Environmental Ethics


What responsibilities do humans have toward other members of creation? Answering this question requires that we begin by reflecting on a theological account of creation and the human place therein. After spending the first portion of the semester on these more explicitly theological and theoretical matters, we’ll consider how they shape our responses to particular ethical conundrums.

As we do so, we’ll discuss the ethical challenges that climate change, distributed risk, and long-term harms pose, but we’ll do so through a focus on the ethics of eating. The goal here is to get at these broader questions through particular instances of them–Should humans eat animals? What is the moral significance of our involvement in the suffering endemic to creation? How ought we to balance the need to feed many people now with the need to sustain the soil’s health for future generations? We’ll explore different approaches to these questions (utilitarian and virtue ethics in particular) and test these different answers against competing accounts. A secondary goal is to bracket (at least initially) some of the more superficial questions about climate change that tend to be politically polarized and get at the underlying theological and ethical questions.


Required Texts

  • Francis Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man. ISBN: 9780891076865
  • Ellen Davis, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture. ISBN: 9780521732239
  • Norman Wirzba, From Nature to Creation. ISBN: 9780801095931
  • Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. ISBN: 9780061233326
  • George Monbiot, Regenesis: Feeding the World Without Devouring the Planet. ISBN: 9780143135968
  • Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America. ISBN: 9781619025998
  • Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop. ISBN: 9780679728894


Our designated room is SHAL 209, but the plan is for us to hold all our class sessions outside. We’ll gather at the firepit on lower campus, just beyond Rainbow Bridge. If it’s cold, we’ll have a fire. If it’s rainy or snowy, we’ll meet in the nearby gazebo. Meeting outside for this class seems appropriate, but it’s also an experiment, and we’ll periodically reassess how it’s going. If it’s not working, we can always move into our official classroom.

Course Calendar

This schedule is subject to change. Our course meets MWF from 1-1:50 in HAL 209.

Week 1

  • Monday 1/22: Introduction
  • Wednesday 1/24: Lynn White Jr. and Richard Means in Pollution 93-119
  • Friday 1/26: Schaffer, Pollution 9-50

Week 2

  • Monday 1/29: Schaffer, Pollution 51-92
  • Wednesday 1/31: Berry, “Gift of Good Land” and “Christianity and the Survival of Creation”
  • Friday 2/2: Davis, Scripture ix-41

Week 3

  • Monday 2/5: no class (Palm Beach Atlantic)
  • Wednesday 2/7: Davis, Scripture 42-100
  • Friday 2/9: Davis, Scripture 101-138

Week 4

  • Monday 2/12: Davis, Scripture 139-180
  • Wednesday 2/14: Wirzba, From Nature
  • Friday 2/16: Wirzba, From Nature

Week 5

  • Monday 2/19: Wirzba, From Nature
  • Wednesday 2/21: Dillard, Pilgrim
  • Friday 2/23: Dillard, Pilgrim

Week 6

  • Monday 3/4: Dillard, Pilgrim
  • Wednesday 3/6: Dillard, Pilgrim
  • Friday 3/8: Dillard, Pilgrim

Week 7

  • Monday 3/11: Singer, Peter, “All Animals Are Equal” and “Becoming a Vegetarian”
  • Wednesday 3/13: Nussbaum, Martha
  • Friday 3/15: Monboit, Regenesis

Week 8

  • Monday 3/18: Monboit, Regenesis
  • Wednesday 3/20: Monboit, Regenesis
  • Thursday 3/22: Monboit, Regenesis

Week 9

  • Monday 3/25: Monboit, Regenesis
  • Wednesday 3/27: Smaje, Chris
  • Friday 3/29: Easter Break

Week 10

  • Monday 4/1: Easter Break
  • Wednesday 4/3: Scruton, Roger “Eating Our Friends”
  • Friday 4/5: Berry, Unsettling 5-54

Week 11

  • Monday 4/8: Berry, Unsettling 55-100
  • Wednesday 4/10 Berry, Unsettling 101-146
  • Friday 4/12: Field trip

Week 12

  • Monday 4/15: Berry, Unsettling 147-234
  • Wednesday 4/17: Berry, “Solving for Pattern,” “The Garden and the Reactor,” “The Pleasures of Eating,” and “For the Hog Killing”
  • Friday 4/19: Thoreau, “Wild Apples”

Week 13

  • Monday 4/22: Leopold, Aldo, excerpts from Sand County
  • Wednesday 4/24: Kimmerer, Robin Wall “Honorable Harvest” and “The Sound of Silverbells”
  • Friday 4/26: Kimmerer, Robin Wall “The Sacred and the Superfund” and “Sitting in a Circle”

Week 14

  • Monday 4/29: Cather, Death
  • Wednesday 5/1: Cather, Death
  • Friday 5/3: Cather, Death

Week 15

  • Monday 5/6: Cather, Death
  • Wednesday 5/8: Cather, Death

The final will be on Monday, May 13 from 1-3.