Environmental Ethics: Ethics for a Damaged Planet

4-week session | May 17-June 10
Monday/Wednesday/Thursday, 1-4:10 p.m.
3 credits

Online course


Frederic Neyrat
Associate Professor and Mellon-Morgridge Professor of Planetary Humanities, Department of English

Course Description

“Anthropocene,” “Capitalocene,” “Necrocene,” “Anthrobscene,” even “Chthulucene:” New words abound to describe a global situation in which developed human societies are recognized as a major geomorphological force. But what are the ethical consequences of such power?

Since Descartes, human beings have been cast as “masters” (and “possessors”) of nature. The problem, as philosopher Hans Jonas has argued, is that it’s difficult for human beings to “master their mastery,” that is to say, to control their technological and industrial power.

Yes, human beings have the power to do wonderful things, they can improve health, they can preserve what has to be protected, but they can also destroy biodiversity, turn climate into a global danger, and deeply damage the planet.

This course focuses on key concepts in philosophy in order to consider what models of ethical responsibility might allow for the just and wise treatment of human beings, nonhuman life, the planet, and the weather.

We will also consider how affect crosses with philosophy: How might the wonder and horror we feel in response to cascading environmental problems impact — in good or bad ways — efforts toward just and/or wise environmental philosophy?

With thinkers H. Arendt, R. Braidotti, J. Baird Callicott, P. Crutzen, A. Ghosh, A. Harrison, D. Haraway, H. Jonas, I. Kant, D. Luciano, M. Malm, S. Moore and P. Robbins, E. Lévinas, F. Nietzsche, M. Nussbaum, H. Rolston III, C. Sagan, P. Singer, we will question our responsibility vis-à-vis the Blue Marble, human beings, and non-human forms of life.

Drawing on the concepts introduced during each session, we will explore films and documentaries (“District 9,” “Ghost in the Shell 2,” “Grizzly Man,” “Leviathan,” “Meek’s Cutoff”) to reveal their ethical — or unethical — significations.

Fulfills Environmental Studies


Counts Toward

Sustainability Certificate

UW Designations


Humanities or Social Science