Paper Assignment: Nature, Technology and Society (Fall 2005)

This is 5-7 page paper (doubled spaced, typewritten) exploring the ethical and philosophical dimensions of an issue that plausibly integrates the three themes of the course: Nature, Technology and Society. The paper counts for 33% of your course grade and so it should be a significant effort.

Papers can focus on issues the course address, namely, the philosophy technology, biotechnology, the restoration of nature, consumption and progress, and ecological design. But papers are not limited to the topics we have addressed. You may choose any topic you wish, as long as it relates to the three course concepts and incorporates a significant chunk of the course ideas in some fashion. Note that if there are issues or articles we have discussed that are relevant to your topic, you must show an understanding of how they relate to your topic.

The paper should use one outside philosophical article (preferably) or book as a reference. Journals in the library that might be useful include Bioethics, Environmental Ethics, Environmental Values, Hastings Center Report, Ethics, Inquiry, Journal of Applied Philosophy, and Issues in Science and Technology. You can also look up philosophical articles by subject in the Philosopher's Index (in the reference section) of the library.

Although I would like you to show familiarity with both the class material and one outside philosophical article, the paper should mainly be your own thinking and analysis of the issue you choose to address.

A one paged description of the proposed paper is due on Friday, October 28th, 3pm mailbox 14 Glebe. This should specify the topic of the paper and give a synopsis of its content. It should identify the major arguments, reasons, and perspectives on various sides of the issue that you will be considering. It should identify a possible conclusion or tentative thesis of the paper. It should also list a couple of key sources/articles (including class readings) you intend to use and describe how they relate to (and how you will use them in) your paper project.

The paper is due on Friday, November 18th, 14 Glebe, 3pm (unless the topic concerns consumption, in which case the paper is due Friday, December 2nd, 3pm, mailbox 14 Glebe). Please use recycled paper or print your paper on the back side of already used paper, if at all possible. (Printing front and back also saves paper.)

A few suitable topics that might interest you, along with some references.

Philosophy of technology



  • 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)

Evaluation of consumption

  • 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; same old economics doesn't address env. issue here, but moral reasons support claim consume too much.
  • 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 (564 pages).

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

  • David Ehrenfeld's Arrogance of humanism, and his new book David Ehrenfeld, Swimming Lessons: Keeping Afloat in an Age of Technology, Oxford 2001/2?
  • Jared Diamond's Gun's Germs and Steel
  • Edward Tenner, Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996).
  • "The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World," by Michael Pollan. Random House, 2001.
  • Jeremy Rifkin, The Biotech Century: Playing Ecological Roulette with Mother Nature's Designs" in E magazine may/June 1998. Same title book
  • Martin Teitel and Kimberly A. Wilson, Genetically Engineered Food: Changing the Nature of Nature: What you Need to know to protect yourself, your family and our planet (Vermont: Inner Traditions, Int'l Ltd., 1999.
  • 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.
  • Good web site on Michael Pollan:
  • Jacques Ellul (French), The Technological Society (1954): "Technique" has become a Frankenstein monster that can't be controlled; "Technique:" not just use of machines, but all deliberate/rational/efficient/organization; Created technique in prehistoric times as needed it, but more recently been used by the well-to-do to make money, masses accept it for its comfort; Now search for efficiency an end-in-itself, dominating man and destroying quality of his life
  • Lewis Mumford (leading historian of technology) Myth of the Machine (1967 and 1970)
  • Rene Dubos (research biologist) So Human an Animal (1968) won a Pulitzer Prize; Man is an animal whose nature (physical & social) formed during course of his evolution; This basic nature-molded in fields and forests-not suited to life in tech world; Man's ability to adapt to almost any environment is his downfall; Little by little he has accommodated himself to physical/psychic horrors of modern life; Must choose a different path or are doomed
  • Charles Reich Greening of America (1970); Spoke on behalf of youthful counterculture and its dedication to liberating consciousness-raising
  • Theodore Roszak Where the Wasteland Ends (1972) A primitive spiritualism; A new "Arcadian" (simple, innocent, untroubled) criticism of postindustrial society
  • John De Graaf: Turbocapitalism, Robert Franks, Winner Take All Society