the U.S. alone, 65,000 vertebrate animals will be used in research and 24 million will be killed for food. 17,000 children will die of hunger.

              Clearly, humans are transforming the planet and we Americans are leading the way. Are we leading wisely? If we continue down our present path, there will be more people on Earth (probably about 50% more), consuming two to four times as much, living on a warmer, more polluted, less fertile, less resource-rich, less biodiverse, more weedy and pest-ridden, trashy planet, with the goods of the planet less equitably distributed.

              How should we think about this human impact on earth and its inhabitants? Are we eroding the quality of our lives or perhaps even threatening our existence? Is this human influence on the planet an appropriate role for humanity? Does it treat others fairly (including the poor, other species and future generations)? Some would say that these concerns overlook nature’s resilience, ignore humans’ positive contributions to the planet, and fail to acknowledge humanity’s unparalleled standard of living. Are they right?

              This course will introduce you to environmental issues from an ethical and philosophical perspective. Its goal is to get you to carefully consider the moral dimensions of these issues and to help you develop your own views about the proper relationship between human civilization and the natural world.


Readings:          Dale Jamieson, Ethics and the Environment: An Introduction (at College Bookstore and University Books)

                            Additional readings available on course web page

Oral Presentations

Each student will give an oral presentation to the class. These presentations should be about 3 minutes long and will address a reading for that class period. Their purpose is to encourage you to learn from each other and to facilitate class discussion. Find the central points from the reading that you think are worth bringing to your fellow students' attention, explain what they are, and then present your own thinking about the issues involved. These are not simply brief synopses of the reading, but mainly your responses to what you consider to be the significant points. You will sign up for the topic of your presentation. Do not miss your oral presentations. In cases where this is unavoidable, please contact me before the class.


Midterm Exam (23%) Friday, March 2nd

Final Exam (23%)

It will stress the material from the second half of the course, but also include relevant material from the first half.

Major Paper (including a paper proposal): (34%)

5-7 page paper exploring the ethical and philosophical dimensions of an environmental issue (e.g., species extinction or wilderness preservation). Alternatively, the paper might evaluate an environmental philosophy or ethic (e.g., biocentrism or Leopold's Land Ethic). A description of the proposed paper is due on Thursday, March 22nd, by email ( The paper is due on Friday, April 13th, paper copy.

Reading Quizzes (10%)

Weekly unannounced quizzes on the reading for that day. No makeups, but I give “free quizzes” that can be used to substitute for a missed quiz. Also if you must miss a class, you can email me a brief description of the reading (or readings) for that day before class and that will count for the quiz, should we have one.

Class Participation and Attendance (10%, but some of may shift to reading quiz % above)

This includes oral presentation to the class, 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 let me know . Please 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.

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