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