last updated: 3/17/13

45.327 Environmental Philosophy

Spring Semester 2013

TTH 2:00-3:15


Professor Eric S. Nelson                                                                                                Email:

Office: Dugan Hall 200F                                                                                                  Telephone: 978-934-3996

Spring Office Hours: T and TH 12:45-1:50pm, 3:30-4:30pm and by appointment.


Course Description

This course offers an introduction to issues, movements, and themes in environmental philosophy. We will begin by exploring some traditional conceptions and experiences of the environment, animals, and the place of human beings in nature from across the globe. We will then consider ethical, existential, and social-political questions about whether nature, environments, and animals are meaningful only for humans or have their own intrinsic value and to what extent humans have obligations to animals, ecosystems, and nature. We will examine issues of justice and the social-political consequences of how humans relate to nature for other human beings.


Course Requirements: Students are required to:

1. Complete all assigned readings.

2. Maintain regular attendance.

3. Actively participate in class discussion and in discussion groups.

4. Complete all written assignments on-time.


The primary goals of this course are for students to:

(1) become familiar with major themes and figures in environmental philosophy,
(2) develop skills in applying philosophical reflection to concrete problems,
(3) become proficient at writing essays and other assignments, (4) detect and address weaknesses in arguments,
(5) collaborate with other students, and  (6) learn how to present and support ideas in public.


Course Assignments

1. Two Exams = 40% of final course grade.

2. Discussion and research Project and Paper One = 20% of final course grade.

3. Class-presentation of your own views and research on an environmental issue and final research paper = 20% of final course grade.

4. Attendance, active class-participation, in-class (individual or group) assignments = 20% of final grade. There will be oral and written, individual and group, in-class assignments based on the readings and class-discussion.


Required Texts (available at the UML South Campus Bookstore)


1. Jan. 22 (T): Introduction to environmental philosophy and the course

I. Traditional Conceptions of Nature and Contemporary Implications

2. Jan. 24 (TH): Judaism, Nature, and Environmental Stewardship. Read pages 40-43, 62-71

3. Jan. 29 (T): Christianity, Creation, and Creatures. Read pages 45-49, 72-82

4. Jan. 31 (TH): The Enlightenment Conception of Nature and Animals. Descartes and Kant. Read pages 49-53

5. Feb. 5 (T): Jainism, Buddhism and Ecology. Read pages 97-108

6. Feb. 7 (TH): The Wholeness of Nature and Spirit? Read pages 110-120

7. Feb. 12 (T): Paul W. Taylor and Respect for Nature? Read pages 120-132

8. Feb. 14 (TH): In-class Exam 1.

II. Instrumental and Intrinsic Value

9. Feb. 19 (T): No class, Monday class schedule

10. Feb. 21 (TH): Heidegger, Question Concerning Technology;

11. Feb. 26 (T): Leopold, Sylvan, and a New Ethic? Read pages 417-428, 137-143

12. Feb. 28 (TH): O’Neill and Varieties of Intrinsic Value. Read pages 145-155

13. March 5 (T): Norton and Weak Anthropocentrism. Read pages 159-171.

III. Movements in Environmental Philosophy

14. March 7 (TH): Naess and Deep Ecology. Read pages 197-211

March 12, 14: Spring Break, No classes

15-18. March 19-28: Discussion groups and research projects I

19. April 2 (T): Shiva, Development, and Women. Read pages 273-281

20. April 4 (TH): Bookchin and Social Ecology. Read pages 284-296

21. April 9 (T): Singer and Animal Liberation. Read pages 562-574

22. April 11 (TH): In-class Exam 2 (Heidegger to Singer)

IV. Environmental Issues (Research Presentations and Final Paper)

23. April 16 (T): Student Presentations

24. April 18 (TH): Student Presentations

25. April 23 (T): Student Presentations

26. April 25 (TH): Student Presentations

27. April 30 (T): Student Presentations

28. Develop your class presentation into Paper 2, due at on May 7.