Environmental Ethics Syllabus Fall 2016

PHIL 159: Contemporary Issues and Philosophy: Environmental Ethics

Instructor: Rochelle DuFord

Email: duford@hws.edu

Office: Delancey House, Room 8 (2nd Floor)

Office Hours: M: 11:30-1PM TH: 8-10AM

(and by appointment)

Phone: 315-781-3169

Class Times: MW 8:35-10:00 AM Emerson Hall 1


Course Description:

This course is intended as an introduction to philosophical and ethical problems with the environment. As a survey course, it covers concepts such as anthropocentrism, biocentrism, individualism, holism, greenwashing, vegetarianism, and varieties of justice (earth, intergenerational, racial, indigenous, gender, and economic). Environmental ethics presents a challenge to much contemporary moral theory, which holds that all moral duties are duties to human beings or individuals who are able to suffer. In this course, we will consider if that orientation to ethics is correct or if it is able to capture the human relationship to other animals and nature.

We will look at various stances one may have toward environmental value: are only individuals valuable or is an ecosystem (as a whole) valuable; is nature valuable only for what it can do for us or is nature valuable independent of its use value? We will consider the question of the relationship of human beings to other animals and to nature: are other animals moral agents or patients; what are the ethics of eating animals; are humans part of nature, what makes them different from other animals in that respect? Lastly, we will consider a variety of questions concerning environmental justice: do we owe future generations a livable planet; is environmental harm evenly distributed or does it affect different individuals differently situated by race, gender, or empire; what are the ethics of consumption?

Course Objectives and Learning Outcomes:

  • Familiarize students with major debates in both philosophical ethics and environmental philosophy.
  • Enable students to practice and develop public speaking skills.
  • Develop and hone critical reading, writing, and thinking skills through reading and writing about complex texts in precise and concise ways.
  • Encourage scholarly collaboration and self-directed learning.

Required Texts: All required texts for the course will appear on Canvas in PDF. You may wish to subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime, or HBO NOW to watch relevant documentaries (both Netflix and HBO NOW have free trials, if you’re interested). However, such a subscription is not required for successful completion of the course.

HWS Goals

This course addresses goals 1, 2, and 8.

“1. The essential skills that serve as a foundation for effective communication. These include the ability to read and listen critically and the ability to speak and write effectively.

  1. The essential skills that serve as a foundation for critical thinking and argumentation. These include the ability to articulate a question, to identify and gain access to appropriate information, to organize evidence, and to construct a complex written argument
  2. An intellectually grounded foundation for ethical judgment and action.”

Classroom Policies:

Class Discussion

This course will be largely discussion based. Each student is expected to participate in the discussion. One means of participation is active listening. However, I ask that each student work toward productive discussion. Much of the work of philosophy is completed via ‘thinking out loud.’ So, we will do the work of philosophy together—discussing the texts, ideas, and environmental situations together in order to better understand the world around us. Philosophy is not a practice of memorizing, but one that requires actively doing critical thinking.

Academic Honesty

You are expected to act with integrity in all academic matters. Please consult the Academic Policies of the course catalogue for an in depth discussion of what constitutes academic integrity. Violations of the Colleges’ academic integrity policy will be dealt with as harshly as is allowed by the Colleges, this will usually result in failure of the course.


Unless you have a documented need for accommodations, laptops are not to be used in class, except as a note-taking or reading device. You may also use e-reading devices or a tablet to read the texts. Any use of technological devices for other purposes will result in a loss of participation points for the week.


I am committed to maintaining a classroom and working environment in which every student is able to succeed. If you require accommodations for success, please consult with Disability Services in the Center for Learning and Teaching (you may email silver.hws.edu to set up an appointment). After this, please contact me as soon as possible so we can work together to implement any accommodations needed.


You are expected to attend class each meeting with the assigned reading. You are allowed THREE (3) absences without penalty. After THREE (3) absences, you will be penalized 2% of your FINAL GRADE for the course for EACH absence. Absences due to illness, injury, religious observation, and emergency are ‘excusable.’ You must contact me prior to class in order to arrange an excused absence for illness, injury, and religious observance. Only the date of the religious holiday is excused, you will not be excused for any travel days related to the observance of religious holidays. If you have had an emergency and are unable to contact me prior to class, please contact me immediately so we can discuss your situation and make a plan for the future.

Submission of Late Work

All work is required to be submitted by the due date. Work submitted late will incur a 10% per day penalty. Make-up exams, quizzes, and writing assignments will be given only in the case of documented emergency or illness.

Center for Teaching and Learning

At Hobart and William Smith Colleges, we encourage you to learn collaboratively and to seek the resources that will enable you to succeed.  The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) is one of those resources:  CTL programs and staff help you engage with your learning, accomplish the tasks before you, enhance your thinking and skills, and empower you to do your best.  Resources at CTL are many:  Study Mentors help you find your time and manage your responsibilities, Writing Fellows help you think well on paper, and professional staff help you assess academic needs. 

I encourage you to explore these and other CTL resources designed to encourage your very best work.  You can talk with me about these resources, visit the CTL office on the 2nd floor of the library to discuss options with the staff, or visit the CTL website.

The CTL resources most useful for this class include Teaching Fellows, Writing Fellows and Study Mentors.  For more information on these resources, visit the CTL webpage at http://www.hws.edu/academics/ctl/index.aspx, or visit the CTL Canvas site.

Teaching Fellows

CTL works with the Philosophy Department to offer one resource that will be essential to your learning in this course, the Philosophy Teaching Fellows. The Teaching Fellows are accomplished Philosophy majors and minors who are now paid to assist other students.  They hold regular study hours Sunday—Thursday. To get the most out of this resource, I recommend that all students in this course begin attending the TF hours next week and attend once or twice weekly (to study, to ask questions) throughout the semester.  The Fellows are usually available Sunday-Thursday 7-10pm in Delancey House.


Writing Fellows

One CTL resource that will be helpful in enhancing learning in this course is the Writing Fellows program. Writing Fellows help students develop their writing by providing feedback on essay drafts, offering strategies for the writing process, and enhancing students’ understanding of what good college writing means.  You may make an appointment via the TutorTrac (http://tutortrac.hws.edu:81/TracWeb40/Default.html) appointment system (link on the CTL webpage, too).

Changes to the Syllabus

This syllabus is subject to modification. If it is necessary to modify the syllabus, I will provide you with at least one week warning for any changes made to the syllabus.

Percentage Grade to Letter Grade


A: 93-96.99

A-: 90-92.99

B+: 87-89.99

B: 83-86.99

B-: 80-82.99

C+: 77-79.99

C: 73-76.99

C-: 70-72.99

D: 60-69.99

F: Below 60


Wiki Participation (20% of final grade):

During the course, we will build a class wiki. You are required to develop three (3) substantial entries and edit at least six (6) of your classmates entries.

You may reconstruct an argument found in a course text. You may *NOT* simply complete the same argument reconstruction as a classmate–if they reconstruct an entire text in broad strokes, you may do one section in detail, if they construct a section you may choose a different section OR the entirety of the text. This means that wiki entries are dolled out on a first-come first-serve basis.  You may not ‘double up’ on entries. If you believe a classmate has made an error in their wiki entry, you should comment and edit that entry (this will count as one of your ‘comments’ on an entry). We will complete an argument reconstruction in the first week of class. (THESE DISCUSSIONS SHOULD OCCUR ON THE SPECIFIC PAGE FOR THAT READING UNDER THE CORRECT SECTION HEADING)

You may wish to write about a current event, proposed law, or policy that is relevant to the material in the course–if you do so, you must link to the source of the story, and discuss its empirical and conceptual relationship to the course in a critical way. (THESE DISCUSSIONS SHOULD BE PLACED UNDER THE MEDIA HEADING)

Lastly, you may add a lengthy discussion of a particular concept to the wiki. This involves providing a critical discussion of the concept and the way it is used across multiple and varied sources discussed in the class. (THESE DISCUSSIONS SHOULD OCCUR UNDER THE GENERAL CONCEPTS HEADING FOR EACH PAGE)


You are required to complete 3 wiki entries, as well as substantially edit 6 wiki entries (2 per ‘section’). Editing wiki entries need not mean ‘correcting’ the original author, though, sometimes it might. Editing the entry may involve extending the author’s analysis, offering critiques of their analysis, or adding outside information to supplement what the author has done. Do not be afraid to edit an entry–all entries will be edited (sometimes even by me, but please, don’t be afraid to edit my comments either!). Part of the process of learning together and creating a body of knowledge is critical interaction with each other–take yourself and your classmates seriously enough to work together with them!

Each entry is worth 5% of your final grade, entries should be at least 300 words all edits as a whole are worth 5% of your final grade.

Papers (45% of your grade total):

You will have three papers. The first two will be 2-3 pages. The last paper will be 5 pages. The first paper will be an argument reconstruction with critique. The second paper will be comparative. The third paper should be a research paper on a topic of your choice from the course. It should contain information about a contemporary environmental problem and analyze the problem from the perspective of at least TWO readings from the course. Final papers which discuss a contemporary environmental problem in depth, but do not include ethical analysis, will earn at most a 75%. (Papers are each worth 15% of your final grade.)

Final Exam (20%):

The final exam will be held during the exam period and will consist in ten short answer questions and one essay. The final exam is cumulative.

In Class Participation: (15% of final grade)

You are expected to attend every class, listen attentively to your classmates and the professor, ask relevant questions, and comment on the day’s reading and topic. In class participation points are earned by participating. Failure to participate in class will result in a failing grade for participation. If you wish, you may email me to discuss the readings, or attend my office hours as a version of ‘in class participation.’

In Class Assignments: (10% of final grade)

You will be given an in class assignment nearly every week. In class assignments are worth 1% of your final grade each. You must successfully complete ten (10)  in class assignments for full credit. These will take various forms: free writes, developing discussion questions, group work, wiki work, and “pop” quizzes. In order to be prepared for in class assignments, you ought to carefully complete the reading for each class *prior* to attending class.

Reading Schedule and Assignments Due:

Week 1: Introduction to the Course and Ethical Thinking

8/29: Introduction to the course, Syllabus, Discussion of Historical Context and Ethical Theory

8/31: James Rachels, “The Challenge of Cultural Relativism” BRING LAPTOP TO CLASS FOR WIKI DEMONSTRATION (If you miss this day of class, please see me to schedule a brief tutorial.)

Week 2: Humans and Nature

9/5: Genesis 6-10, Val Plumwood “Being Prey,”

Suggested: White, “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis”

9/7: William Baxter, “The Case for Optimal Pollution” and

Bernard Williams, “Must a Concern for the Environment be Centered on Human Beings?”

Week 3: Biocentrism and Holism

9/12: Aldo Leopold, The Land Ethic (Selections) and “Thinking like a Mountain”

Suggested: J. Baird Callicott, “The Land Ethic”

9/14: Kristin Schrader-Frechette, “Individualism, Holism, and Environmental Ethics”

Week 4:  Deep Ecology/Feminist Ecologies

9/19: Arne Naess, “The Deep Ecological Movement: Some Philosophical Aspects”

9/21: Ramachandra Guha “Radical American Environmentalism and Wilderness Preservation: A Third World Critique” and Karen Warren, “The Power and Promise of Ecofeminism”

Week 5: Economics and the Environment

9/26: Myrick Freeman, “The Ethical Basis for an Economic View of the Environment”

9/28: Cesar Chavez, “Address on the Perils of Pesticides” (http://www.chavezfoundation.org/_cms.php?mode=view&b_code=001008000000000&b_no=17&page=1&field=&key=&n=8)

Suggested: Sagoff, “At the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, or why not all political questions are economic”


Week 6/7/8: All Us Animals

10/3: Immanuel Kant, Metaphysics of Morals (selections MS 6:442)) and Holmes Rolston, “Duties to Endangered Species”

10/5: Tom Regan, “The Case for Animal Rights”, Peter Singer, “Animal Liberation”

10/10: NO CLASS (Paper One Due)

10/12: J.M. Coetzee, The Lives of Animals (NOTE: This reading is quite long. However, we only meet once this week and the reading itself is written as a narrative, not a straightforward philosophical argument. Be sure to begin this reading the weekend prior to this class meeting, it is roughly 50 pages.)

10/17: Greta Gaard, “Feminist Animal Studies in the U.S.: Bodies Matter”

10/19: Carol Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat (Chapter 1)

Suggested: Donna Haraway, The Companion Species Manifesto, Cora Diamond, “Eating Meat and Eating People”

Week 9: Nature and Wilderness

10/24 Robert Elliot, “Faking Nature” and Martin Krieger “What’s Wrong with Plastic Trees?”

10/26 William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness: Getting Back to the Wrong Nature” and Karen Warren “Nature is A Feminist Issue”

Week 10: Consumption and Sustainability

10/31: Paul Maiteny “Finding Meaning Without Consuming” and Wilfred Beckerman, “Sustainable Development: Is it a Useful Concept?” (Continue on 11/2)

11/2: Mark Sagoff, “Do We Consume too Much?”


PAPER TWO DUE on Friday, November 4

Week 11: Climate Ethics

11/7: Stephen M. Gardiner, “Ethics and Climate Change” (Selections)

11/9: Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, “It’s Not My Fault: Global Warming and Individual Moral Obligations”

Suggested: Henry Shue, “Global Environment and International Inequality”

Week 12: Intergenerational Justice

11/14: Annette Baier, “The Rights of Past and Future Persons”

11/16: Frank Biermann and Ingrid Boas, “Preparing for a Warmer World: Toward a Global Governance System to Protect Climate Refugees”

Suggested: Brian Barry, “Sustainability and Intergenerational Justice”

Weeks 13 and 14: Race, Gender, and Environmental Justice

11/21: Peter Wenz, “Just Garbage” and Bill Lawson, “The Value of Environmental Justice”

11/28: Winona LaDuke, “Nuclear Waste: Dumping on the Indians”

11/30: Greta Gaard and Lori Gruen, “Ecofeminism: Toward Global Justice and Planetary Health”

Paper Three Due 12/1

Week 15: Food Ethics and Justice

12/5: Elena Irrera, “Food Security at Risk: A Matter of Dignity and Self Respect”

12/7: Holmes Rolston, “Feeding People versus Saving Nature”



On the Class Wiki:

Rules: The class wiki is intended to be a supplementary learning source. Students bring their own interests and experiences to the wiki. In turn, we will create a body of knowledge and critical discussion driven by your own interests. Write about something you think is cool or interesting or you are having trouble understanding. Other students will comment, and in doing so, expand your sections, creating a collaborative resource for us all. It is likely you will find a paper topic from your work on the wiki, or you will be inspired by someone else’s work!

**It is important to note, double entries will NOT count. What I mean by this, if another student wrote an argument reconstruction on a particular article, you may NOT write about the same article toward the same end. This is incentive, for you, to complete your wiki entries early in the two week section. Claiming that ‘someone else did it before you could, but you planned to do it!’ will not excuse you for the failure to complete the assignment. Entries that do the same task as a previous entry will receive 50% credit at most.**

Suggestions for wiki entries:

Argument Reconstruction: An argument reconstruction involves pulling out the thesis and premises of a paper’s argument, and rewriting them in a more easily understood or easily digestible form. Often, you can reconstruct a 15 page paper into a paragraph or two. This involves figuring out what elements of the text are necessary for proving the main claim. If you like, you may reconstruct only a *section* of an article or essay–in some ways this is both easier and harder. It involves being much more careful with regard to the details of the essay while also making a connection to the essay’s main claims. However, it also involves a smaller amount of text and a more concrete set of points. We will complete an argument reconstruction in class together during the first week.

Documentary Review: A documentary review is not simply your impressions of the film. This means that whether you ‘liked’ the film is largely irrelevant. Instead, you should think about the film as a text which presents a series of claims and evidence. Many environmental documentaries aim to convince you of something–what is it, and how what is the evidence they provide? You should discuss those aspects of the film with reference to one of the readings from the course. It should be relevant to the themes of the two week period in which it is written. See below for a partial list of documentaries sorted by theme.

Contemporary Problems, Policies, and Legislation: Lastly, you are welcome to discuss any piece that appears in a credible popular media source. You should describe the environmental issue and analyze its ethical valences utilizing readings or concepts from the course. Alternatively, you may wish to make a policy proposal, or evaluate a policy or legislative proposal utilizing readings and concepts from the course. These sorts of entries will likely contain more empirical information and discussion of the empirical impact of human choices regarding the environment. When discussing a piece of popular media you *must* link to it in the wiki!

Documentary Suggestions:

Other animals:

Earthlings (Be Advised: Earthlings consists of clandestine footage of animal abuse. The film is a graphic and incredibly disturbing depiction of the human relationship to other animals.)


The Cove

VICE on HBO: Meathooked

More than Honey (Also appropriate for the week on Food)

Angry Inuk (Also appropriate for the week on Race, Gender, and Justice)



Dirty Business

Fields of Fuel


Climate Change:

The 11th Hour

Chasing Ice

Food and Farms:

Blood Into Wine

King Corn



Blue Gold: World Water Wars

VICE on HBO: The End of Water


Ken Burns: America’s National Parks (6 episodes about the development of National Parks in the U.S.)

General Orders No. 9

Radical Environmentalism (You may wish to watch these in conjunction with the week on Deep Ecology or Biocentrism):

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

Concerns the history and activities of a radical (and violent) green resistance group and one member’s run-in with the FBI.

Confessions of an Ecoterrorist

Concerns a green organization that patrols the sea, looking for whalers, seal hunters, and poachers.

Earth First! The Politics of Radical Environmentalism

Concerns the radical group, Earth First!


Ecotrip (Series by David D. Rothschild, eight episodes)

No Impact Man

Concerns sustainability consumerism

A Fierce Green Fire

Concerns the history of the Environmental movement.

City 40

Concerns the residents of a town (Ozersk), which is radioactive, in Russia (appropriate for a week on environmental justice)



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