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PHIL 3140 Environmental Ethics

About the Course

Two main approaches govern environmental philosophy. Many philosophers see environmental ethics as a kind of problem to apply traditional ethical theories. Traditionally, ethics concerns our obligations to other persons and these philosophers contend that we ought to protect the environment because we owe it to other people. These philosophers still exhibit plenty of disagreement, no less than philosophers on any other ethical controversy. For example, some philosophers argue that our obligation to others concerning the environment should aim to produce the greatest good for the greatest number. This view reflects the conservation policy of the first chief of US Forest service, Gifford Pinchot, who sought a more equitable use of natural resources. Alternately, some philosophers have argued that it is wrong to allow people to experience some level of pollution, even if it maximizes utility. Such claims are made against the background of the ethics of Immanuel Kant or a theory of justice like that of John Rawls. Still other philosophers argue that environmental ethics can be understood in terms of human virtues and vices. For example, some argue that excessive consumption not only fails to maximize utility but is a vice akin to gluttony. On the other hand they might argue that taking care of the environment might be understood as the virtue of stewardship.

Grade Breakdown

Each section will have a 60 minute comprehension quiz of short answer/multiple choice questions (yes, there are right and wrong answers in philosophy!). The quizzes are open note, but you will need to have thoroughly studied the reading before the quiz. Each quiz is worth 5% of the final grade. Worth 45%

Environmental Practice, Proposal, Paper, and picture (4ps) -You will adopt an environmental practice of your choosing for 30 days and write about the results. You will track both quantitative and qualitative results. Some suggestions: Ride your bike to work, become a vegetarian, or reuse plastic bags. Worth 25%

Final Essay -You will write an essay (6-8 pages) that addresses some of the major themes of the course. A list of possible questions is included in the assignment section. You may seek approval for other questions. Worth 20%

Participation – Although this course is online you will be given an opportunity to and expected to communicate with other people engaged in similar inquiries (or at least with me). Any service project in the community that makes use of skills used in the class is also eligible for these participation points. You will submit a 1 page paper explaining how you think you have fulfilled this aspect of the course. Worth 10%

Required Text

Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé, Hope’s Edge, Putnam. 2003

Instructor Contact


Dan Sturgis is senior instructor and undergraduate advisor in the philosophy department at CU. He earned his B.A. in political science and philosophy from Northwestern University in 1992 and his Ph.D. from CU in 2002 in Philosophy. He also directs an outreach program which introduces high school students to philosophy. Outside the university, Dr. Sturgis likes to ski, run, hike, and explore his native state of Colorado with his wife and son.

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