Environmental Ethics

A Leadership Studies Designated Course

PL307, spring 2019


Dr. Bill Myers                                                                         Office: HC 222

Office phone: 226-4868                                                          Email: bmyers@bsc.edu

Classroom and time: TTH 2-3:20, HC 004

Office Hours: M-TH 12:30-2:00; TTH 8:30-9:30; most Friday afternoons; by appointment   


Required Texts:

            Environmental Ethics: An Introduction to Environmental Philosophy, 5th edition, by Joseph R. Des Jardins. Wadsworth, 2013

            Watersheds 4: Ten Cases in Environmental Ethics, by Lisa Newton, Catherine Dillingham, and Joanne Choly. Wadsworth, 2006.

            The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, Penguin Books, 2006.

            Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey. Touchstone Books, 1968.


Course Description:

While it is certainly true that thinkers and writers have been concerned with some kinds of environmental issues since at least biblical times, environmental ethics as a discipline is really quite young. Many in the field point to Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring as marking the beginning of modern environmental ethics. Prior to Carson’s book, the discipline was not very well defined, with much of the discourse focusing strictly on the proper use of property. After Carson’s book, however, environmental ethics began to take shape, and today there are a number of paradigms available to help us understand our place in our world, and what, if any, our obligations to the environment consist of. In this course, we're going to explore just these obligations. We'll start with some general issues, including a brief introduction to ethical theory, a variety of paradigmatic approaches, some specific issues and some case studies. While the immediate subject matter of this course is environmental philosophy, there is also the broader goal of applying the various tools of analysis that we learn to specific environmental issues.

            This course is a Leadership Studies designated course.


Methods and Structure:

            Our classes will be a blend of lecture, discussion, case studies and class presentations. As a community of inquiry, we'll be learning from each other. As such, it is imperative that for each meeting, you read carefully the materials for that day. This kind of course only works well when all are prepared.



1. Through the course of the semester, you will be required to do two short papers, one on one of the cases from Watersheds and the other on our last book which we will decide upon very soon. These papers should be 4-6 standard pages (12 point with reasonable margins), word-processed and double spaced. These papers will be presented in class on the day they are due. You may simply read the paper should you choose, but a more informal presentation is also acceptable. The point of the presentation is to encourage and provoke class discussion. I expect you to take a stand. This project will show your ability to apply to the tools of analysis that are relevant to the problem at hand. Also, if you are new to writing philosophy papers, check out my handout, complete with tips, guidelines, etc.

2. For our unit on the theories of environmental ethics, each of you will sign up to write a response to one of the discussion questions at the end of the chapter (I will choose the questions). These questions will serve as a focus for at least part of the class discussion. These should be about two pages long.

            3. One of our treats this semester is reading Edward Abbey. His book, Desert Solitaire, is a classic. We're not going to "study" Abbey in the same way we do the other texts, but, rather, we're going to set aside some class time (30 minutes or so) to discuss it. The discussion days are noted on the syllabus along with the reading assignment. I want you to turn in a one page "reaction" to some aspect of the reading. These are informal, and will serve simply to get us going.

            4. A final, individual paper of about 8-12 pages will be required. For this paper, there is a great deal of latitude in regard to the subject matter. The issues(s) you address, though, must deal with some ethical question concerning the environment. While you need not limit yourselves to topics actually covered in class, you must demonstrate a command of the relevant tools of analysis derived from the class. Your topics may well come from one of the two following varieties (these are not exhaustive):

(a) A case of your own choosing, from your own experience, research, etc. If you choose this option, you should give enough details of the situation to make the case meaningful to an outsider. Then you analyze the case as we have been doing all semester, making certain that you bring the relevant theoretical considerations to bear.

(b) An issue which arises in the readings and/or discussion which you would like to explore without the apparatus of a case analysis. You might wish to explore, for example, the more abstract topics of economic justice, the nature of moral standing, our duty to trees or animals, our duty to future generations, etc.

The final paper will be due at our scheduled final exam time (Mon., May 20).

            5. Your attendance and informed participation is assumed. You are expected to have read carefully the materials for the week. I will have no hesitancy in calling on anyone, whether a hand is raised or not. Each student is expected to attend all of the class meetings and to be an active participant in those meetings. If you are not able to attend class or you are not able to be prepared, you should let me know. To encourage preparation, I will give each of you two (2) "unprepareds." If you come to class unprepared, you should let me know, and I will not call on you that day. You may do this twice without penalty. If you do not tell me that you are unprepared, I will assume that I can call on you at any time. As for attendance, more than 4 absences will carry a letter grade penalty for the final grade. More than 6 will result in failing the class.

            6. Check the Moodle syllabus frequently. I'll be putting up course handouts and web links throughout the course of the semester. A number of our readings will come from web links and will not be handed out in class. You are just as responsible for that stuff as you are for what is printed on the original course syllabus.

            7. And, of course, abide by the Honor Code. Blatant violations of the Honor Code will result in class failure.


Distinction in Leadership Studies:

            This course fulfills a requirement for the Distinction in Leadership Studies Program. Given that effective leaders are not always ethical leaders, the study of ethics in general is essential for understanding ethical leadership. Furthermore, the issues we discuss involving the environment are a natural fit for applying and exploring the concept of leadership.

            All DLS students are expected to:



            The two short presentation papers will each count for 20% of the final grade, for a total of 40%. The final paper will count for 40%. Class attendance and participation (including your writing on the theories and on Abbey) will count for 20%.


Classroom rules:

Three rules for the sake of courtesy: First, eating is not allowed in our classroom—it is rude and distracting. Don’t bring food to class. Second, turn off your cell phone. If I hear your cell phone ring, vibrate, or otherwise make its presence known, you will be immediately dismissed from class and counted absent for that day. Third, no electronic devices of any kind are allowed in class. This includes laptop computers.


Tentative Course Schedule


2/5 Introduction, syllabus and questions.

2/7 Ethics, Science and the Environment; Ethical Theory.

Reading: DesJardins 1-41

2/12 Continued, then Property and Natural Law

Reading: Locke Handout, Harvey Cox, "The Market as God," and Abbey discussion (pp. 1-38)


Applied Issues and Cases:

2/14 Ethics and Economics: Managing Public Lands.

Reading: DesJardins, 45-71; also see Obama Proposal would Close the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to Drilling.

2/19 The Valdez; Chlorine Sunrise

Reading: Watersheds, Chs. 5 and 7.

2/21 Sustainability and Responsibilities the Future

Reading: DesJardins, 74-94

2/26 Global Climate Change; Alternative Energies

Reading: Watersheds, Chs 1 and 9; also see the “Fourth National Climate Assessment”; From The Guardian; and Nuclear Power and Climate Change. Abbey discussion (pp. 39-81)

2/28 Conserving for Future Generations—the death of the fisheries

Reading: Watersheds, Ch 3. See also Plastic and oceans

3/5 Responsibilities to the Natural World: From Anthropocentric to Nonanthropocentric Ethics.

Reading: DesJardins, 95-122

3/7 Frankenfood; Biological Diversity and Abbey discussion (pp. 82-127)

Reading: Watersheds, Chapters 2 and 10;


Theories of Environmental Ethics:

3/12 Biocentric Ethics and the Inherent Value of Life

Reading: DesJardins, Chapter 6 (Questions: 1 or 2)

3/14 No class—I’m out of town

3/19 Wilderness, Ecology, and Ethics

Reading: DesJardins, Ch 7 (Questions: 1 or 4)

3/21 The Land Ethic

            Reading: Chapter 8 (Questions: 1 or 6) and Abbey discussion (128-150)

3/26 and 3/28: Spring break!

4/2 Deep Ecology and Ecofeminism

Reading: DesJardins, Chapter 9 (Questions: 3 or 4)

4/4 Environmental Justice and Social Ecology; Pluralism, Pragmatism, and Sustainability

Reading: DeJardins, Chapters 10 (Questions: 4 or 5) and 11; Abbey discussion (151-195)


The Omnivore’s Dilemma:

4/9 Pollan, Introduction through Chapter 2

4/11 Pollan, Chapters 3-5

4/16 Pollan, Chapters 6-7

4/18 Pollan, Chapters 8-9 and Abbey discussion (196-231)

4/23 Pollan, Chapters 10-12

4/25 Pollan, Chapters 13-14

4/30 Pollan, Chapters 15-16

5/2 Pollan, Chapters 17-18 and Abbey discussion (232-end)

5/7 Pollan, Chapters 19-20

5/9 Honor’s Day


Final Paper due, Monday, May 20 by 1:00.