Fall 2012

The Value of Nature


Joseph G. Moore (Section 01)


Our impact on the environment has been large, and in recent decades the pace of change has clearly accelerated. Many species face extinction, forests are disappearing, and toxic wastes and emissions accumulate. The prospect of a general environmental calamity seems all too real.

This sense of crisis has spurred intense and wide-ranging debate over what our proper relationship to nature should be. This debate will be the focus of the seminar. Among the questions we shall explore will be: What obligations, if any, do we have to non-human animals, to living organisms like trees, to ecosystems as a whole, and to future generations of humans? Do animals have rights we ought to respect? Is nature intrinsically valuable or merely a bundle of utilities for our benefit? Is there even a stable notion of “what is natural” that can be deployed in a workable environmental ethic? We will investigate these and related questions with readings drawn from literature, philosophy, the social sciences and ecology.

This is a discussion-based seminar, though close attention will also be paid to student writing, both in required papers and in more informal writing assignments. The seminar’s goal is to sharpen our ability to think and write argumentatively, but also flexibly about nature and our attitudes towards it. Accordingly, we will investigate the way that the value of nature is approached in texts of many different types: philosophical, historical, sociological, scientific and literary.

Fall semester.  Professor Moore.

Cost: 75.00 ?


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2017