21st Century Philosophy (PHIL*3280)
Code and section: PHIL*3280*01
Term: Fall 2019
Instructor: Stefan Linquist
Environmental philosophy was a product of the twentieth century. This discipline coalesced in the 1940s with Aldo Leopold’s idea that ecosystems are organism-like entities that deserve moral standing in their own right. In the 1960s Rachel Carson reinforced this holistic view of nature, showing that industrial pollutants were having unexpected effects throughout the food chain. Later in the 20th Century, authors like E.O. Wilson and Paul and Anne Ehrlich drew public attention to the so called biodiversity crisis. The twentieth century closed with the worry of catastrophic climate change and the idea of a new epoch- the Anthropocene – in which human influence is pervasive and wilderness is lamented. A thread running throughout this environmental thinking is a dichotomy between humans and nature. Pristine wilderness was accepted as an unquestioned ideal, while human impact was regarded as inherently bad.
However, this dichotomy between humans versus nature has come under scrutiny in the 21st century. Ecologists have largely rejected the idea of a balance of nature. Historians have revealed some of the destructive consequences of the “myth” of pristine wilderness, especially for Indigenous peoples who were excluded from their rightful territory to make way for so called natural parks. Philosophers continue to point out that naturalness is problematic both as an empirical and as a normative concept. Hence, many people are starting to view the 21st century as a post-natural era. But does this mean the end of environmental ethics as we know it? Without an idea of “the natural” as something towards which we should strive, what basis is left for evaluating decisions as right or wrong?
The course meets twice per week. Students will give short presentations at the beginning of semester, worth 15% of their grade. Roughly each week they will submit a one-page reflection, worth a cumulative 40%. Students will be responsible for choosing a research project that will result in a final paper, worth 35%. A final 10% of the grade is allotted to class participation.