The World Around Us: Philosophy and the Environment

October 3

Start Date



75 mins

class length

40-60 mins

Weekly Video

$375 CAD

course fee


Each year is a new year of broken records. New record temperatures. New records in the destructiveness of hurricanes and wildfires. New records in atmospheric carbon and deforestation. It’s impossible not to think about the environment these days. Let’s learn to think about it with the breadth and depth that the issue demands.

This course draws on a diverse mix of readings that investigate the ethical, political, aesthetic, and spiritual dimensions of environmental philosophy. We’ll do more than look for solutions. We’ll learn new ways of thinking about the problems—and in the process, learn new ways of thinking about the world around us and our place in it.

What is included in the course?

We will meet on ten consecutive weekdays (plus a first organizational meeting). There are three class meeting times* :

  • Tuesdays: 6pm Pacific • 9pm Eastern • 9am/10am Wednesday in China & Singapore (sold out)
  • Wednesdays: 11am Pacific • 2pm Eastern • 7pm Ireland & UK • 8pm Europe (sold out)
  • Thursdays: 11am Pacific • 2pm Eastern • 7pm Ireland & UK • 8pm Europe

Each class is 75 minutes long and will be supplemented by a 40–60 minute video lecture and short reading guide made available in advance. Read course FAQs.

The Tuesday and Wednesday sessions are now fully enrolled. If you would like to be placed on a waitlist for either session, please email me.

* Changes in daylight savings time will cause a shift in schedule for participants outside North America in late October and early November


Each week we will read a selected text, usually between 20 and 30 pages long. These readings will be made available in PDF format through the course website.

Course Overview

Week 0 (Oct 3/4/5): Organizational meeting

We get to know one another a little and go over various organizational matters so that we can hit the ground running the following week.

Week 1 (Oct 10/11/12): William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness”

When we think about “the environment,” it’s common to picture unspoiled wilderness, untouched by human presence. But the idea of a “wilderness” that’s set apart from history and politics is both naïve and dangerous, says Cronon. A sound environmentalism shouldn’t imagine the human and natural worlds as mutually exclusive.

Week 2 (Oct 17/18/19): Aldo Leopold, “The Land Ethic”

Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, published in 1949, shaped the next half-century of American environmental thinking. He advocates a “land ethic,” where our moral obligations extend not just to other humans but to the land itself. In this week, we’ll also consider other arguments about the scope of our moral concern. What does it mean to say that non-sentient beings like plants or non-living things like mountains or rivers deserve moral consideration?

Week 3 (Oct 24/25/26): Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology”

Human technology has placed a great strain on the environment. In this seminal essay, Heidegger traces the roots of our concept of technology. He argues that technology, in its essence, is a way of relating to the world—one that treats the world as a resource to be exploited. If we want to heal ourselves and our planet, we’ll need to rethink our way of relating to the world at a deep level. In this week, we’ll also consider deep ecology, a movement which drew significant influence from Heidegger.

Week 4 (Oct 31/Nov 1/2): Val Plumwood, “Nature, Self, and Gender”

Mainstream approaches to environmental thinking preserve the rationalistic mindset that is at the root of our environmental crisis, says Plumwood. This mindset has also underpinned gender hierarchies and the oppression of women. Plumwood is one of the foremost ecofeminist thinkers, and she argues that we should consider environmental and feminist issues together.

Week 5 (Nov 7/8/9): Robin Wall Kimmerer, “The Honorable Harvest”

Kimmerer has a PhD in plant ecology as well as a deep knowledge of indigenous American traditions based in her own Potowatomi heritage. In this excerpt from her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, she explores what it means to harvest plants and animals in a sustainable manner that honours and gives back to the land.

Week 6 (Nov 14/15/16): Christopher D. Stone, “Should Trees Have Standing?”

Traditionally, the plaintiff in a legal case must be a human being. Can we attribute legal rights to trees, rivers, or mountains? In this landmark law review article from 1972, Stone argues that we can. We’ll explore the merits of his argument as well as more recent developments, notably in New Zealand, where the Te Urewera region and the Whanganui River have been granted legal personhood in accordance with Māori traditions.

Week 7 (Nov 21/22/23): Ramachandra Guha and Joan Martinez-Alier, “The Environmentalism of the Poor”

Conservation is commonly misperceived as a “first-world problem,” wherein rich and mostly white people cordon off certain lands from development. But this idea of conservation overlooks the various ways in which the poor in the Global South have struggled—often against powerful rich-world business interests—to steward the land that they live on. This “environmentalism of the poor” introduces a different way of thinking about conservation—one that has important implications for the rich as well.

Week 8 (Nov 28/29/30): Murray Bookchin, “The Concept of Social Ecology”

The ways we think about the natural world and about human society often influence and reinforce one another. For instance, a common way of thinking about natural selection, where different organisms compete for scarce resources, harmonizes with capitalist ideas about free markets and competition. Bookchin advocates a transformation of how we imagine both nature and human society, one that abandons notions of hierarchy and domination. According to Bookchin, we must address social problems and environmental problems together.

Week 9 (Dec 5/6/7): Stephen M. Gardiner, “A Perfect Moral Storm”

Climate change has been described as the defining challenge for our age. Gardiner argues that the challenge is a steep one. It will require international cooperation and present sacrifices for future generations, both of which leave ample room for free riding and backsliding. Gardiner uses models from game theory to spell out the scale of the problem.

Week 10 (Dec 12/13/14): Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “Religion and the Resacralization of Nature”

We’re living in an age of accelerating environmental crises. What’s gone wrong? Could secularization be part of the problem? What we’ve lost, argues Nasr, is a sense of the Earth as sacred. We conclude the course by considering his plea for a resacralization of nature.

Course Price

Past Student Experience

Join my mailing list

Receive occasional updates and monthly newsletters from David Egan Philosophy straight to your inbox

Explore More

Upcoming Courses

View entire list of upcoming courses available to join

Past Courses

Check out summaries from past courses.

Share this:

Like this:

Like Loading...
%d bloggers like this: