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Environmental Ethics

Philosophy 224: Environmental Ethics

Fall 2012

TTh 10:00 – 11:50 AM

Morse-Ingersoll 209

Professor: Matt Tedesco



            Phone: (608) 363-2146

Office Hours: Wednesdays 1:30-3:30 PM, and by appointment

            Office: Morse-Ingersoll 210


1)     Peter Singer, Animal Liberation

2)     Cass Sunstein & Martha Nussbaum (eds.), Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions

3)     Deen Chatterjee (ed.), The Ethics of Assistance: Morality and the Distant Needy

4)     Various reading selections on our course Moodle page

The Class:

This course will focus on two sets of issues in environmental ethics. The first set of issues, emerging significantly from practices such as animal agriculture and animal captivity in zoos, research facilities, and other settings, concerns the moral status of non-human animals. What kind of moral consideration are non-human animals owed? Do they have rights, and if so, how extensive are those rights? The second set of issues concerns global climate change. Insofar as climate change is a long-term problem potentially reaching far into the future, how should we understand the moral status of future generations? Insofar as climate change is expected to have an especially profound impact on distant persons, particularly those in underdeveloped nations, what are our moral responsibilities to distant persons?

As a philosophy class, our emphasis will be on the analysis of concepts and the critical evaluation of arguments. Beyond gaining a familiarity with the issues in environmental ethics described above, students should expect to develop their analytic and evaluative skills through in-class discussion and a range of writing assignments.


Your grade in the class will be determined as follows:


You will write two papers in this class, each worth 1/5 of your overall class grade. The first paper will be due by 10:00 AM on September 27th, and the second will be due by 10:00 AM on November 20th. These papers will be submitted to me by e-mail. Details (regarding specific guidelines and expectations) will be passed along as the semester progresses. For you to receive a passing grade in the class, both papers must be satisfactorily completed. Papers more than one week late will not receive a passing grade.


There will be two exams in this class, each worth 1/5 of your overall class grade. The first exam will be administered on October 11th, and the second will be administered on December 18th at 9 AM (our assigned time during the finals period). This means, for planning purposes, that you should not plan to leave campus earlier than the time and date of our second exam. Anything discussed in class or assigned as class reading is fair game for a question topic. Note that these two will largely, but not entirely, overlap.


You will be responsible for sending weekly reaction e-mails to me throughout the semester. These e-mails should be at least two substantial paragraphs in length. The first paragraph should briefly summarize what you take to be the thesis, main point, or purpose of the reading assignment you’ve selected to discuss (presumably something on the schedule for our next meeting). The second paragraph and beyond should contain your reaction to the reading. Here, you should be critically evaluating some aspect of the reading: what was particularly interesting, convincing, problematic, confusing, etc.? Your reaction e-mails will not be evaluated for correctness, but they should demonstrate a serious engagement with the reading for class. In order to help ensure that you are seriously engaging the material, each reaction e-mail must be a minimum of 350 words in length; the word count must be included in the reaction e-mail. This word count is merely a bare minimum; reaction e-mails may, and frequently do, exceed this number. Reaction e-mails that fail to seriously engage the reading, including those that fail to reach the minimum word requirement, will receive no credit.

There are two important rules (or sets of rules) to keep in mind for this assignment: timing rules and formatting rules. First, the e-mails must be received before we discuss the reading in class, and you can turn in no more than one per week. If you turn in thirteen (one for each week, excluding the first, last, and mid-term break) satisfactorily, you will receive an A for this portion of your grade. For each one not turned in, this portion of your grade will decrease by one-third of a letter grade (so, turning in twelve earns an A-, eleven a B+, etc.). For our purposes, each week ends at the start of our Thursday meeting; any reaction e-mails sent after 10:00 AM on Thursday will count for the next week.

These, then, are the key principles to keep in mind about reaction e-mails: one per week, on something we have not yet discussed in class.

Second, you will need to adhere to four rules in formatting your reaction e-mails. First, the subject of your e-mails should include both the number of the reaction and the name of the philosopher or philosophers to whom you’ll be responding (e.g., “Reaction 1: Singer”). Second, don’t send any attachments; your reaction e-mail should be the text of the e-mail itself. Third, don’t include other business (questions about assignments, requests for a meeting, etc.) in your reaction e-mails; send all of that stuff as a separate correspondence. And fourth, be sure to include a word count in the body of the e-mail.

These reaction e-mails serve a number of purposes. Beyond ensuring your critical engagement with the text throughout the semester, they give me a window into your reading of the text, which in turn directly informs my teaching. I’ll have a sense of what you focused on in the reading, and what needs special attention in class. I will also draw from the content of your reaction e-mails in class, sometimes generally, but also sometimes by referencing particular reaction e-mails. I will do my best to use discretion, but please let me know in your reaction e-mails if there are details in it that you would prefer not to reveal to the rest of the class. 

Given the volume of reaction e-mails that I will be receiving from all of you, you should not expect regular feedback on individual reaction e-mails. I will, however, respond to your first reaction e-mail, to let you know that I’ve received it and whether it meets the criteria of the assignment. I may also respond to individual reaction e-mails intermittently throughout the semester. Beyond all this, you should regularly be reviewing your reaction e-mails after our class discussions, to see how your understanding of the text has developed.  


The final component of your overall class grade encompasses several different elements, including (but not limited to) class participation and classroom behavior in general. This component is unique in that, unlike the other components, it is subjective. Attendance, first of all, is mandatory, and students with excessive absences will be penalized, where excessive absences are understood as those over and above the equivalent of one week’s worth of class time. In accordance with Beloit College policy, I expect everyone to come to class, and I furthermore expect everyone who comes to class to be alert and ready to participate. Participation also is mandatory. This means that I expect every student to contribute to our ongoing class discussion throughout the semester. I recognize that class participation comes more naturally to some students than others. If you expect this requirement to be difficult for you, then plan accordingly—no one is exempt from this expectation. Elements of class activity that may negatively impact your grade include disruptive behavior (e.g., engaging in side-conversations with others, ringing cell phones) or visibly obvious detachment from the class (e.g., reading outside material such as work for other classes, sleeping). Exceptionally strong class activity may raise your overall grade by one-third (e.g., if your final grade is a B, it may be raised to a B-plus), while poor class activity may lower your overall grade by at least one-third (e.g., from B to B-minus or lower). As a rule of thumb, expect to have your class grade lowered by one-third for each class missed beyond one week of absence.

In order to ensure lively class discussions that benefit from all members of our class, early in the semester you will be assigned a set of readings from our calendar, where you will be asked to be prepared to do one of two things: either (1) explain and defend the reading on question, or (2) offer objections to the reading in question. All students are expected to come prepared to contribute to every class discussion, but on days where you are assigned a reading, you are expected to play a leadership role in discussion that day. Failure to meet this expectation will significantly impact your overall class grade.

Note that, as a matter of class policy, laptop computers and tablets cannot be used in class.  The reason for this is straightforward: the classroom is a place for community conversation, and for a variety of reasons, laptops and tablets hinder conversation. The only exception to this policy is class meetings where we are discussing one of the readings available through Moodle; on those days, you may, if you choose, bring a laptop or tablet solely for the purpose of accessing the reading during our discussion. If you believe you have a compelling reason to be exempt from this policy, please see me to discuss the matter.

If a situation of prolonged absence is unavoidable, please make sure to contact me about it. Be aware that I will normally request proper documentation should such a circumstance arise.


What follows is the plan for the semester as I see it now. In a typical week, I have assigned either two or three reading selections. For weeks with two reading assignments, expect us to address the first reading on Tuesday and second on Thursday. For weeks with three reading assignments, expect us to address the first reading on Tuesday, to begin addressing the second reading on Tuesday and to continue that discussion on Thursday, and to address the third reading on Thursday. Reading assignments should be completed before our discussion of them, so in practice, this means that you should complete the first two readings of a three-reading week for our Tuesday meeting.

Please note that this schedule is tentative; we may deviate from it as the semester progresses and class discussion takes on a life of its own. If changes are required, they will be announced in class.

If you have specific physical, psychiatric, or learning disabilities and require accommodations, please provide the appropriate documentation to me from the Learning Enrichment and Disability Services office early in the semester so that your learning needs may be effectively met. Be aware that I cannot make special accommodations without direction from the LEDS office.


Week 1 (8/28, 8/30)


Singer, Animal Liberation chapters 1 & 3 (1-23, 95-157)

Week 2 (9/4, 9/6)

Singer, Animal Liberation chapters 4-6 (159-248)

Wise, “Animal Rights, One Step at a Time” (AR 19-50)

Week 3 (9/11, 9/13)

Posner, “Animal Rights: Legal, Philosophical, and Pragmatic Perspectives” (AR 51-77)

Singer, “Ethics Beyond Species and Beyond Instincts: a Response to Posner” (AR 78-92)

Diamond, “Eating Meat and Eating People” (AR 93-107)

Week 4 (9/18, 9/20)

Francione, “Animals—Property or Persons?” (AR 108-142)

Epstein, “Animals as Objects, or Subjects, of Rights” (AR 143-161)

Rachels, “Drawing Lines” (AR 162-174)

Week 5 (9/25, 9/27)

Rogers & Kaplan, “All Animals Are Not Equal: The Interface between Scientific Knowledge and Legislation for Animal Rights” (AR 175-202)

Wolfson & Sullivan, “Foxes in the Henhouse: Animals, Agribusiness, and the Law” (AR 205-233)

Favre, “A New Property Status for Animals: Equitable Self-Ownership” (AR 234-250)

PAPER 1 DUE (9/27)

Week 6 (10/2, 10/4)

Sunstein, “Can Animals Sue?” (AR 251-262)

MacKinnon, “Of Mice and Men: A Feminist Fragment on Animal Rights” (AR 263-276)

Anderson, “Animal Rights and the Values of Nonhuman Life” (AR 277-298)

Week 7 (10/7, 10/11)

Nussbaum, “Beyond ‘Compassion and Humanity’: Justice for Nonhuman Animals” (AR 299-320)

Russow, “Why Do Species Matter?” (Moodle)

EXAM 1 (10/11)


Week 8 (10/23, 10/25)

Parfit, Reasons and Persons Part IV: “Future Generations,” Part I (Moodle)

Parfit, Reasons and Persons Part IV: “Future Generations,” Part II (Moodle)

Week 9 (10/30, 11/1)

Temkin, “Intransitivity and the Mere Addition Paradox” (Moodle)

Gardiner, “The Pure Intergenerational Problem” (Moodle)

Week 10 (11/6, 11/8)

Gardiner, “A Perfect Moral Storm: Climate Change, Intergenerational Ethics and the Problem of Moral Corruption” (Moodle)

Sinnott-Armstrong, “It’s Not My Fault: Global Warming and Individual Moral Obligations” (Moodle)

Hiller, “Climate Change and Individual Responsibility” (Moodle)

Week 11 (11/13, 11/15)

Singer, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” (Moodle)

Singer, “Outsiders: Our Obligations to Those beyond our Borders” (EA 11-32)

Arneson, “Moral Limits on the Demands of Beneficence?” (EA 33-58)

Week 12 (11/20)

Kamm, “The New Problem of Distance in Morality” (EA 59-74)

PAPER 2 DUE (11/20)

Week 13 (11/27, 11/29)

Lichtenberg, “Absence and the Unfond Heart: Why People Are Less Giving Than They Might Be” (EA 75-97)

R. Miller, “Moral Closeness and World Community” (EA 101-122)

D. Miller, “National Responsibility and International Justice” (EA 123-143)

Week 14 (12/4, 12/6)

Shue, “Thickening Convergence: Human Rights and Cultural Diversity” (EA 217-241)

O’Neill, “Global Justice: Whose Obligations?” (EA 242-259)

Pogge, “’Assisting’ the Global Poor” (EA 260-288)

Week 15 (12/11)


EXAM 2 (12/18, 9 AM)