Course code:



IM - Introductory/Intermediate

Class size limit:


Meets the following requirements:

  • HS - Human Studies

Lab fee:


Typically offered:

Every other year

According to CoA’s website, Human Ecology studies the relationship between humans and their natural, cultural, built and technological environments. But what do we mean by “nature”, and what distinguishes a natural environment from a cultural one? Moreover, what kind of relationships should we cultivate with our natural environments? This discussion-based course offers a philosophical and ethical exploration into the concept of nature. We will draw on a variety of readings from environmental ethics, ecofeminism, deep ecology, American philosophy, Taoism, and Post-Structuralism in order to critically interrogate our understanding of nature, as well as our ethical beliefs regarding human responsibility to the natural world. We will read selections from thinkers such as Aristotle, Carolyn Merchant, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ramachandra Guha, Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Arne Naess, Val Plumwood, Kate Soper, Mark Sagoff, Vandana Shiva, Gary Snyder, Henry David Thoreau, Lao Tzu, Terry Tempest Williams, and others.

In the first half of the course, we will examine different philosophical frameworks that theorize the idea of nature and environmental responsibility. Guiding questions include the following: What is “nature”? How is the concept of nature politicized and socially constructed? Do we have moral obligations to nature? How should humans relate to nature? What assumptions drive the conceptual distinction between humans and nature? During the second half of the course, we will pivot our attention to specific ethical topics such as: control over natural resources, environmental justice, the land ethic, rights for non-human objects, wilderness, and sustainability and consumption. Throughout the course, we will revisit questions pertaining to philosophy and environmental activism, and we will consider how philosophy can help us to articulate our ethical responsibilities to our natural environments.

Upon completion of this course, students will have gained a richer philosophical understanding of the idea of nature and they will be familiar with key debates in environmental ethics. Course requirements include weekly writing assignments, a midterm exam, a final paper, and class participation.


There are no prerequisites, but students should arrive to this class prepared to engage difficult philosophical texts and to share their ideas with others.

Always visit the Registrar's Office for the official course catalog and schedules.