Butterfly picture

Course Information
PHIL013.001, Fall 2014
MWF 2.30–3.20PM
307 Boucke Bldg

Instructor Information
David W. Agler, PhD
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Office Hours & Location
XXX Sparks
Mailbox: 232 Sparks
TR 3.45-4.45PM


Concern for the environment plays a pervasive role in in the decisions we make and how we think about ourselves in relation to each other and in the world. We enact laws to regulate pollution, we know (or are) people who abstain from eating animals, and most of us have (in some way or another) recognize living things and environments as deserving respect or even reference. Gaining a clearer, more articulated, and philosophical understanding of what, if any, responsibilities we have to the environment is the primary topic of this course.

Unit 1 investigates a number of basic questions about environmental philosophy: what is the environment? what are some of the central environmental problems? how can philosophy help to solve these environmental problems? In discussing these questions, we will read Christopher Belshaw’s Environmental Philosophy: Reason, Nature, and Human Concern (McGill-Queen’s University Press 2001).

Unit 2 turns from these broad introductory questions to several questions about what makes us different from animals and what moral responsibilities we have to animals. We will explore answers to questions like: what, if anything, distinguishes us from animals? is it morally permissible to eat animals and is vegetarianism ethically required? should industrial animal production be stopped? what moral problems do the existence of zoos present? is it morally permissible to keep animals in captivity, either in zoos or as pets? In discussing these questions, we will read Lori Green’s Ethics and Animals: An Introduction (Cambridge, 2011).

Unit 3 investigates what ethical responsibilities we have to living and nature things more broadly, e.g. plants, ecosystems, rivers, forests. We will explore explanation for why it might be morally wrong to destroy natural objects, even when doing so does not harm human beings. In addition, we’ll examine why a solution to environmental problems might require a radically different perspective on who we are as human beings.

Here are a list of some of the questions we will explore:

  1. what is the environment?
  2. what is an environmental problem and what kinds of environmental problems are there?
  3. what role can philosophizing play in solving and thinking about environmental problems?
  4. what are the primary causes of environmental problems?
  5. what other methods are available in trying to solve environmental problems?
  6. what role does moral theory play in thinking about and trying to solve environmental problems?
  7. what duties do we have to animals?
  8. what duties do we have to non-human and non-animal living things?
  9. how do we make sense of the value we ascribe to living things?



  1. Belshaw, Christopher. 2001. Environmental Philosophy: Reason, Nature and Human Concern. Montreal & Kingston: Mcgill-Queen’s University Press.
  2. Gruen, Lori. 2011. Ethics and Animals: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  3. Course Lessons:


  1. Philosophy of Nature/Environment Content: Students will learn several key ideas in the philosophy of nature/environment, e.g. what is an environment, what sort of relationship do humans have to the environment(s), what sorts of responsibilities do we have to conserve, to preserve, and to prevent pollution, what responsibilities do we have to animals, and what types of responsibilities do we have to other living (non-animal) things?
  2. Critical Reading, Thinking, & Reasoning Skills: Students will read texts in the philosophy of nature critically by assessing the quality of arguments in terms of their validity, strength, cogency, soundness, etc.
  3. Dialogue & Oral Expression: As some issues in the philosophy of nature tend to be controversial and emotionally charged, students will develop their ability to engage in respectful conversation with others. Students will thus be encouraged to formulate their views on philosophy of nature issues by providing reasons for their position and criticizing alternatives by objecting to the arguments supporting these positions.
  4. Articulation & Writing Skills: Students will develop the capacity to respond to various arguments concerning the philosophy of nature in a rigorous and articulate way. They will learn how to summarize issues in the philosophy of nature in a succinct, charitable, and illustrative way and learn how to critical respond to arguments by raising objections and supporting their views with reasons.



The general principles and policy relating to cheating and plagiarism, which are enforced in this class, can be found in the Penn State policy on academic misconduct. Academic Integrity: Academic dishonesty encompasses a wide range of activities, whether intentional or unintentional, that includes, but is not limited to: all forms of fraud, plagiarism, and any failure to cite explicitly all materials and sources used in one’s work. Sanctions for these activities include, but are not limited to, failure in a course, removal from the degree program, failure in a course with an explanation in the permanent transcript of the cause for failure, suspension, and expulsion. If you are unclear about whether you or someone you know is engaging in academic misconduct, read the following: University Statement on Academic Integrity. For more information, see PSU Academic Integrity Policy, PSU Plagiarism Quiz, and PSU Plagiarism Links.

Let’s Discuss Cheating in College

Cheating in College


Grades will be rounded up from the second decimal point, e.g. 90.95 rounds up to 91.0 while 90.94 rounds down to 90.90. In the event that eLION does not allow for a particular grade (e.g. D+), you will simply be given the letter grade (e.g. if you have a D+ then you will receive a D, and if you have a C–, you will receive a C).

A: 91–100% B+: 89.0–89.9 C+: 79.0–79.9 D: 60.0–69.9 F: 0–59.9
A–: 90.0–90.9 B: 81.0–88.9 C: 70.0–78.9
B–: 80–80.9


If you are planning on submitting an assignment late, you will need to clear this with the instructor before the day and time of the test. If the instructor is not informed that you will be taking the test late, a grade reduction of one letter grade is incurred for every day the test is late. So if the due date is Tuesday at 3PM and you email me on Tuesday at 3.01PM you will lose a letter grade. You will not lose an additional letter grade until 3.01PM the next day (i.e. Wednesday).


Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University’s educational programs. If you have a disability-related need for reasonable academic adjustments in this course, contact the Office for Disability Services (ODS) at 814-863-1807 (V/TTY). For further information regarding ODS, please visit the Office for Disability Services Website.

In order to receive consideration for course accommodations, you must contact ODS and provide documentation (see the documentation guidelines at PSU Documentation Guidelines). If the documentation supports the need for academic adjustments, ODS will provide a letter identifying appropriate academic adjustments. Please share this letter and discuss the adjustments with your instructor as early in the course as possible. You must contact ODS and request academic adjustment letters at the beginning of each semester.

If you are in need of psychological counseling, please do not hesitate to contact Penn State’s Counseling & Psychological Services (phone: 814-863-0395). For any problem related to your studies, university policies and procedures, do not hesitate to seek the help of the Student Affairs Services, your Academic Advisor, or arrange a meeting with your instructor who will help you obtain assistance through one of the above, or another, agency.


Please check the webpage on the ANGEL website regularly. An online version of the syllabus is available there, and you will be notified of any cancellation of a course meeting there. If you need to contact me, send a well-constructed email to my email address with an appropriate subject line (e.g. P120 Question) and with an appropriate address (e.g. “Dear David”). Failure to do either, or emailing me with multiple links attached (“check this youtube link”) will result in your instructor deleting your email. Students are responsible for activity on their computer accounts so only send emails pertinent to the course. Also, please do not send correspondence from cellular telephones (e.g. Blackberries, etc.).


Students who simply stop attending class, for whatever reason, without officially withdrawing from the course, will receive the grade of F. If you expect a refund, be aware that the date the withdrawal form is processed by Penn State registrar’s office determines the amount of refund. Consult the Register site for drop procedures. Consult the Handbook for taking an Incomplete (D/F).


A number of factors figure into creating a healthy classroom environment. In order to facilitate such an environment, I ask you to obey the following: (1) the use of cell phones in any capacity is prohibited (please turn ringers/buzzers off, no text-messaging during class), (2) please do not begin to ‘pack up’ your belongings before your instructor has explicitly dismissed you, (3) please come to class rested, sleeping in class is strictly prohibited, (4) please do not do other work in class. If you are incapable of performing (1)–(4) or are disruptive in class, you will kindly be asked to leave the classroom.


For some courses, students may request a challenge examination as a substitute for completing the usual requirements of a course. If the examination is successfully completed the credits received are described as “credits by examination” (policy 42-50).


Assignment # pts each % total Notes
Attendance, In-Person & Online Participation 10 5 also plays a role in rounding
Pop Quizzes 8 3 15 lowest grade dropped
Blog Assignment 3 25 30
Exams 3 100 50


The attendance and participation portion of your grade is determined through a combination of subjective and quantitative components.

  1. Attendance is documented through the use of Attendance Sheets, which are periodically distributed throughout the semester.
  2. Online participation is assessed by the number and quality of comments you contribute to online lesson materials, currently available at PSU PHIL LAB.
  3. Classroom participation is assessed by using a variety of factors, including (but not limited to): the quality of your questions and answers, respectful dialogue with your classmates and instructor, your willingness to participate in class exercises, etc.

In the case of borderline grades (A-/B+, B+/B etc.) there can be fine tuning based on your participation. Only excellent participation (both in the classroom and online) and attendance throughout the semester can raise your grade. Your grade can be raised (at most) one percentage point (e.g. 79 to 80 not 78 to 80).


Eight pop quizzes will be distributed throughout the semester.

2. Blog (Writing & Picture) Assignment

This assignment asks you to select some topic discussed in class and readings, to explain or add to that topic, and to incorporate a picture or video (of your own creation) into that explanation.

This assignment requires three components: a media component, a written component, and an assessment component.

  1. The media component can be any multimedia object, e.g. picture, video, poster, music, etc. but it must be of your own creation.
  2. The written component consists of text where you explain, clarify, or expound upon some argument or concept discussed in the lessons or in the text.
  3. The assessment component is a question that a moderately intelligent person would be able to answer after interacting with your written and media components.

Media Component

Please include all of the following:
1. A multimedia object created by you.
2. Your Name
3. Title of your multimedia object.
4. Short Description of multimedia object (basically data about your object, e.g. if it was a photograph, where did you take the photograph.

Written & Assessment Components

Please include all of the following:

Unit 1
1. The lesson # and section # to which your media and written components apply.
2. The full citation and pages numbers in the text to which your media and written components apply.
3. A 300-word essay where you:
3a. introduce a single argument or concept discussed in the readings and the lessons (you will need to present the argument and give a clear explanation of each of the premises),
3b. further clarify this argument or concept with an example of your own,
3c. explain how your media component bears on this argument or concept, e.g. helps explain one of the premises.
4. A multiple-choice question (with at least four answers A, B, C, D, and the indicated correct answer) that could be answered by reading your essay and viewing your picture.

Unit 2
This assessment is identical to the one in Unit 1 except:
1. your written component should be 400 words
2. you should offer a possible criticism of your explanation of an argument or concept.

Unit 3
This assessment is identical to the one in Unit 1 except:
1. your written component should be 500 words
2. you should offer a possible criticism of your explanation of an argument or concept.
3. you should respond to this criticism by explaining why the objection is misplaced, mistaken, or relies on a false assumption.


There will be three exams in this course. The format of each of exam will consist of multiple-choice / true-false questions with some short answer questions.

These exams will cover:

  1. basic content found in the readings and lessons
  2. higher-level content discussed in class
  3. contributed student content added to lessons from blog (picture & writing) assignments

In preparing for the exam, a couple suggestions:

  1. Take good notes. While I distribute a lot of written material, these materials are not exhaustive.
  2. Attend the review session. During the day of the review session, I will (i) talk about the format of the exam and (ii) point out some blog submissions that I have added to the lesson content.



Aug.25 Getting to Know You Exercise None
27 Elements of Logic None None
29 Environmental Problems, I EP 1-8
3 Environmental Problems, II EP 8-15
5 Environmental Problems, III EP 15-19
8 Causes of Environmental Problems, I EP 23-30
10 Causes of Environmental Problems, II EP 30-37 (skim 32-34)
12 Solutions to Problems: Voting EP 39-50
15 Solutions to Problems: Pricing EP 50-57
17 Objections to Market Solutions EP 57-62
19 Solutions to Problems: Consequentialism EP 63-76
22 Solutions to Problems: Rights EP 76-84
24 Solutions to Problems: Virtue Theory EP 84-92 Picture Assignment
26 Blog Entry Due Blog Entry Due Blog Entry Due
29 Review Day Review Day Review Day
Oct. 1 Exam Exam Exam

OPTION A - Focus on Animals, Turn to Nature


Oct.1 Animals: Reagan, & Singer EP93-104
3 Animals: Skepticism & Pain EP104-111
6 Animals: Liberation & Welfare EP111-119
8 Human Exceptionalism EA1-25
10 Who is Considerable? EA25-33
13 Theoretical Frameworks EA33-43
15 Natural & Speciesism EA44-55
17 Humans & Persons, Agents & Patients EA55-64
20 The Argument from Marginal Cases EA64-75
22 Eating Animals EA76-86
24 Against Factory Farms EA86-92
27 Eating Animals EA92-104
29 Animals in Captivity EA130-151
31 Wild Animals & Pets EA151-162
Nov.3 Blog Entry Due Blog Entry Due Blog Entry Due
5 Review Day Review Day Review Day
7 Exam 2 Exam 2 Exam 2


10 Life, I EP 121-129
12 Life, II EP 129-138
14 Life, III EP 139-146
17 Rivers EP 147-153
19 Species, I EP 153-164
21 Species, II EP 164-169
Dec.1 Land EP 169-178
3 Deep Ecology & Two Objections EP 179-184
5 Ecology & Philosophy EP184-193 Picture Assignment
8 Picture Assignment Review None Study
10 No Class Study Study
12 Exam 3 Exam 3 Exam 3

OPTION B - Discuss Animals, Turn to Nature with a discussion of Beauty


Oct.3 Animals: Reagan, & Singer EP 93-104
6 Animals: Skepticism & Pain EP 104-111
8 Animals: Liberation & Welfare EP 111-119
10 Life, I EP 121-129
13 Life, II EP 129-138
13? Life, III EP 139-146
15 Rivers EP 147-153
17 Species, I EP 153-164
20 Species, II EP 164-169
22 Land EP 169-178
24 Deep Ecology & Two Objections EP 179-184
27 Ecology & Philosophy EP184-193
29 Deep Ecology & Human Beings EP193-203
31 Blog Entry Due Blog Entry Due
Nov. 3 Review Review
5 Exam 2 Exam 2 Exam 2


7 Value 205-209
10 Intrinsic Value 210-216
12 Intrinsic Value, the Environment, and Biocentric Egalitarianism 216-221
14 Subjective and Objective 222-228
17 Art, Nature, and Formalism 229-237
19 Moderate Views on Beauty 237-243
21 Beauty, Faking Nature, Values, & Ornament 243-251
Dec. 1 A World Without People 253-261
3 People and Values 261-264
5 Future Generations 265-276
8 Blog Entry Due Blog Entry Due Blog Entry Due
10 Review Review Review
12 Exam 3 Exam 3 Exam 3

Last Updated: 6/16/2014