Dr. Daniel Doviak, assistant professor of philosophy at Muhlenberg College, invites his environmental philosophy students to study the relationship between humanity and the world they occupy. They explore the theoretical and practical means by which the value of nature is measured, the weight of responsibility to protect the environment in which they live and the duty they have to preserve resources for future generations.
Doviak hopes that students will gain some understanding of the basic theories, concepts and methods used in environmental ethics and develop the ability to construct and evaluate arguments that concern the nature and scope of our obligations towards the environment.
The class hosts a diverse group of students from a wide range of academic disciplines. Public health and philosophy and political thought students often find themselves working alongside peers completing coursework in environmental science and sustainability. Because the class requires no prerequisites, students may enroll with no prior exposure to philosophy.
One of the projects in the course requires students to calculate their carbon and environmental impact against both the average United States and world citizen. They are then asked to assess the steps necessary to reduce their footprints by a significant percentage. As an additional challenge, students are tasked with identifying and defending possible steps that, taken on a global scale, could halt damaging climate change or enable the environment to continue producing needed resources while absorbing wasteful byproducts.
Although he encourages his students to take the environmental concerns seriously, Doviak makes sure that he doesn’t advocate for a particular action path and instead urges students to define their own beliefs.
“I try to find readings and arguments that represent different and competing perspectives,” says Doviak. “If students do end up changing their beliefs and lifestyles as a result of taking this class, those changes are ones they've chosen and deem reasonable after weighing all of the evidence for themselves."
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