PHIL-123: Ethics of Climate Change

Professor: James Olsen

No matter how you look at it, climate change is a mess. What on earth (or in the atmosphere!) should we do? How should we go about doing it? And who is we? Governments? Institutions? Individuals like you and me? No matter how you answer these questions or any of the other myriad questions related to climate change, the answers are ultimately moral ones. Justifying that claim is one of the central goals of this class. Since your lifestyle and behavior (if not your Facebook feed) already–intentionally or not– makes moral claims and takes up moral positions with regard to climate change, another course goal is to examine those moral claims and positions (i.e. your claims and positions as well as those staked out by the rest of humanity) in order to try and determine which are justified and which aren’t.

The first module in this course will consider arguments by philosophers on why climate change is such an intractable problem and what our personal and collective obligations are in the face of this challenge. Climate change will be our constant focus, but in addition we’ll talk about ethics more generally, obligations to humans that exist and those that don’t but likely will in the future, what cost-benefit analysis can and can’t tell us, and what the nature of responsibility is and what this means for governments, institutions, and individuals.

The second module will look at climate change within the greater question of moral relationship between humans and nonhuman nature. We’ll look at responses to the anthropocene, issues of extinction, geo-engineering, and wilderness.




  • Categories:
    2017 Fall Semester, 2018 Fall Semester, Philosophy
  • Fall
    Module A and B

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