In this module, we will read, discuss, think and write about certain fundamental ethical questions about the environment. The syllabus aims at equipping students with concepts and theories that will help them critically analyze environmental issues.
Units 1-2 are introductory in nature, and aim at giving students the intellectual and philosophical background necessary for a more in-depth analysis of the theories that we will study in rest of the semester. In addition to visiting the sources of anthropocentricism in Western thought, we will also be familiarizing ourselves with three moral positions: consequentialism, deontology and rights theory. All these three positions attempt to answer the question of “how I ought to live,” and you will find that our environmental theorists in the rest of the syllabus appeal to them (as well as a few other positions) over and over again.
Units 3-5 are the core of our syllabus and are divided into three topics: (1) animal ethics, (2) the intrinsic value and moral standing of nature, and (3) climate change. Debates are vibrant in these areas. We will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different scholarly theories, as well as examine their similarities and differences. Questions that we will explore include, but are not limited to:
- Should we accord moral consideration to non-human entities?
- Do animals and plants have interests and rights?
- Are meat-eating and animal testing justifiable?
- How can we adjudicate competing claims between human and non-human entities, or between different non-human entities?
- Is there a real distinction between the “natural” and the “artificial”?
- What are the differences between the cost-benefit analysis and human rights approaches to combatting climate change? To what extent are these approaches compatible?
- Do individual persons or actions make any difference in combating climate change or factory farming?