Introduction to the Course

Welcome to Philosophy and Environmental Studies 149: Environmental Ethics!

Environmental ethics is the study of the ethical importance of nature, in whatever way the term nature is understood (and as we’ll see there are wide variations in understanding).  This course is meant to introduce you to some the basic concepts and conflict in the field and also make you think about the applications of the ethical thought you will be introduced.  As beings existing as part of the natural world, our actions often clash against the rest of the natural world.  Environmental ethics attempts to explain this clash and provide solutions to the problems that arise from that clash.  In other words, environmental ethics aims to both define and explain the problems we encounter when we deal with nature and provide possible solutions to these problems.

Over the course of the first week, we will go over exactly what makes philosophy philosophy, ethics ethics, and environmental ethics environmental ethics (I’m sure this repetition has been very helpful ;)).  So, for now, I want to give a brief overview of the goals and activities of the course to help you better understand how learning here will take place.

As stated in the syllabus, there are three main goals in this course:

  1. a) Understand basic ethical theories, modern environmental problems, and related socio-political movements
    b) Be able to explain these concepts to others
  2. Display competent writing and revision skills
  3. Articulate coherent and thought out personal values on environmental topics

Importantly, these goals will be met primarily through two kinds of activities: trying to reconstruct and understand the philosophical claims in the texts and engaging with these claims from your personal viewpoint.  The first activity (reconstruction and understanding) is the primary purpose of the group project that will be “presented” (actually posted) to the entire class in the last week of the course.  The second activity (engaging through and developing your personal viewpoint on environmental ethics) is the primary purpose of the “personal environmental ethics” post that you will develop from revised writing prompts from throughout the first two weeks of the course.  Both of these activities collide in these daily writing prompts where you must present both what is presented by the readings in the text and engage with these texts from your own viewpoint.

The writing prompts are at the centre of the course.  It is through the writing prompts that each student will engage with the material and start discussions with other students.  Further, these prompts will focus on developing reading and writing skills.

Most importantly, this course has an odd structure.  Although all the assignments will come from this website and the final projects will show up on this website, most of the work will be done elsewhere.  It will be done on your own blog that you will set up on the first day of class and on the blogs of other students that you will be doing most of the work.  When you do group projects, you will collaborate in Google Docs and I encourage you to use whatever other tools you can.  See the Learning Packet for more details.

What is most important about this structure is that this is your course.  I am giving you readings and I am giving you guidance through prompts and, yes, grading rubrics, but ultimately this course is incredibly dependent on what you and your other classmates bring to it.  This is not simply about learning the theoretical underpinnings of environmental ethics, but how this impacts you and your personal viewpoint.  None of us spring into being in a vacuum.  That means that we have points of view and opinions that belong to us, but are often the result of where we come from.  By sharing those points of view, holding them up for examination, and entering dialogues with other people, we can see what out views really mean and whether we truly want to hold them.  As you will see tomorrow, this form of examination is at the heart of Philosophy and Ethics.

Throughout the first week, I will introduce the different activities and ways of engaging in the course and so help you become accustomed to using the tools at your disposal, but, for now, let’s jump right in and get started.  We can save the heavy thinking for Tuesday!

Getting Started:

  1. Take the time to look over the Syllabus, Learning Packet, and Rubrics.  Look around the site and get accustomed to the layout.  All assignments will be accessible through the front page Schedule.  Ask at least one question on the Syllabus by commenting on that page.  You will need to be logged in to comment.
  2. Read the Guide to Blogs and set up your personal blog.  An important part of the course is that you have control over the space where you will be doing the majority of the work.  Think about how you want your words read.  Take the time to customize your blog so that it is a space in which you feel comfortable writing.  Most importantly, think about your audience.  We almost never write to no one.  In the real world–whether it is a job or something more personal, we have an audience.  While your primary audience is me and your fellow classmates, to participate in this class you need to have a public blog and that means others can read your work. What do you want to show about yourself?  Consider all the issues raised in the Guide to Blogs as you set up your personal blog today.
  3. Fill in your Profile info.  The biographical info, display name, and website will show on the People page.  Follow the instructions here.
  4. Look over other assignments on the schedule.  Beginning working on assignments for the future (reading and writing).

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