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PHIL 333: Topics

Picking a Topic

Many of these topics are too broad and need to be narrowed in order to have a good short paper. You are encouraged to discuss the topics with your professor, other professors, and students. You may also propose topics of your own. You may find the below links useful in finding your own topics. If you would prefer, you can also choose a topic from the lists on this page.

Theoretical Topics

Intrinsic Value (defended by Holmes Rolston, rejected by Bryan Norton);
Inherent Worth (the preferred term for J. Baird Callicott and others).  How does it differ from intrinsic value? 
Respect for Life (Albert Schweitzer, Holmes Rolston);
Altruism in Nature;
Respect for Nature (Paul Taylor);
Biodiversity;
Reproductive Success and “Selfish” Genes;
Does the environment have resource value only?  Does it have noninstrumental value?;
How does a theory of value connect to actions (duties, or what ought to be done)?;
Anthropocentrism;
Ethics based on aesthetics (Eugene Hargrove);
Integrity (Laura Westra);
Ecofeminism;
Patriarchy;
Radical Ecofeminism (see Carolyn Merchant,  Radical Ecology);
Anarchy  (Murray Bookchin);
Marxism;
Nation states, patriotism and the Environment;
The Land Ethic (Aldo Leopold; J. Baird Callicott; Rolston);
Radical ecologies--Deep Ecology (Arne Naess);
Social Ecology (Murray Bookchin);
Radical Ecofeminism;
Native American Ecology;
Native American views;
Conflict Resolution;
“Balance” in Nature;
Sustainability;
Catastrophic Change;
Natural Extinction;
Is “Species” a Natural Kind? 
Do only individuals exist? 
Is “Species” a theoretical notion that doesn’t exist in the real world? 
What is the value of a species? 
Why isn’t the value in individuals? 
Psychological criteria of value (rationality, self-consciousness, sentience, etc.). 
See the article by Don VanDeVeer; 
Animal Rights vs. Animal Liberation (compare-contrast Regan and Singer);
Religion and Environmental Ethics.  Who’s to blame?  Does religion help/hurt? 
Is science value neutral? 
Is it possible to do pure research without concern for values and ethics?;
Wilderness: What is it? Does it exist?  Did it ever exist?  Is it gone forever? Can it be restored? 
Kristin Shrader-Frechette (a woman philosopher from the bluegrass);
Evelyn Pluhar on animal rights (a woman philosopher from the mountains of Kentucky)

Practical Topics

In order to earn an “A” on these papers, at least two aspects of the topic must be discussed.  First, the facts of the case/issue need to be anaylized.  This is the part of the paper that is basically descriptive and scientific.  Second, the relevance of ethics (or, more broadly, philosophy) needs to be discussed.  For instance, you might discuss the case/issue from the point of view of different theories (such as, intrinsic value, respect for life, animal rights, sentience, etc.).

—Choose a listed species (Red Cockaded Woodpecker, Virginia Big-Earred Bat, American Chestnut trees, etc., including plants and insects) and discuss its plight and what can be done to save it.
—Takings (Should private property owners be reimbursed?);
—Pets, pet ethics, euthanasia Endemic species vs. introduced species (bluegrass; Kudzu, horses, cattle, exotics)
—Agriculture and Farming Issues: sustainability, pesticides, tobacco, waste disposal, erosion, run off, etc.; alternatives to tobacco; cooperatives; farmers’ markets
—The private automobile--Other options, such as, walking, bicycles, mass transit, horses
—Some law and its impact locally (e.g., Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, etc.)
—Some policy and it impact locally (such as US Forest Service policies and the Boone; “Multiple Use”; the revision of the DBNF Plan)
—Animal Research and Experimentation (usage of animals in labs at MSU, animal research policies at MSU, dissection, etc.)
—Mining, Logging, Oil Refining, etc., in Kentucky or Appalachia; Private Tree Farms vs. US Forest; Timber Sales to Foreign Countries; Industrial uses of wood; alternative housing; Christmas tree farms
—The simple life (eutopian visions) vs. urban living and high tech
—Environmental and Moral Education; Caves; Mammoth Cave, etc.
—The Indigenous Peoples of Kentucky (Native Americans in Kentucky) and their usage of nature (e.g., burning to create and maintain grasslands for deer, buffalo, elk, etc.).
—Native Fishes of Kentucky; Game Fishes in Kentucky; Clearcutting in Kentucky
—Recreational use of nature--lots of topics: ORVs, jet skis, gearhead camping, etc.; Are recreation and tourism the solution to Appalachian poverty?
—Reintroducing a species--Peregrine Falcon, Canadian Geese, bears, wolves, etc.
—Cleaning Up Waste Sites--Bluegrass Army Depot; Maxie Flats; the corner gas station
—Do an investigation of some business, such as, R.J. Reynolds, Ashland Oil, etc.
—Migratory birds in Kentucky; Migratory insects (Monarch butterfly)
—Likely impact of the Greehouse Effect on Eastern Kentucky
—Water Issues--Quality, Sources, Policies and Regulations
—“Clean” Technologies (wind-generated electricity, solar energy) for Kentucky
—Wendell Berry’s defense of the small farm; M. K. Gandhi’s defense of the small village
—Free market Capitalism; Poverty and Development; Vegetarianism; Hunting; Predators
—Immigration and Overpopulation--For example, Harry Caudill’s claim the Eastern Kentucky is overpopulated and folks need to move out.
—Choose a person and write a paper about their contributions.  For example:  Aldo Leopold; Rachel Carson; Evelyn Pluhar or Kristin Shrader-Frechette, women philosophers from Eastern Kentucky; Wendell Berry; Wes Jackson; Gene Logsdon; Henry David Thoreau; John Muir (Muir’s Thousand-Mile Walk crossed Kentucky, from Louisville to the Cumberland Gap); Leo Tolstoy; etc. 
—Environmental Racism (why do poor and minority communities suffer more than others?)
—Risk assessment and environmental ethics
—The Rio Summit and its policies; Horse racing (from an animal rights perspective; or, from an environmental perspective); Ecological terrorism; Frances Moore Lappé