Introduction to Ethics (and Food Systems)

Fall 2016, University of Vermont (PHIL 010)

Office Hours: Tues 1pm-2pm; Weds 3:10-4pm in Room 209, 70 S. Williams St.

Course Description

This course provides an introduction to ethics through the lens of food systems. It also includes modules on the ethics of killing, and on sustainability.

This course will explore the different ethical issues that arise in the context of our food choices both at the level of personal decision-making and at the level of public policy. We will address questions such as: what sorts of ethical obligations do we have to those who produce our food? Are the food choices we make ethically constrained by our obligations to preserve the environment or to preserve our own health and, if so, how are they constrained? Is it ethically permissible to eat meat? Is the government ethically permitted or even obligated to regulate our personal food choices (e.g. by regulating the volume of single serving soft drinks)? To what extent is a government like ours obligated to ensure that people have adequate access to food?

This course has two, related educational aims (goals, objectives). The first is to prepare you to begin developing and defending your own answers to these and other questions in the domain of food ethics. The second is to equip you with a certain set of skills. Both in preparing for class, in your writing, and through class discussion and group work, you will develop your ability to (1) communicate clearly and concisely, (2) reconstruct arguments for a position or view from a piece of text, (3) critically evaluate arguments, (3) construct persuasive arguments of your own in defense of a position or view, and (4) anticipate and address potential objections to arguments that you find persuasive. Although deploying these skills will be crucial in your effort to advance your own thinking about the questions in food ethics that we will discuss in this class, developing these skills has independent value as they can also be usefully applied in a variety of different domains outside of philosophy.


Anne Barnhill et al., Food, Ethics, and Society, Oxford UP, 2016 (Readings below are marked 'T' if they are in this textbook.)

Readings (Only Numbered Readings are Required)

August 30: Business Ethics

September 1: Intensive Industrial Animal Agriculture

September 6: Status Quo Bias

Optional: selection from Gilovich et. al., Social Psychology, 1st ed. (introduction to social psychology textbook) (not in T)

September 8-15: Killing Innocents

1. Judith Jarvis Thomson, "A Defense of Abortion" (not in T)

September 20: Objections to Thomson

1. Michael Tooley, objections to Thomson on abortion (not in T) (note that this provides an excellent model for how to write your own philosophy papers in this course)

Optional: Carol Kaesuk Yoon, "No face, but plants like life too" (T)

September 22: Vegan Arguments

1. Tristram McPherson, "How to Argue for (and against) Ethical Veganism" (T) (note that this provides an excellent model for how to write your own philosophy papers in this course)

Optional: Introduction to Chapter 7: Industrial Animal Agriculture (T)

FIRST PAPER ASSIGNMENT: due Sunday, October 2 at 11:59pm via email

September 27: Singer, Tannsjo, Utilitarianism

1. Peter Singer, "All Animals are Equal" (T)

2. Torbjorn Tannsjo, "It's getting better all the time" (T)

Optional: Roger Scruton, "Eating Our Friends" (T)

Optional: Matt Halteman, "Compassionate Eating as Care of Creation" (T)

Work on First Paper Assignment

September 29: Consumer Ethics

1. Introduction to Chapter 4: Consumer Ethics (i.e. pages 165-186) (T)

Work on First Paper Assignment

October 2: First paper assignment is due at 11:59pm via email

October 4: Kantian theories of the ethics of animal production and consumption

1. Christine Korsgaard, "Getting Animals in View" (T)

2. Eliot Michaelson, "A Kantian Response to Futility Worries?" (T)

3. Reread the pages (pp. 176-178) on Kantian and other deontological theories of consumer ethics in the Introduction to Chapter 4: Consumer Ethics

October 6: Industrial Plant Ag

2. Norman Borlaug, "Feeding a World of Ten Billion People" (T)

Recommended: pp. 417-422 of the Introduction to Chapter 9: Industrial Plant Agriculture (T)

Optional: Pierre Desrochers et. al., selections from The Locavore's Dilemma (T)

October 11: Alternatives To Industrial Plant Ag

1. Pages 416-430 of the Introduction to Chapter 9: Industrial Plant Agriculture (T)

2. Introduction to Chapter 10: Alternatives to Industrial Plant Agriculture (i.e. pages 459-476) (T)

3. Joan Dye Gussow, "The Real Story of 'O'" (T)

4. Fred Kirschenmann, "Can Organic Agriculture Feed the World? And Is That the Right Question?" (T)

Recommended: Pages 333-334 of the Introduction to Chapter 7 (T)

October 13: Local Food; Civil Society

1. Bill McKibben, "A Grand Experiment" (T)

2. Helena de Bres, "Local Food: The Moral Case" (T)

Optional: Michelle Paratore, "Rising the the Food Waste Challenge" (T)

Optional: Austin Kiessig, "What 'Big Ideas' Get Funded in Silicon Valley?" (T)

October 18: Domestic Food Justice

1. Pages 92-101 (only) of the Introduction to Chapter 3: Food Justice (T)

2. Mariana Chilton, "Witnesses to Hunger and FRAC, Angel's Story" (T)

3. Iris Marion Young, "Five Faces of Oppression" (T)

Optional: Carol Adams, "The Sexual Politics of Meat" (T)

MIDTERM EXAM: due Monday, October 24 at 11:59pm via email

October 20: Intervale Visit and Gleaning

1. Julie Guthman, "If Only They Knew: The Unbearable Whiteness of Alternative Food" (T)

2. Michelle Paratore, "Rising to the Food Waste Challenge" (T)

October 24 11:59pm: Midterm Exam is due

October 25: Global Hunger

1. Pages 36-47 of the Introduction to Chapter 2: Global Hunger (T) (only pp. 36-47)

Optional: Peter Singer, "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" (T)

October 27: Food Security

1. Pages 47-57 of the Introduction to Chapter 2: Global Hunger (T) (only pp. 47-57)

2. Amartya Sen, "Hunger and Entitlements" (T)

November 1: Why Adequate Food Access is Insufficient for Proper Nutrition

Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, "More than 1 Billion People are Hungry in the World: But what if the experts are wrong?" (T)

2. USAID factsheet on the importance for food security of water, sanitation, and hygiene, 2013 (not in T)

Note: these public health sources agree that proper nutrition requires more than adequate intake of food; on this basis, USAID claims that food security should be understood as requiring more than reliably adequate dietary intake; nonetheless, global and national definitions of 'food security' that guide policy typically take only dietary intake into account -- for example, see FAO and USDA.

SECOND PAPER ASSIGNMENT: due Sunday, November 13 at 11:59pm via email

November 3: Importance of Early Childhood Nutrition (and other factors) for Future Life Outcomes

1. Lisa Belkin (and Annie Murphy Paul), "A Womb With a View" (not in T)

2. Douglas Almond and Janet Currie, "Killing Me Softly: The Fetal Origins Hypothesis" (not in T) (feel free to skip 158-160)

Optional: "Sanitation and Stunting", Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (not in T)

November 8: Singer's Argument for a Demanding Duty of Beneficence to Help the Global Poor

1. Peter Singer, "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" (T)

2. Browse (not in T)

Recommended: Reread pages 36-47 of the Introduction to Chapter 2: Global Hunger (T)

Optional: "Philanthropy In Silicon Valley" (not in T)

November 10: Objections to the Empirical Premise of Singer's Argument, and Replies

1. Page 38 and pages 57-59 of the Introduction to Chapter 2: Global Hunger (T) (only pp. 38 and 57-59)

2. Angus Deaton, "Response to Effective Altruism" (T)

3. Bill Gates, "The Great Escape is an Excellent Book With One Big Flaw" (T)

November 13: Second paper assignment due at 11:59pm via email

November 15: Sustainability and the Tragedy of the Commons

1. Pages 47-52 of Introduction to Chapter 2 (T)

Optional: Paul Ehrlich, "Overpopulation and the collapse of civilization" (T)

November 17: Sustainability and Self-Government of Common Resources

2. Pages 13-23 of Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons (not in T)

3. Some definitions of sustainability (not in T)

Optional: James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (not in T)

November 22: Thanksgiving, no class

November 24: Thanksgiving, no class

November 29: Sustainability Continued

1. Seth Holmes, "Farm Workers" (T) (If you prefer, you can watch this video of Seth Holmes speaking on this topic instead.)

2. Elinor Ostrom et al. "Revisiting the Commons" (not in T) (reread the assigned Ostrom readings from last time)

3. Pages 13-23 of Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons (not in T) (only pp. 13-23 are required; note she is responding to a Hardin-like view)

Graph; MSY; IAMs, global, SWF

December 1: Farmers, Farm Workers

1. Barry Estabrook, "The Price of Tomatoes" (T)

2. Introduction to Chapter 11 (T) (i.e. pp. 519-529)

3. Page 179 of the Introduction to Chapter 4 (T)

Optional: EWG Food Scores Methodology (not in T)

Optional: IMMP 25th Anniversary Report on Dolphin Safe Tuna (not in T)

Optional: reread Iris Marion Young, "Five Faces of Oppression" (T)

FINAL EXAM and FINAL PAPER: due via email at 1:15pm December 13

December 6: Andrea visit, Farmers, Food Sovereignty

1. Paul Thompson, "Food Security and Food Sovereignty" (T)

Optional Alan Wertheimer, "The Value of Consent" (T)

Optional: Hallie Liberto, "Exploitation and the Vulnerability Clause" (T)

December 8: Alisha visit, What should you do? What should we do?

1. Grace Boey, "Eating Animals and Personal Guilt" (T)

2. Pages 469-473 of Chapter 10 (discussion of sustainable intensification) (T)

3. Austin Kiessig, "What 'Big Ideas' in Food Get Funded in Silicon Valley?" (T)

Optional: Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, selections from Nudge (T)

Optional: Marion Nestle, "Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production: Update" (T)

December 13: Final exam and final paper due via email at 1:15pm