Category Archives: Environmental Ethics

Reading theory….

Thinking Cat (1)

No matter which course you’re taking, you’ll have to read articles about “theory” — in ethics, it’s ethical theory — in Intro to Philosophy it also includes theories about mind-body, free will, God etc..

The thing about these articles that is similar is that the philosopher has an idea, and they’re trying to put that idea down on paper — sometimes it works well, other times it’s a bit more difficult to understand what they’re thinking or trying to say..

So — some hints and tips..

  • Read all parts of the assignment, the introductions and conclusions — the foonotes etc.. because you’ll often find clues there.
  • Google the word, idea, or concept that seems central for another point of view on it…
  • Skim the assignment first trying to get the general idea.  Figure out how the parts of the article and argument go together.
  • Go back and read carefully — taking notes as you go… write down each major move in your own words, and why the philosopher thinks that’s a good move.  As you’re going, write down objections and questions you have — since those will be useful later.
  • When you’re done reading and taking notes, look at your notes — do they make sense?  If you had to use them to teach someone else what you just read, could you do it?  If not, go back and check to make sure your notes reflect what you read…
  • Then, think about ways that theory connects to the world around you — put it in context for you… (this is a good way to start a mid-term and final paper assignment… ).

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How to get started on those assignments… Fall 15..

you go girl

To start, the first week is a bit wonky, there are a couple of extra things to do — because 1) I want you to get to know the course, and 2) we have a college-required assessment project and your responses are necessary… I’m only going to cover the normal weekly assignments here.

Read This” — that’s your reading assignment.  Plan to do it over time — philosophy is hard, and you have to think about it… don’t think about it like you would reading a regular book, it’s not like that.  As you read, take notes — write in the margin, and generally engage with what you’re reading.  If it all becomes a blur to you after a bit, stop and do something else — I’ve found housework, taking a walk etc… to be very helpful.

Summarize the Readings” — this is where you write a short summary of each reading.  For many weeks, that means a bunch of short summaries — that’s ok. The idea is for you to get the general idea of the reading and write it down — post them all together in one post — it’s due the first Sunday of the unit.

Read and Respond” — the questions are on the class schedule.  Pick one of them, write a short paper about it (1-3 pages or so) and put it in the drop box —It’s also due the first Sunday of the unit, but you may revise until the second Sunday because….

Peer Feedback” — Post either your Summarize the Reading OR your Read and Respond paper into your Peer Feedback group for this unit.  Do this by the first Sunday of the unit as well… then, spend the next week reading and critiquing the work of your group… they’ll do the same for you. Respond to a minimum of 2, and ideally 4 or more posts (or 100% of the other people posting).

When writing peer feedback for Summarize the Readings — pick a couple of summaries out of their larger post and focus on those… tell your peers what works and what could be better…It’s not too hard once you get the hang of it.

Questions and Answers” –During the second week (by Thursday for sure!) post a question you have about the material — it might be something that relates to the material, but is from current events — it might be an aspect of the material you don’t understand etc… but, ask a question, a good question — in about 100 words (or more..).  Then answer a minimum of 2, and ideally 4 other students’ questions before the discussion area closes…

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How to Talk to your professor…

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This is a brilliant site about how to “do” college…

It’s all pretty much common sense to us, the proffies — who have spent most or all of our adult lives in college in one way or the other.. but, you’ll probably find some helpful advice here…

Probably #1, It’s on the syllabus (Class Schedule 🙂 )…. I really do mean that.

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Writing and editing a philosophy paper… hints and tips

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Disclaimer — I’m a philosophy Ph.D, not a writing professor — it’s quite possible that you’ve had better advice about how to write papers elsewhere — and that advice is probably right, if it works for you.  Below is what has worked for me over philosophy courses between about 1088 and 2002 — and then in writing my dissertation from 2002-2010… your mileage may vary — but, if you adapt these ideas and write a good paper, it works — if your paper sucks, then find other ways… there are plenty of places on the internet that will help you write, go find one that works…

the BIG questions answered up top..

Page numbers in an assignment are guidelines, and assume you are double-spacing a paper at 12 point Times New Roman font.  

You can choose ANY citation format.  Philosophy officially doesn’t care.  Most students use MLA or APA, but we don’t care which you use.

No, you can’t have an extension — IF your class has a one late paper policy, you can use it.

Before Writing

  • You start with the question — if you’re given one (like in most of your short paper prompt) great — then, ask what it means… what every part of the prompt means, this isn’t a multiple-choice thing, you need to answer the whole paper prompt.
  • Have an on-paper brainstorming session — sit down with a pen and a blank piece of paper.  Write key words for each of the paper prompt on the paper and write down all of your thoughts about each one.
  • Turn your paper brainstorming into an outline — it will probably follow the path of the paper prompt, but maybe not.
  • Do main sections for each part of the paper prompt — maybe putting each of those sections on a separate piece of paper… now, put the stuff you wrote down into an outline that starts at the beginning of how you’d like to write the paper and working down.  
  • Ask yourself what’s missing — where do you need quotes of philosophers, where do you need more analysis, where should you insert stuff you read from your classmates etc.  
  • Fill what’s missing into the outline… it may help to do the outline on note cards, so you can easily rearrange the points.
  • Gather all the stuff you’re missing — use post-it notes as bookmarks if you want to use philosophers in your text.  If you’ve found online sources outside of the class, then gather them in a set of bookmarks on your computer.  If you’re using quotes from classmates, copy them into one document and make sure keep track of where you found it.
  • When you’re gathering sources from elsewhere, make sure you have enough information to make a citation… I usually do this by keeping track of the author’s name, where I found it, and when their information was published.

Writing

  • Write the introductory paragraph, outlining your paper –something like, “I’m going to prove that Macs are superior to PCs by explaining that Macs are easier to use, are less vulnerable to computer viruses, and their hardware is more durable.” — notice that I gave a conclusion “Macs are superior to PCs”, and three reasons (premises) for why that is the case.  At this point, you have three main sections to develop — and then a concluding paragraph to write.  
    • It’s important to note that the introductory paragraph may change as you write the paper, but if you’re working from a good outline, it may not change much..
  • Write the body of the paper — a few things that have helped me:
    • Use a color to denote places you’ve used the words of others — it may be one color for direct quotes and another for paraphrasing.  Pretty much, when you’re looking at another thing and typing, you need to use a color.
    • Insert placeholders for your citations.  If you like parenthetical references, use  something like (Insert ________ info here) — keeping track of what you’re looking at as you type.  Put these notes in RED — so  you’ll see them later.  If you prefer footnotes or endnotes, insert them as you write — they’ll follow the text if you move it — and put the shorthand of the citation in the blank area… The reason for doing it this way is that your brain is in a creative mode, it’s jarring to put citations in right away… besides, you’re going to edit anyway.
  • Keep writing until you think you’re done.  Then, go back and keep writing… you’re going to cut.  Don’t just STOP when you get into the page range… stop when you’re done saying what you need to say.  
  • Write the concluding paragraph, explaining briefly what you did and how you did it.
  • NOW — save it a couple of places, and if you can — print it.
  • This last step is important — walk away.  Physically get up from the computer and walk away — go do something else.  Let  your brain unwind, and give yourself time to think of stuff that should be in the paper — or stuff you need to cut.  I call that part “percolation” — and it’s important.  I tended to put longer stuff in percolation for longer periods etc.. 

Editing the paper

  • Now that the paper is out of percolation, take one of the copies (and make sure you know where the other copies live, just in case disaster strikes at this point) and re-name it something like “Ethics ethical theory paper 1 Patty Courtney” — so, your class name first, the assignment second, your name last.  Putting the course name first will help you find ALL of your work for that course… trust me, you’ll want that system later when you’re looking for a writing sample, something to revise etc.
  • If you can, print out the paper — this really DOES help.. look at it away from the computer screen. 
  • Outline the paper — yep, sounds weird, but make marks in the margin as to which paragraphs go with which parts of your original outline.  Do you spend 6 paragraphs on a sub-point and only one on the main point?  Maybe that needs to change, or maybe you need to revise your opening paragraph to shift the focus of the paper… before you do that, is that shift going to satisfy the assignment?
  • Highlight, with a pen, the quotes — do you have lots of quotes right next to one another without your own analysis in between?  Are you asking your sources to do all of the explaining?  If I wanted that in a paper, I’d just go read your source…. I want to see what YOU think of  your source.  How does it interact with your argument (is it in support or opposition — if it’s opposition, why are they wrong and you right?).  
  • Circle all the places you put in placeholders for the citations.  
  • Find  your pile of references — bring it to the computer.  
  • Adjust the body of the paper so that it makes sense — cut paragraphs if needed, explain more where needed and generally adjust the writing so that it answers the question (remember, it’s all about the question, doncha know? ).
  • Now — look at the form of the paper — a few things to look for (among many):
    • spell-check underlines… and pay attention to what spell-check wants to insert, is it correct, use the dictionary to find out.
    • Missing punctuation — do your in-text quotes have TWO quotation marks?  Do your other uses of quotes fit the style you selected.
    • Informal language — no “lol” — if you’d text it to a buddy, that’s probably not ok language for a formal academic paper.  Also (and this is a biggie) when referring to a philosopher, use their LAST NAME (not their first name… you don’t know them, and there are lots of “Immanuel”s out there in the world, but I think there is only one Kant… use the last name, not the first name — and generally not the whole name.
    • Get the names right — and the names of their theories right… FYI, JS Mill is NOT “Mills”.  
    • It’s your (for things that belong to you) and you’re for (you are).  See other common mistakes all over the internet.
  • Now the body of the paper is how you want it, you’ve adjusted the proportions of the paper and generally you’re (notice that.. hmmm…) happy with the way the paper reads.  At this point, go back and put the citations in — carefully checking the text of the citations one more time.  Follow your style manual, doing your best if you can’t find a way to cite what you’re using — making sure to include basic information.
  • THIS IS IMPORTANT — make sure that EVERY time you use an idea from another person, in the body of your paper, you have something that indicates it’s a quote or paraphrase.  
  • IF you have incomplete citations in the body of the paper (Smith, 97) for example, you MUST make a “works cited” page that includes the full citation.  If you’ve used footnotes or endnotes, that’s not necessary.
  • Once you’ve done all of that — give it another read on your computer.  Fix small errors, adjust the phrasing and generally look carefully at every paragraph.
  • Now –put it in short percolation…
  • When you’re back — give it one more read –quickly this time… does it say what you want to say?  If so, go in and turn everything you’ve colored to black type, no highlighting etc.
  • Save it.
  • Save it someplace else.
  • Close it.
  • Submit it to the dropbox… 

There you go — a million little steps to a decent philosophy paper… 

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How did the course end up this way — or, what’s the bigger picture?

10 rules for teachers and students…

I just read this, and it’s very true — so, I love it — go read it… now…

Ok… now, you’re back and of course you’re wondering how all of this class stuff goes together… 

First of all, Logic is different — in terms of how / where I teach it, what we’re supposed to accomplish and all of that.  So — while the general principles apply to logic too, I’m going to talk about courses that aren’t logic for a bit here… 

  • I constructed the course with the idea that it takes at least 3 exposures to an idea for it to catch in your head.
  • I think that you’ll learn writing skills by writing — hmmm… no shock there.
  • I think that collaborating is a good idea, as is competition.  It’s also a good idea to see how other students think about things, to evaluate their arguments, and to respond to their positions.  Generally, I think an open discussion board is a terrible place to do this (because everyone posts at the last possible minute).  
  • I think that Philosophy is hard.
  • I think that online classes make you (the student) work harder to get the ideas, because you don’t have me to explain it in the traditional lecture setting — and, that you don’t NEED me to do this.  I do explain, in a more Socratic way.. and, as such I think that you’ll need to explore your own ways of gaining information to be successful in the course.  This is a good life skill.  
  • Finally, I think that when you write a formal paper, that you should have already demonstrated some knowledge about the topic and that you’ll have written about it informally before you write about it formally.

So — how does all of this wash out in the class —  you need to think about the activities in the class in this way, 

First you read — then you take a quiz / post  your reading notes… (reading notes lets you see how other folks interpreted the material) — then you write a short read and respond assignment that gets MY feedback (so you can see if you’re on the right track) — you also participate in a general discussion or a debate.  Especially in the debate, you do the collaboration part, the evaluation part, the respond part etc…  Finally, you write some papers and turn them in… 

And, along the way, I hope you learn some philosophy, some critical thinking skills, some writing skills and some research skills… so — go!

 

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Do Animals have rights?

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Yep, I live with that cat… her name is Tera.

The question is whether or not Tera has rights.

It’s clear that I have duties to Tera.  I’m responsible for her well-being, which includes food, a litter box, vet visits and affection.  I have these duties because I decided to take her, that particular cat, into my home.  Those duties continue until she dies or I find another arrangement for her (oddly enough, my ex-husband would like to have her, but she’s happy with me…so…).

The question is, tho — whether she has rights just because she exists?

For human beings, it seems pretty clear that we have rights.  We more or less articulated (i.e. invented) the concept of rights, with the implication that there are some rights that are basic to all human beings.  Exactly what those rights ARE is an open question, but it seems to me that there are at least some concepts within the umbrella of rights that apply to all human beings.

Is it the same for all animals?

I’m still not so sure.  I have plenty of vegetarian and vegan friends.  They decline to consume animal products to some extent.  The vegans will have nothing to do with products that have ingredients that started in animals.  The vegans are a different lot, more often than not they’ll consume some kinds of dairy, sometimes they’ll consume seafood or eggs etc.  For all of them, a juicy steak is right out, but after that they’ll make distinctions.

Maybe they’re right, we ought not eat animals.

I absolutely agree that I have duties to my cats, just as I have duties to my friends and family, but that’s because I made that individual commitment to those beings.  I don’t have duties to strangers (except in extraordinary circumstances) any more than I have duties to a cat across the world.  Or, maybe I’m wrong…

I do tend to agree that we ought not intentionally mis-treat animals.  Factory farms make me uncomfortable.  We have plenty of cosmetics, so we probably ought not test them on animals (and a lot of companies don’t)… but, I’m torn in terms of medical testing.

IF it’s the case that

a) we are humans

b) humans are animals

c) medical procedures tested on other animals can help humans

d) utilitarianism is the strongest support for animal rights (Singer’s a major utilitarian)

then .. it seems that medical testing could produce the greatest overall increase in utility, all BEINGS (humans and animals) considered.

 

 

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Feminism and ethics… the ethics of care..

way-to-feminism

So, feminism — The idea is pretty simple, a person’s sex or gender shouldn’t be the reason to get more benefits or carry heavier burdens than another person.  It’s evolved in many different directions, but in general feminism (now) sees male/female/ambiguous persons as worthy of equal consideration.

How this relates to ethics is a bit more complicated.  Feminists recognize that a person’s point of view is both inescapable AND informs their perceptions of the world.  SO, I’m a white, female, liberal, northern, heterosexual, hippie with a good education.  That means my point of view (or standpoint, as it’s often called) influences how I relate to the world and how I interpret the actions of others.

Everyone does this, there is NO ‘neutral’ point of view.  The problem is that the wealthy, educated, white, male, philosophers and scientists didn’t see this.  They assumed, because they only really talked/worked/collaborated with folks like themselves, that everyone was like them.  Thus, they came up with the idea of objectivity, they thought it was possible AND they thought they were objective.  People who didn’t think like they did were somehow deficient, irrational or otherwise non-functional.  Often that group included all women.

The ethics of care developed when feminists realized that the ‘objective’ point of view was flawed, because objectivity isn’t possible.  SO, anything that has objectivity as a founding premise has a flawed premise.  Systematic means of making moral choices fell into that category, thus they needed to be supplemented or replaced.  The proposed replacement is the Ethics of Care.

Now, don’t get me wrong here — feminists don’t outright reject ethical theory, because of the underlying ideas that we should maximize utility, have good intentions, try to be overall good people, or abide by the social contract — it’s just that they realize that there is another good way to make moral decisions that doesn’t also reject the way that women have been making moral decisions on behalf of their families for generations.

The practice of the Ethics of Care is relatively simple, the idea is that a person can and should make moral decisions within a context.  So, what may be a good decision at one point may not be so good later.  It requires a person to take all impacted persons into account and do the thing that is the best overall for the family, group or person — balancing interests and realizing that sometimes a family needs to make a sacrifice for the good of one person, just as one person may need to make a sacrifice for the good of the group.

The point of the Ethics of Care isn’t to imply that men cannot be moral in that way, only to recognize that traditionally women have been making moral decisions based on the principles of the Ethics of Care for a long time, along the way raising good men and women to go out into the world and do good things.  Until very recently, women have been the ones at home with the family and men have been out there in the ‘real world’ making money etc.. so, it’s traditionally been the case that women have made these decisions.  It would be against feminist principles to assume that men cannot make decisions using the Ethics of Care.

On a personal note, y’all should realize that I’m the main breadwinner in my family — my husband cooks, cleans, does photography etc… and is generally more responsible for the domestic tranquility than am I.  It’s the way things work out between us, and I’m happy that we can make it work that way, because he’s much better at all of that than am I :).

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