Environmental Ethics Syllabus (Spring 2016)

Environmental Ethics

Instructor: Rochelle DuFord                                                Email: duford@hws.edu

Office: Delancey House, Room 8 (2nd Floor)            Office Hours: Monday and Wednesday 8:30-9:30am, 1:30-2:30pm (or by appt.)

Phone: 315-781-3169            Class Times: MWF 3:00-3:55pm Stern Hall 201

Course Description: This course will introduce students to a number of topics in philosophical ethics through the use of environmental questions. It focuses on four areas in particular: the value of the environment, the culture/nature distinction, the relationship of humans to non-human animals, and what humans owe to each other with regard to the environment. We will also discuss some environmental law and policy issues.

We will concern ourselves initially with what sorts of value the environment has. This will include consideration of the economic, social, biological, holistic, sentimental, and aesthetic values that we might believe nature to hold. How nature comes to be valuable and what sort of value it may have is a chief concern for environmental ethics. For example: if the environment has only economic value, then we need not conserve it unless it is economically efficient.

After this we will look into the relationship of humans to nature. This unit is primarily concerned with the so-called distinction between nature and culture. As such, it includes a discussion of humans as natural beings, the idea of ‘wilderness,’ and whether or not ‘natural’ restoration is really all that natural after all.

The relationship of humans to other animals is the focus of the next section of the course. This unit includes a discussion of humans as animals. We are, typically, used to thinking about humans as either very special animals or as separate from their animality. We will trouble that easy distinction in this section with discussions of vegetarianism, animal rights, speciesism and lastly a concern about endangered species.

Lastly, we will look at questions of justice as they relate to the environment. This includes the idea that environmental destruction and hazards are a necessary result of modern life—but that destruction and those hazards are not distributed equally or evenly. Often, those who benefit from environmental degradation are not the same persons as those who suffer the harms from that same environmental degradation. To this end, we will consider questions of the relationship of race, class, and gender to environmental hazards.

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.
  • Encourage scholarly collaboration and self-directed learning.

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 with no 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



Group Project: 45% (total)

Your group will be at least 2 students (up to 4 depending on class size). You must develop a topic for your project. The topic should be one of contemporary, geographical, and environmental relevance. (There is a list of some topics at the end of the syllabus, you are welcome to choose an alternate topic, but clear it with me prior to developing your proposal.)

Proposal (5%)

Your proposal should be ~500 words long. You will describe the environmental issue and the ethical/philosophical considerations involved in the issue. You may also wish to describe the policy considerations involved in the issue. In the proposal, you should also describe what your role in the group project will be.

Group Presentation (10%)

You will be responsible to present your project. Your presentation should include: discussion of the history and facts of the environmental issue, application of ethical and philosophical concepts to the issue, and proposals for what ought to be done about the environmental issue. Your presentation will be limited to 30 minutes. At least 5 minutes should be left for discussion/class questions. Each group member will participate in the presentation. (ONLY ONE group member may be responsible for the audio/visual component of the presentation. They need not also verbally present.) 70% of the presentation grade will be based on individual performance, 30% of the presentation grade will be based on the success of the presentation as a whole.

Group/Individual Papers (15%)

You will be responsible to develop either a group paper or an individual paper. Whichever you choose, the group must agree upon it. If each member of the group writes an individual paper, the paper must be between 5-6 pages. If you write a group paper, it must be 7-9 pages. The paper will explain the facts of the environmental issue, a discussion of the ethical and philosophical concepts involved, and a critical analysis of the actions taken in the case.

Project Journal (15%)

You are responsible for keeping a project journal. You are to write one entry each time your group meets/works on the project together (you are welcome to work on the project collectively via skype, google docs, or some other collaborative software/app). Each entry should be at least 350 words. You will submit your project journals after the date of your presentation. The last entry in the journal will be a discussion of your presentation, your role in the presentation, and how successful you believe the presentation was. This entry should also include a discussion of the grade you believe you have earned on this project and the reason for that grade.

In each entry, you should discuss the work you have completed, the jobs assigned to each student, and your thoughts on the project at this stage. If there is a member of your group who misses meetings or fails to meet deadlines, you should note that in your journal. (If there is a student who consistently misses meetings or deadlines, contact me immediately. Students who consistently fail to work collaboratively will be responsible for writing an individual paper, while the group may work on a paper collectively.)

Final Exam: 20%

The final exam is a take-home exam. You are required to write at least one 200 words for each of ten questions.

Participation and Quizzes: 15%

You are expected to participate fully in class. There will be periodic reading quizzes to complete on CANVAS. The quiz will be announced one week before the reading is due. You must complete the quiz PRIOR to the discussion of the reading in class.

Midterm Paper: 20%

You will be given a set of prompts, from which you must choose one. Your paper should be between 5-6 pages, 12 point standard font, double spaced; in other words, it should have formatting consistent with either MLA, APA, or Chicago Style and fully answer the prompt chosen.


1/20 Introduction to the Class Syllabus, Introduction to the Class, Discussion of Historical Context
1/22 Historical Context The Book of Genesis (Ch. 1-3)
1/25 Historical Context White, “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis”
1/27 Ecocentrism Leopold, “The Land Ethic” (1-7)
1/29 Ecocentrism Leopold, “The Land Ethic” (8-14)
2/1 Subjectivism Callicott, “The Land Ethic”
2/3 Sentimentalism McShane, “Neosentimentalism and Environmental Ethics”
2/5 Objectivism Rolston, “Are Values in Nature Subjective or Objective?” (125-138)
2/8 Objectivism Rolston, “Are Values in Nature Subjective or Objective?” (138-151)
2/10 Biocentrism Taylor, “The Ethics of Respect for Nature”
2/12 Individualism Stone, “Should Trees Have Standing?” (10-26)
2/15   Stone, “Should Trees Have Standing” (33-42)


2/17 Individualism and Holism Shrader-Frechette, “Individualism, Holism, and Environmental Ethics”
2/19 Aesthetic Value Thomson, “Aesthetics and the Value of Nature” Group Project Proposals Due
    Humans and Nature
2/22 Anthropocentrism Sober, “Philosophical Problems for Environmentalism” (173-183)
2/24 Anthropocentrism Sober, “Philosophical Problems for Environmentalism” (184-194)
2/26 Ecocentrism Williams, “Must a Concern for the Environment be Centred on Human Beings?”
2/29 Holism Devall and Sessions, Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered (Chapter 5 “Deep Ecology”)
3/2 Critiquing Deep Ecology Zimmerman, “Ecofascism: An Enduring Temptation” (Introduction and 11-24)
3/4 Culture/Nature Light, “Ecological Restoration and the Culture of Nature”
3/7 Culture/Nature Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness” (1-13)
3/9 Culture/Nature Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness” (14-24) Group Presentation
3/11 Culture/Nature Elliot, “Faking Nature”
3/21 Nature and Social Value Warren, “Nature is a Feminist Issue”

Midterm Paper Due

3/23 Nature and Economic Value Freeman, “The Ethical Basis for of the Economic View of the Environment”
3/25 Politics and Economics Sagoff, “At the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Or Why Not All Political Questions are Economic”
    Humans and Other Animals
3/28 Human Animality Plumwood, “Being Prey”
3/30 Speciesism Singer, “All Animals are Equal”
4/1 Animal Rights Regan, The Case for Animal Rights (selections)
4/4 Vegetarianism Diamond, “Eating Meat and Eating People” Part 1 Group Presentation
4/6 Vegetarianism Diamond, “Eating Meat and Eating People” Part 2 and 3
4/8 Endangered Species Rolston, “Duties to Endanged Species”
    Environmental Justice
4/11 Climate Change Gardiner, “Ethics and Global Climate Change” (555-559, 566-575) Group Presentation
4/13 Climate Change Gardiner, “Ethics and Global Climate Change” (575-589)
4/15 Population Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons”
4/18 Consumption Sagoff, “Do We Consume Too Much?”
4/20 Future Generations Barry, “Sustainability and Intergenerational Justice” (Parts 1 and 2) Group Presentation
4/22 Future Generations Barry, “Sustainability and Intergenerational Justice” (Parts 3-6)
4/25 Environmental Racism Lawson, “The Value of Environmental Justice”
4/27 Women and Environmental Justice Gaard and Gruen, “Ecofeminism: Toward Social Justice and Planetary Health” (234-239) Group Presentation
4/29 Women and Environmental Justice Gaard and Gruen, “Ecofeminism: Toward Social Justice and Planetary Health” (340-257)
5/2 Poverty and Environmental Justice Shue, “Global Environment and International Inequality”


Group Presentation Possibilities:

Sewage Pollution Right to Know Law (New York State)

Finger Lakes Region Sustainability Plan

Marcellus Shale Fraking

Invasive Species: Zebra Mussels (or you may choose your own)

Environmental Aspects of Food Waste

Montezuma Wildlife Refuge

Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen

West Valley Nuclear Waste Site

Herring Population in Lake Ontario

Wild Turkeys in Western NY

Citizen Science: Public Data Collection Programs (choose one in NYS)

Other topics are possible, but you must clear them with me prior to developing a proposal.


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