PHIL 4800 Nature Revisited:
Environmental Issues in Philosophical Perspective

Abbreviated Title: Nature Revisited

Catalogue Description: Analysis of historically lodged perspectives on nature, wilderness, and environmental management in light of contested issues concerning restoration, conservation, preservation, and wise use practices. Application of abstract analysis to concrete regional issues. For prospective teachers interested in broadening the capacity of students to respect and value their place in nature. (LIBS Integrative: Humanistic Inquiry)

Expanded Course Description: Analysis of historically lodged perspectives on nature, with special focus on evolving conceptions of wilderness and how these conceptions frame our discussion of contested issues concerning restoration, conservation, preservation, "wise use" practices, and other competing paradigms of environmental management. This course will also emphasize the application of abstract analysis to concrete regional issues concerning water, wildlife habitat, agriculture and farmland, and national park management. Our main goals will be to broaden our sense of the place and workings of nature, to expand our sense of responsibility and belonging, and to investigate interdisciplinary connections between science and philosophy as a basis for appreciating the larger context of factual analysis, the complexity of one's environment, the complex interrelatedness of natural phenomena, and the significance of these insights for human and natural well-being. This course is designed for students who are interested in broadening the capacity of others to respect and value their place in nature. (LIBS Integrative: Humanistic Inquiry)

Topical Course Outline:

1. Conceptions of Nature in Historical/Cultural Perspective (2 wks)

a. Nature as Contested Terrain
b. Muir vs. Pinchot: Preservation or Conservation?
c. Olmsted's Constructions of Nature
d. Leopold's Land-Use Ethic (Conceptual Foundations)

2. Evolving Conceptions of Wilderness (2 wks)

a. Cronon: Rethinking Wilderness
b. Klaver: Silent Wolves and the Call of the Wild
c. Graber: Resolute Biocentrism (Wilderness as a National Park)

3. Practical Issues: Habitat in the Central Valley and High Sierra (3 wks)

a. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (San Luis Wildlife Refuge)
b. Dan Williams: SJV Endangered Species Recovery Programs
c. Grassland Environmental Education Center (Los Banos)
d. California Oak Foundation
e. Stanislaus River habitat issues
f. Yosemite National Park environmental issues (Draft Plan)
g. Central Valley Permaculture Group (CSUS Bio-Ag Project)
h. American Farmland Trust
i. Agricultural Land Conservation in the Great Central Valley
j. Green Fields/Brown Skin (Pesticide Use in Valley Agriculture)

4. Changing Conceptions of Nature (Recent Influences): (3 weeks)

a. Refinements in Leopold's Land-Use Ethic (Sustainable development)
b. Norton's Health Management Paradigm for Self-Organizing Systems
c. Worster on Perturbations, Change, and Disorder
d. Nabhan on Cultural Parallax (Viewing North American Habitats)
e. Ethical Perspectives on Ecological Restoration

5. Group Project Presentations and Analysis (3 wks)

Teaching Methods: Each class emphasizes careful discussion-based analysis of assigned reading. The pedagogical goal of the course is to promote broad student participation in rigorous reflective analysis, using the following instructional methods:

Course Assignments and Grading Breakdown

(1) 20% of your grade will reflect your performance on the following assignments:

a) short in-class writing assignments that draw on assigned readings covered since the last quiz (you should expect to write at least once a week for 10-15 minutes at the beginning of class)

b) participation in small group breakout sessions and class discussion

(2) 20% of your semester grade will reflect the quality of your critical reflections in a philosophical journal. There should be at least 10 sustained entries and 3000 words (or roughly 15 double-spaced, typed pages, though the entries need not be typed). Your critical reflections should be addressed to ideas or concepts encountered in the assigned readings and can take any one of the following forms:

a) elabortion of the significance of these ideas for your understanding of a pertinent perspective on nature, wilderness, or environmental management.

b) critical perspective on these ideas or concepts derived from other assigned readings in the course, or based on critical points developed in class discussions.

c) personal critical reactions to these ideas or concepts, reflecting your own analysis (including reasons for privileging your own perspective).

(3) 20% of your semester grade will be based on two short papers (which should be approximately 750 words each). Note: Students may opt for a final exam in lieu of the two short papers.

(4) 40% of your semester grade will be based on a thematic paper (1500 words) in which you identify, develop and discuss a main theme from the course in relation to a group research project. You should include explicit references from the readings and some critical analysis exhibiting several pertinent perspectives on the theme you have chosen to address. You will be expected to contribute to an in-class presentation based on your group research project, and the scope of your contribution will be factored into your grade on the thematic paper.

(5) 20% of your grade will be based on your final exam if you choose this option in lieu of the two short papers. The final will consist of two one-hour essays, in response to questions developed from a set of study questions distributed to you one week prior to the exam. The final exam can also be taken by students who have received an average grade of B+ or lower on the two short papers and in-class writings (in which case you may elect to deduct 10% each from your quiz and short paper grades, or apply the final exam grade in place of your average grade on the quizzes or two short papers).

Student Learning Objectives

To earn a passing grade in this class, students must exhibit basic, rudimentary capacity in all ten of the following skills, and show obvious competence in at least two or three. Students exhibiting obvious competence in more than half of these capacities will generally earn a "B" level grade; the "A" level is for students who exhibit obvious competence in all of these capacities and mastery in more than half:

1. Articulate conceptual thoughts in group discussion and writing

2. Exhibit thoughtful reflection in responsive writing

3. Identify central issues, assumptions, conclusions and points of emphasis in a thoughtful piece of writing

4. Identify environmental themes inviting philosophical analysis

5. Articulate concepts of nature in relation to context (including relevant historical, cultural and philosophical context )

6. Apply interpretive skills to the study of thoughtful writings about "nature" and "wilderness" in the production of sound expository writing

7. Provide synthetic analysis of a philosophical position about "nature" or "wilderness" distilled from the assigned readings

8. Exhibit capacity for critical analysis by raising and addressing relevant "why" questions, and by identifying key relations between relevant facts and showing what these relations imply

9. Perform abstract analysis on practical matters and draw viable conclusions

10. Identify false dichotomies and key elements of complexity


"Rudimentary capacity" means: the capacity is present in an ill-structured form, remaining largely implicit to the reader or listener rather than explicitly apparent in the expression itself.

"Obvious competence" means: the capacity is present explicitly, though not yet in an impressive form; creativity is evident, but primarily an analysis adopted from the readings and discussion.

"Mastery" means: the capacity is present in a strong and impressive form, showing a talent for creative synthesis and analysis, for clear and accurate readings presented in the student's own voice, reflecting compelling arguments based on well-supported points.