Environmental Ethics (Spring 2011) - Syllabus

Environmental Ethics

PHIL 325-01 | ID 21314 | MR 12:30-1:50 | Room: Alger 103 | Spring 2011

Course Syllabus

Instructor: Dr. Aaron Smuts | asmuts@ric.edu | office hours: 219 Alger Hall, 12:00-1:50 T


Does nature have any morally significant value apart from the fact that humans need clean air to breath and that some people enjoy hiking in the mountains? Is human welfare all that matters morally? Or must we also take into consideration the welfare of other kinds of creatures that can feel pleasure and pain? Is pain really all that morally significant? Does life have value? What about life forms? Do we have reason to preserve species or might it be better to get rid of a few nasty varieties? What about ecosystems? Are they valuable merely because of the sentient creatures they support, or do they command respect on their own?

These are some of the questions we will explore in this course. Our focus will be on theoretical issues concerning the value of nature and its moral significance.


There are three required texts for this course:

  1. Andrew Light (Editor), Holmes Rolston III (Editor). Environmental Ethics: An Anthology. Wiley-Blackwell, 2002. ISBN-10: 0631222944. [EE]
  2. Russ Shafer-Landau. The Ethical Life: Fundamental Readings in Ethics and Moral Problems. Oxford, 2009. ISBN-10: 0195377699. [EL]
  3. Russ Shafer-Landau. The Fundamentals of Ethics. Oxford, 2009. ISBN-10: 0195320867. [FE]

I will post numerous additional readings on Blackboard. [BB]


There will be two different forms of coursework: (best 20 out of 26) daily quizzes and three take-home examinations. I will give a short quiz at the beginning of each class that will require one or two sentence answers. The quizzes are closed-book, but open-note. The bulk of your grade comes from the take-home exams. All assignments must be completed to pass the course.

Quizzes (10%) + first exam (25%) + late-term exam (30%) + final exam (35%).

Attendance Policy

If you miss 6 or more classes, you will receive a 0 for your quiz grade. If you miss 12 or more classes, you will receive an F for the course. (There are no excused or unexcused absences. But please talk to me if something major comes up that dramatically effect your attendance.)

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism—claiming someone else’s ideas or written work as your own—will not be tolerated. The tests are not collaborative. All sources must be cited. Outside research is not forbidden, but none of the assignments ask for sources outside the assigned readings. Anyone caught cheating will be given a failing grade in the course. I will also request that you be expelled from the college.

Class Schedule

(There will be a quiz every class on the required reading for that day.)

Topic I: The Status of Morality

  • Week 1
    • C1 (M: 1/24) Introduction
      • Palmer, "An Overview of Environmental Ethics" [EE]
      • Shafer-Landau, "Introduction" [ch.1, FE]
    • XX (R: 1/27) SNOW DAY
  • Week 2
    • C2 (M: 1/31) Error Theory
      • Mackie, "The Subjectivity of Values" [EL]
      • {Optional: Shafer-Landau, "Moral Nihilism" [ch.20, FE]}
    • C3 (R: 2/3) Relativism and Subjectivism
      • Midgley, "Trying Out One's New Sword" [EL]
      • Shafer-Landau, "Ethical Relativism" [ch.19, FE]
  • Week 3
    • C4 (M: 2/7) Relativism and Subjectivism (we got behind)
      • Shafer-Landau, "Ethical Relativism" [ch.19, FE]
      • Midgley, "Trying Out One's New Sword" [EL]
      • {Optional: Nussbaum, "Judging Other Cultures: The Case of Genital Mutilation" [BB]}
    • C5 (R: 2/10) Moral Realism
      • Bambrough, "Proof" [EL]
      • Shafer-Landau, "Ten Arguments Against Moral Objectivity" [ch.21, FE]

Topic II: Normative Ethics and Animal Rights

  • Week 4
    • C6 (M: 2/14) Deontology 1: Principle of Universalizability
      • Shafer-Landau, "The Kantian Perspective: Fairness and Justice" [ch.11, FE]
      • Kant, "The Good Will and the Categorical Imperative" [EL]
    • C7 (R: 2/17) Deontology 2: Principle of Humanity
      • Shafer-Landau, "The Kantian Perspective: Autonomy and Respect" [ch.12, FE]
      • Kant, "Rational Beings Alone Have Moral Worth" [BB]
  • Week 5
    • C8 (M: 2/21) Utilitarianism
      • Shafer-Landau, "Consequentialism: Its Nature and Attractions" [ch.9, FE]
      • Smart, "Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism" [EL]
    • C9 (R: 2/24) Utilitarian Animal Rights
      • Singer, "Not for Humans Only" [EE]
      • Singer and Posner, "A Debate" [BB]
  • Week 6
    • C10 (M: 2/28) Killing
      • McMahan, "The Wrongness of Killing" [BB]
    • C11 (R: 3/3) Animal Rights
      • Shafer-Landau, "Consequentialism: Its Difficulties" [ch.10, FE]
      • Regan, "Animal Rights" [EE]
  • Week 7
    • C12 (M: 3/7) Animal Rights Reconsidered
      • Warren, "A Critique of Regan's Animal Rights" [BB]

Topic III: Welfare

    • C13 (R: 3/10) The Concept of Welfare
      • Feldman, "The Concept of Welfare" (PGL ch.1) [BB]
      • {Optional: Sumner, "The Concept of Welfare" (WHE ch. 1, pp. 1-26) [BB]}
  • Week 8 SPRING BREAK (3/14-3/18)
  • Week 9
    • C14 (M: 3/21) Hedonism
      • John Stuart Mill, “What Utilitarianism Is” [BB]
      • Shafer-Landau, "Hedonism: Its Powerful Appeal" [ch.1, FE]
    • C15 (R: 3/24) Problems with Hedonism
      • Robert Nozick, “Happiness” [BB]
      • {Optional: Shafer-Landau, "Is Happiness All that Matters" [ch.2, FE]}
      • {Optional: Feldman, "Classic Objections to Hedonism" [PGL, ch.3, pp. 38-52]}
  • Week 10
    • C16 (M: 3/8) Alternative Conceptions
      • Derek Parfit, “What Makes Someone's Life Go Best” [BB]

Topic IV: Welfarism

    • C17 (R: 3/31) Is Welfare All That Matters?
      • Keller, "Welfarism" [BB]
      • W. D. Ross, “What Things are Good?” [BB]
  • Week 11
    • C18 (M: 4/4) Defense of Welfarism
      • Sumner, "Welfarism" (WHE ch.7; read pp.184-217) [BB]
    • XX (R: 4/7) NO CLASS

Topic V: The Value of Nature

  • Week 12
    • C19 (M: 4/11) Nature and Value
      • Leopold, "The Land Ethic" [EE]
      • Richard Sylvan, "Is there a Need for a New, an Environmental, Ethic?" [EE]
    • C20 (R: 4/14) Intrinsic Value
      • O'Neill, "The Varieties of Intrinsic Value" [EE]

Topic VI: The Value of Species

  • Week 13
    • C21 (M: 4/18) Do Species Have Value?
      • Rolston, "Value in Nature and the Nature of Value" [EE]
    • C22 (R: 4/21) The Value of Species
      • Russow, "Why Do Species Matter?" [BB]
      • McMahan, "The Meat Eaters" [BB]
  • Week 14
    • C23 (M: 4/25) Beauty in Nature
      • Brown, "Natural Ugliness" [BB]

Topic VI: The Value of Life

    • C24 (R: 4/28) The Nature of Life
      • Feldman, "The Search for Death Itself" [BB]
      • Feldman, "Life-Functional Theories of Life" [BB]
      • Feldman, "Vitalist Theories of Life" [BB]
      • {Optional: Feldman, "The Enigma of Death" [BB]}
  • Week 15
    • C25 (M: 5/2) The Value of Life
      • Talyor, "The Ethics of Respect for Nature" [EE]
      • {Optional: Schweitzer, "Reverence for Life" [BB]}
    • C26 (R: 5/5) The Value of Life
      • Goodpaster, "On Being Morally Considerable" [BB]