April 20, 2009
Source: Piedmont 2003

Willett, Cynthia
Philosophy Department


Project Summary

The Piedmont Project changed my conception of what it is to teach philosophy. I have in the past taught Philosophy 215: Moral Issues along with other courses in an interdisciplinary style, and I have touched on issues of the environment. From the Project I learned very diverse philosophical approaches to the environment and promising pedagogical strategies for engaging students. I am especially excited about using these strategies throughout all my courses.

My philosophy course this fall will introduce the environment as a “philosophy of life”, rather than as a particular issue. We will reflect on how fast food has changed how we live and work, as well as its immediate impact on the environment. We will also touch upon questions of social justice, including problems of poverty and environmental racism. A very different philosophical approach emerges from romantic critiques of technology, and invokes community, nature or spirituality as sources of individual identity. In contrast with the autonomous individual that undergirds prevailing conceptions of justice, we will examine conceptions of the self as interdependent, connected with others, and/or rooted in a particular place. Other parts of the course will focus on issues not directly related to the environment (for example, racism and animal rights). However, I will encourage students to understand the larger connections between the various themes. For example, Cornel West diagnoses the breakdown of community and connection in urban areas as nihilism. With the students, I will ask how the nihilism that West finds in contemporary black America compares with the malaise that Schlosser describes in Fast Food Nation.

I am very excited about the wide range of teaching strategies emphasized by the program directors. Most striking was the idea of getting the students out of the classroom. I certainly will take the students for a walk through Emory’s forests as we discuss the impact of nature on our sense of who we are. But I also realize that students are much more likely to think about the ideas we discuss if they find them outside of the classroom. I am asking students to subscribe to a newspaper, and listen to the news as re-presented in late night comedy (“The Daily Show”). (I find the humor eases tensions in courses that address such tough topics as race). We will also discuss one popular film in each of my classes. Philosophy and most certainly philosophies of the environment can be found all over the place, and I want my students to learn to reflect on moral questions wherever they occur. I will also be borrowing some of these new strategies for other courses. For example, I would like to take my philosophy of culture students on field trips to see “tagging” (postmodern graffiti) which appears all over Atlanta. Similarly, I would like to take my metaphysics students in Introduction to Philosophy out into the forests as we contemplate philosophies of nature.

Course Syllabus attached.

Download: Willett_2003.pdf (116.9 KB)

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