Philosophy 155: Environmental Ethics

(T,Th, Education Center 111)

              Ned Hettinger                                                                                                                         Office: 16 Glebe, Rm. 201

              Fall 2008                                                                                                                                Office Hrs: W 10-2

              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 246,000 people to the planet, destroy over 50 square miles of rainforest, and endanger the existence of dozens of 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, 55,000 vertebrate animals will be used in research and 13 million will be killed for food. 25,000 people will starve to death, most of them children under five.

              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 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.


Texts:    Environmental Ethics: Concepts, Policy, Theory, Joseph DesJardins (at College Bookstore and University Books)

Readings available from the Library’s e-reserves page: (Password: hettinger)

              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 teach and 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%) Thursday, October 16th

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., obligations to endangered species or the meaning and value of wilderness). Alternatively, the paper might evaluate an environmental philosophy or ethic (e.g., Ecofeminism or Leopold's Land Ethic). A description of the proposed paper is due on Friday, October 31st, 3pm, 14 Glebe Mailbox. The paper is due on Friday, November 21st, 3pm, 14 Glebe Mailbox.

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 and for any class that you must miss, you can email me a brief description of the reading before class and that will count for the quiz, should we have one.

Class Participation and Attendance (10%)

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) is sufficient grounds for failing the course. If you have a good reason for missing class, please write it on a piece of paper (or email me) and include the date missed and your name. 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.