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Images of Nature: A Philosophical Introduction to an Environmental Ethics

Lecturer: Cameron Shingleton

Originally Taught: Evening Sem 1 2008

Philosophical Introduction to An Environmental Ethics presents a thorough survey of the origins, development and fragmentation of ethical life with a view to addressing the environmental dilemmas of the present. In dealing with the history of ethics it will touch on the images of nature at the core of several Western and non-Western bodies of thought, from Buddhism to Stoicism to Spinoza’s pantheism. In addressing the present, which confronts dual ethical and environmental difficulties of sizeable proportions, the question will be: how might past thought and practice be invented anew so as to give shape to meaningful contemporary forms of existence? The course is designed to give a sense of the way history and philosophy can be points of orientation in facing the acute environmental difficulties of the present. It is aimed at all who feel that a pragmatic response to environmental issues can be complemented by a re-vitalised cultural sense of human beings’ place within nature.


Week 2:Week 1:
- Images of Nature - An Introduction
- Asceticism and its Meanings. Nietzsche and Morality

- Redner, An Introduction
- The Past and Present of Ethical Cultures. Ethos/Ethics

Week 3:
- Redner’s “Morality”
- “Buddhist Nature”

Week 4:
- Civic Ethics
- Ethics of Honour

Week 5:
- Ethics of Duty
- The Stoic Image of Nature

Week 6:
- Comparisons 1 (death, sex, commerce)
- Comparisons 21 (nature)

Week 7:
- Purism and Puritanism – The Ethic of Ascetic Protestantism
- The Spirit of Capital and the Transformation of Nature

Week 8:
- The Spheres Disjointed – Secularisation, Rationalisation
- Philosophical Tangent - Introduction to Spinoza

Week 9:
- Spinoza’s Pantheism: Nature or God, or Reason
- Modernity Hits Its Straps. Demoralisation, Disenchantment


Week 10:
- The Spirit of the Laws – Ethics and The State
- Environment/State/Bureaucracy

Week 11:
- Ethics and Civil Society
- Mass Consummer Individualism, or - The Individual as Anti-Nature

Week 12:
- The Apotheosis of Technique
- Globalisation, Culture, Environment
- Conclusion

The main text for the course will be:

H. Redner, Ethical Life: The History and Present of Ethical Cultures - significant selections from which will be included in the course reader. Redner’s text begins with the argument that the history of ethics can be understood from the point of view of 4 historical/ethical ideal-types, dubbed by the author morality, civic ethics, the ethics of honour and the ethics of duty. It then goes on to deal with the historical development of each and their unique unravelling in the modern era. Some acquaintance with any or all four “ethical traditions” would be an advantage for course-goers, though the course itself will attempt to provide systematic and vivid introductions to each, with special emphasis on the images/concepts of nature that each makes possible. In descending order of importance, other useful texts for advance reading would be:

  • G. Monbiot, “A Faustian Pact” and “Love Miles” from Heat: How to stop the planet burning
  • F. Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals Essay no.3
  • M. Weber, “Ancient Buddhism” from Indian Religion
  • M. Weber, The Protestant Work Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism
  • H. Redner, Conserving cultures: technology, globalisation, and the future of local cultures
  • Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
  • P. Hadot, “Marcus Aurelius” from Philosophy as a way of life
  • M. Arnold, “Spinoza and The Bible”
  • Spinoza, Ethics
  • H. Jonas, The imperative of responsibility: in search of an ethics for the technological age

Evening Sem 1 2008