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Thomas C. Hilde

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Tom Hilde is associate research professor in the School of Public Policy, associate director of international programs, director of Peru and Indonesia programs, and senior fellow in the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM). 

He teaches courses in sustainable development, environmental ethics, international environmental agreements, and policy and ethics. He also created and directs a graduate field course that, since 2011, travels each year to Indonesia (Bali, Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Java) to study complex adaptive social-ecological systems, land use change, and sustainable development. He directs another course in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest and Andes mountains that examines the conflicts between resource extraction, forest conservation, and native communities, as well as migration due to economic and environmental pressures.

Hilde was trained in philosophy, writing on philosophical pragmatism and global displacement (PhD, Pennsylvania State University). He moved to UMD from New York University, where he directed the Environmental Conservation Education Program and the Applied Philosophy Group, and taught interdisciplinary seminars in environmental politics and ethics, globalization, and international development. He has also taught symbolic logic and philosophy of technology at Texas A&M University. He has done work for the Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Center for American Progress, and China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, and has developed programs for Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry and National Development Planning Agency. Hilde was a Fulbright scholar in Venezuela in 2005 and Edmond J. Safra Network Fellow at Harvard University in 2014-2015.

His research and publications involve conceptual and normative analysis and evaluation of complex adaptive social-ecological systems, and adaptive institutions and governance in the areas of international environmental policy and ethics, sustainable development, democracy and human rights, climate change adaptation, and agriculture and food security. Prof. Hilde edited the books, The Agrarian Roots of Pragmatism (2000 with Paul B. Thompson) and On Torture (2008), a subject on which he has also given congressional testimony. He also translated from French Stalinism and Nazism: History and Memory Compared (2004). His most recent and current work is on sustainable adaptation in Balinese rice and irrigation terrace systems (subaks), pragmatism and policy analysis, and illegal gold mining and deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

Areas of Interest
  • Political philosophy & ethics, norms & compliance in international environmental law, climate change adaptation & local indigenous environmental governance systems
3 Credit(s)

This course will broaden students’ understanding of the moral dimensions of public policy as well as their own individual moral perspective. Discussions will include the ideal of a just society, and the place of liberty and equality in it, while focusing on contemporary theories of ethics and justice.  It will develop students’ appreciation of the ethical challenges unique to the public service sector while building their skills in ethical analysis and decision-making. We will explore the increasing ethical challenges in a world in which technology, global risks, and societal developments are accelerating faster than our understanding can keep pace. A framework for ethical decision making underpins the course.
Schedule of Classes

3 Credit(s)

Focuses on the theoretical and normative underpinnings of contemporary political philosophy, particularly theories of the legitimacy and proper function of nation states and global institutions. What role should ethics play in public policy formation and implementation? We will give special attention to ideals and institutions of national and global justice and how they are and should be related to ideals and institutions of democracy. What are the merits and demerits of democratic institutions in comparison with authoritarian ones? Do prosperous, liberal democratic states have reason to promote economic and political development in other countries and, if so, what are the best ways to do so? Key readings: Hobbes, Ober, Rawls, the Capability Approach (Robeyns), D. Bell, and Deveaux.
Schedule of Classes

Faculty: Thomas C. Hilde
3 Credit(s)

Environmental ethics as a field of inquiry has grown exponentially over the past several decades. It has helped to broaden the discussion of value alongside and beyond economic valuations and scientific assessments of natural environments and our social-ecological context. Environmental policy disputes are often about philosophical differences rather than simply clashes of economic self-interest. Good science and economic analysis are essential components to policy, but they do not necessarily articulate what the problem at hand is, ascertain what we ought to do in policy decision-making, and how to go about that decision-making, but rather how efficiently to do it. Environmental ethics helps clarify problems and concepts, and articulates, examines, and attempts to answer the value questions involved in environmental policy issues. Yet, practical policy, social, and political considerations in turn present real constraints on ethical claims. Our pragmatic form of inquiry in this course will tack between these considerations of ethical norms and practical expediency, breaking down that dualism. The goal is to think through ethical issues in light of concrete policy and vice versa so that ethics might make a difference in practice. This course examines a range of the ethical-philosophical arguments and positions that constitute environmental ethics. The readings include classics of environmental thought and recent work. Issues include the nature of ethical inquiry regarding the natural environment, what counts in moral consideration (non-human animals? ecosystems? or humans alone?), basic differences regarding the concept of value and practical sustainability, and how human interests and environmental justice issues are or should intersect with environmental values. We will link these discussions to matters of public policy while critiquing policy as practiced.
Schedule of Classes

Faculty: Thomas C. Hilde
3 Credit(s)

Analyzes sustainable development and its conflicting interpretations. The dominant view, as expressed in the World Bank's 1992 World Development Report, is studied, along with some critical responses. Further readings on issues of population, consumption and development indicators.
Schedule of Classes

Faculty: Thomas C. Hilde