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Politics Department

Politics 304: The Politics of Environmental Ethics
Fall 2004
TuTh  9:40-11:10 AM      

Dr. Joe Bowersox
Department of Politics
Smullin 333, 370-6220,
Office Hours: TuTh 12:30-1:30 or by appointment

Course Description
Welcome! This course is an attempt to understand one of our most current and controversial political and social dilemmas--environmental protection--from the viewpoint of political theory and moral philosophy. Some may argue such an analysis should begin by examining the more "factual" and "concrete" findings of ecology science, natural resource economics, or environmental policy studies.  Yet this course assumes (and it is an admitted bias of its instructor) that certain value orientations, or personal, social, and ideological worldviews channel and shape any "information" or "facts" we may receive from these more practical disciplines. In other words, certain political and ethical assumptions are implied and underlay much of the current debate over the "rights of nature," "the limits of growth," or the "necessity of continued exploitation of resources." Political theory thus becomes a necessary and important analytical tool for understanding the scope and consequences of various arguments for and against environmental protection, and demonstrate the importance of a truly interdisciplinary approach for such global dilemmas.

What is Political Theory?

Political theory is in the unique position of being both a rigorous analytical tool as well as a form of reasoned advocacy for various forms of political and social life. As students of environmental theory and philosophy, it is worthwhile to take seriously these critical and prescriptive aspects of political thought:

Political theory is critical in that it seeks to dissect, clarify, and expose the foundations, assumptions, and consequences of real or hypothetical political systems, political and ethical values, and social practices.

Political theory is prescriptive in that it seeks to utilize knowledge or understanding gained from theoretical criticism and practical experience to "improve" the human condition and our political institutions; if not to improve, then to legitimate existing conditions and institutions.

With these distinctions in mind, this course will proceed to introduce students to the implicit and explicit political suppositions of various environmental and non-environmental positions.

Course Goals
The primary goal of this course is to explore and expose the political and theoretical underpinnings of major arguments for and against environmental protection. Interpretations of "nature" and our relations to it were of great consequence to the development of the major political paradigms dominating the 20th Century landscape, namely Liberalism and Marxism. Many modern "political ecologists" may unwittingly remain captive to the same assumptions. Understanding this ambiguous inheritance therefore may lead us to different answers or simply to ask different questions. Likewise, certain assumptions about the nature, shape, and proper realm (if allowed one) of "politics" have been made by the major moral philosophies of the last three or four centuries (natural rights, utilitarianism, holism, emotivism, etc.). These assumptions in turn are present in their 20th and 21st Century green and non-green descendents. We may find that only by taking these assumptions seriously do we make it possible to move beyond the insurmountable differences we see today in the argument over our proper relations with nature and each other.

More specifically, this course will examine at least the following questions:

*How did our changing conceptions of the role of nature in human experience affect the development of our moral and political values?

*How in particular has this changed our perceptions of the role and value of the "individual" and the role and value of the "collective?"

*How have new environmental concerns affected our perceptions of "democracy," "freedom," "rights," "the state," and "the good?"

*Have we "unnaturally" separated and opposed our ethics from our politics, and what did we hope to accomplish by doing such?

We will ask these and other questions in conjunction with extensive reading assignments and class discussions on some of the major works in modern political theory, environmental politics, and environmental ethics. The workload will be demanding, but with dedication the fruits should be worth the effort.

Arguments, Reasons, and Values

This course helps students understand the nature and structure of arguments by introducing them to the foundational concepts of moral and political theory, including specific attention to the descriptive and prescriptive uses and categories of both. While some attention is paid to the historical development of, say, virtue ethics, utilitarianism, and deontological theories, the course is preoccupied with examining the logic, intent, and strategic benefits and weaknesses of each in public and private dialogue over the human/nature relationship. This course explicitly addresses the principles and criteria for evaluating arguments by conscientiously examining standards of proof for each theory as well as common ethical and logical fallacies that are often employed. In this course we will examine not only such theoretical criteria, but also the impact of science and empiricism upon the veracity of each claim. This is done on an almost daily basis throughout the course, with each theory we encounter. Students also experience these criteria first hand in their written tutorials, as they first critique existing theories and then, in the final assignment, have to construct their own.

Course Requirements
To aid the above stated goals, students will be required to undertake several different activities in which they will explore these questions for themselves and formulate their own informed interpretations of the readings.

1) Tutorials. Students will write THREE tutorials in response to a set of questions provided in class. A tutorial is an interactive learning process. Structured as thoughtful responses to specific inquiries, tutorials provide an opportunity to unpack, test, and critique the argument of a text. Drafts will be peer reviewed. Your final answers then serve as a catalyst for a brief discussion between you, two or three classmates, and the instructor.  A handout on the tutorial process will be distributed shortly. Each tutorial will be worth 25% (75 points) of the final grade. One tutorial must be rewritten and resubmitted.

2) Participation. While some of our time will be spent in lectures, a major portion of this course will be spent in group discussions of the readings and topics assigned. Therefore it is imperative that students come PREPARED to class....Our readings and topics should invoke lively and spirited conversation and debate, so make sure that you get the most out of it by being quite familiar with the readings by the time you get to class. Informal and spontaneous writing in-class and via email will also be a means of actively participating in the learning process. Active participation is worth 25% (75 points) of the course.

3) Attendance. Attendance is expected and viewed as a minimal requirement for satisfactorily completing this course. Students who are absent more than FOUR times during the semester without a valid excuse (legitimate medical condition or mandatory university activity) will be penalized 10% (30 points) from their total grade, and another 10% for each additional five absences. Use your quota of four sparingly, for though I do not always take attendance and you may get off lucky one day, on another you may not. I have final discretion on what is considered legitimate.

REQUIRED: The following books are our required texts in this course:

R. Botzler, S. Armstrong (eds), Environmental Ethics. Hereafter EE.
B. Minteer and B. Pepperman Taylor (eds), Democracy and the Claims of Nature. Hereafter DCN
S. Kellert, and T. Farnham (eds), The Good in Nature and Humanity. Hereafter GNH

PLUS : Selected additional readings will be required. I reserve the right to add short additional readings as necessary.

Grading is on a straight point/percentage basis without a curve, using the following breakdown on a 300 point scale:

94% (282 points)             A
90% (270 points)             A-
87% (261 points)             B+
83% (249 points)             B
80% (240 points)             B-
77% (231 points)             C+
73% (219 points)             C
70% (210 points)             C-
67% (201 points)             D+
63% (189 points)             D
60% (180 points)             D-
59% or below (<180 pts)  F