Environmental Philosophy (INTD 425)

Manchester University, Spring 2020    Instructor: Steve Naragon

Course Objectives

This course satisfies the Core-5CC (“Critical Connections”) requirement, whose goals for the student are to:

1. explore a substantive topic or problem from a variety of disciplinary perspectives and modes of inquiry appropriate to the liberal arts;

2. analyze issues of importance;

3. develop increased capacity to confront complexity and ambiguity;

4. synthesize information;

5. respond to intellectual challenges.

These goals are furthered by your careful reading of the texts, classroom and small group discussion, Tuesday Essays, writing and responding to Discussion Forum posts on a number of central topics in philosophy, as well as your work on a small research project/presentation.

This course is concerned with ethics as it pertains to matters of the natural environment. This includes our moral relationship to other animals, to the natural world itself, to future generations, and to humans of the present generation, insofar as this relationship is affected by environmental matters (primarily: the allocation or management of resources).

We rarely are asked, or have the opportunity, to examine these moral relationships — and seldom with much depth or rigor. One goal of this course is to undertake this more ambitious examination and to move beyond the simple endorsement of some conventional understanding of our moral commitments to the larger world.

We will explore a number of competing perspectives on how we should distribute benefits (e.g., land, shelter, clean air and water, food, healthcare) and burdens (e.g., polluting factories, incinerators, dump sites) among all those who enjoy moral standing. This will involve examining two fundamental questions:

How do we determine this distribution of benefits and burdens?

How do we determine moral standing?

Almost every issue in environmental philosophy turns on these questions of distributive justice and the limits of our moral community. Closely related to the latter are the questions surrounding value: What is value? Where does value come from? (Do we find it in the world? Or do we project it into the world?) What sorts of beings do you value (or: are valuable)?

The schedule of discussion and readings offers a closer account of the specific topics we will explore as a class.

My primary intention for this class is that — through reading, study, and conversation — we increase our knowledge of factual information regarding environmental matters, and that we fine-tune our understanding of the relevant moral principles and their application. More specific goals are that we ...

(1) Become more aware of the implications of environmental problems and investigate various likely causes of these problems;

(2) gain facility in distinguishing empirical claims from moral claims;

(3) search for a moral theory that best captures our beliefs about the non-human world;

(4) develop skills for critically evaluating arguments and beliefs;

(5) have the opportunity to reflect on two basic questions confronting each of us: What is my proper relationship to other humans? What is my proper relationship with the rest of nature?

Some virtues to bring with you into the philosophy classroom ...

humility when comparing your beliefs with the beliefs of others;

patience for listening closely to views that seem foolish or misguided to you;

courage to advance in the face of adversity what seems to be the correct view;

endurance for following arguments to their conclusion;

humor for those moments when you feel the utter futility of your efforts.

Manchester University   //    Registrar   //    Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies    //    Last updated: 20 Dec 2017