Benjamin Hale
  Associate Professor, Philosophy and Environmental Studies
Sustainability, Energy, and Environment Community
Office SEEC S238A
Campus Box 488
University of Colorado at Boulder
Boulder, Colorado 80309-0488
Professorial Activities

Courses Taught

PHIL 4110/5110
Moral Theory
Discourse, Reasons, and Practice

Graduate/Upper-division Seminar
University of Colorado, Boulder
Spring 2006 (15 Students)

Syllabus [PDF]

How do we determine what we ought to do? If we know what we ought to do, is this reason enough to do it? This course will engage discussions among contemporary moral theorists on the topic of practical reason. We will discuss questions of moral knowledge and moral motivation, spending a fair amount of time on matters of internal and external reasons, hypothetical and categorical imperatives, reflection and deliberation, and, ultimately, strategic versus communicative action. Readings will include essays from Elijah Millgram, Michael Smith, Bernard Williams, Michael Bratman, Philippa Foot, Christine Korsgaard, Onora O’Neill, Jürgen Habermas, and Joseph Heath, among others.

Michael Smith, The Moral Problem
Elijah Millgram, Varieties of Practical Reasoning
Jürgen Habermas, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action
Joseph Heath, Communicative Action and Rational Choice

Cognitivism, Non-Cognitivism, Fallibilism, Internalism, Externalism, Moral Motivation, Strategic vs. Communicative Action


Environmental Ethics
Wildlife and Resources;
Reserves and Preserves

Graduate Seminar
New York University
Spring 2005 (17 Students)

Syllabus [PDF]

In the face of renewed challenges to longstanding environmental policy, as well as global pressures to extract increasing quantities of resources despite growing scarcity, this course will revisit a foundational debate in environmental ethics: namely, whether we have obligations to preserve non-rational nature. The first portion of the course will focus on definitions of wilderness and nature. The second portion of the course will ask what economic and non-economic reasons we might have for protecting or preserving wetlands, forests, and oceans; and what sorts of costs we are willing to shoulder in order to preserve these resources. In the third part of the course we will discuss the matters of environmental justice, intergenerational justice, and cross-species justice as they relate to resources and wildlife.

John O'Neill, Ecology, Policy, and Politics: Human Well Being and the Natural World
Kate Soper, What Is Nature?: Culture, Politics and the Non-Human
M. Sagoff, Price, Principle, and the Environment
Paul Taylor, Respect for Nature
Jensen & Draffan, Strangely Like War: The Global Assault on Forests
Avner de-Shalit, Why Posterity Matters

Moral Status, Nature, Wilderness, Resources, Cost/Benefit Analysis, Utilitarianism, Harms, Kant and Nature, Principles and Maxims, Inter-species Justice, Intergenerational Justice, Environmental Justice.


Environmental Politics
Property, Participation, and Protest

Graduate Seminar
New York University
Spring 2005 (17 Students)

Syllabus [PDF]

This class will center on private property, public participation and collective protest. The first portion of the course will introduce and discuss some of the foundational theories of property, asking what gives us dominion over some resources and not others. This section will be followed by a discussion of the principles of participatory democracy and citizen involvement, with an eye towards commons and takings issues. Finally, we will conduct an investigation of the guiding impetus for various environmental and anti-environmental movements: discussing justifications for such tactics as civil disobedience, direct action, property destruction, legal obstructionism, cooperative conflict resolution, consciousness-raising and so on.

David Helvarg, The War Against the Greens
Avner De-Shalit, The Environment: Between Theory and Practice
Graham Smith, Deliberative Democracy and the Environment
Hugo Adam Bedau, Civil Disobedience in Focus
And Course Packet

Includes Readings from: (On Property) Locke, Mill, Hobbes, Rousseau, Marx, Proudhon, Cohen, Nozick; (On Civil Disobedience) Plato, Rawls, Dworkin, Foreman, Watson, Zerzan, Hargrove

Property: Natural Rights, Occupation, Labor, and Marxian Theories of Property
Participation: Administrative Rationalism, Democratic Pragmatism, Economic Rationalism, Discourse Theory; Tragedies of the Commons; Takings Laws
Protest: Civil Disobedience, Direct Action, Marxian Theory, Social Contract Theory, Anarcho Primitivism, Deep Ecology, Wise-Use


ENVP U6241.001
Earth Systems and Environmental Politics, Policy and Management

Graduate Seminar
Columbia University
Summer 2005 (59 Students)

Course Website

Environmental policy making requires an amalgam of talents and an understanding of the environment from a multitude of perspectives. It is thus important that earth system professionals think systemically about the many approaches to the environment. They must have a strong understanding of environmental policy, politics, and the management of environmental programs.

This course teaches an understanding of the societal, economic, organizational, and political forces that influence the development and implementation of environmental policy. In the first portion of the course, classes will focus on one aspect of the above-mentioned topics, and will be geared to aid students in their research for the second portion of the course. In the second portion of the course, students will engage in group projects, positioning themselves on one side of a difficult issue. With these group projects, students will apply their understanding of environmental systems to specific environmental problems and come to appreciate the complexity and interconnectedness of those problems and their potential solutions.

Environmental Policy, Norman J. Vig and Michael E. Kraft, eds. (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2003)

Rosemary O'Leary, Robert F. Durant, Daniel J. Fiorino, and Paul S. Weiland, Managing for Environment: Understanding the Legal, Organizational, and Policy Challenges (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999)

The goal of this course is to take a system-level approach to environmental policy problems. Issues include: Defining and understanding environmental problems, environmental values, the evolution of environmental law in the United States, the politics of the environment, environmental agenda setting and management, and environmental communication and argumentation.


PHI 3100
Ethical Theory

Upper-division, majors-only
University of Colorado, Boulder
Spring 2006

PHI 3100.1 (25 Students)
PHI 3100.2 (25 Students)

Syllabus [PDF]

This course focuses on three major theories in ethics: virtue ethics, consequentialism/utilitarianism, and Kantianism. The semester is thus divided into three distinct subsections. Each subsection includes foundational readings from the originating philosophers (Aristotle, Bentham and Mill, and Kant) as well as readings from contemporary representatives of these three approaches. The course is thereby intended to give you a sense of the intellectual heritage of dominant ethical systems currently under defense in contemporary ethical debate.

Virtue Ethics, ed. Stephen Darwall, Blackwell Publishers
Consequentialism, ed. Stephen Darwall, Blackwell Publishers
Deontology, ed. Stephen Darwall, Blackwell Publishers

Virtue, Consequentialism, Deontology... ergo, Character, Happiness, Hedonism, Eudaimonism, Ends, Means, Hypothetical Imperatives, Categorical Imperatives, the Will, Agent-Centered Reason, Practical Identity, and so on.


PHI 3180
Critical Thinking:
Applied Ethics

University of Colorado, Boulder
Fall 2005 (25 Students)

This course was created around the notion that difficult real-world questions deserve thoroughgoing philosophical treatment. As the topic matter of this class rests squarely in applied ethics, you are expected to have command of the metaethical positions that underwrite the applied concerns of these authors. Intelligent discussion of these matters depends upon your ability to make connections with your understanding of other ethical concerns.

What’s Wrong?: Applied Ethicists and Their Critics, David Boonin and Graham Oddie, Oxford U Press

Torture, Double Effect, Abortion, Infanticide, Capital Punishment, All Punishment, Prostitution, Adultery, Homosexuality, Affirmative Action, Racial Profiling, Famine Relief


PHI 104/14/1100
Moral Reasoning/Ethics

University of Colorado, Boulder
F-05 PHI 1100.130 (40 Students)
F-05 PHI 1100.140 (40 Students)

Hofstra University
Fall 2004 PHI 14 (40 Students)

Stony Brook University
Fall 2002 104.02 (40 Students)
Fall 2002 104.10 (40 Students)
Spring 2000 104.03 (40 Students)

This course was created to aid students in an understanding of the rudiments of moral theory. TheElements of Moral Philosophy is meant to serve as the backbone of this course. Approximately each week is devoted to a chapter out of this book. The second Rachels book, The Right Thing to Do, provides some historical background to supplement your understanding of the issues raised in the first book, as well as to provide contemporary issues to discuss in class. To further deepen discussions in class, I include readings from articles from various texts. So here there are three points of focus for the readings: a theoretical overview, a set of historical texts, and the third contemporary case studies.

James Rachels' Elements of Moral Philosophy,
James Rachels' The Right Thing to Do,
Selected readings

Subjectivism, Emotivism, Cultural Relativism, Egoism, Utilitarianism, Kantianism, Contractarianism, Care Ethics, Virtue Ethics


LRN 131.02,
Thinking About Science

Stony Brook University
First Year Program
Fall 2004 (27 Students)
Fall 2003 (27 Students)

This course was created to serve as a linking seminar that brings the first year courses and experiences of a cluster of first-years at Stony Brook into a cohesive, contextualized unit. In this course, we will explore themes of enlightenment and determination, of self-knowledge and self-deception, working to make sense of the many ways in which humans and university students have, through the years, come to an understanding of themselves as participants in and learners from the social and natural world. We will read and discuss three distinct methodological approaches to making sense of our world, and we will tie this back into our classes in chemistry, mathematics, and writing. As this course incorporates SBU 101, we will direct the course material to better equip ourselves to meet the rigorous demands of a university. We will be watching two films during this time – more if you like, less if you protest – and we will add structure and depth to these films by deferring to our readings in the history of philosophy.

Plato's Apology and Republic,
Descartes' Meditations,
John Dewey's How We Think,
Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions,
John Searle's Minds, Brains, and Science,
Lewis Vaughn's How to Think about Weird Things
Also, readings from the Union of Concerned Scientists

What can we know?
What do we mean by 'knowing'?
What is scientific knowledge?


PHI 100.02,
Concepts of the Person:
Contemporary Questions

Stony Brook University
Spring 2004 (35 Students)

From featherless bipeds to thinking things, philosophers have explained the human being in myriad crazy ways. This course will survey many of the ways in which contemporary philosophers have conceived of personhood. The bulk of this course will focus on philosophical positions from four contemporary authors. We will proceed through the course by reading each philosopher and deferring to the historical roots of the positions that they uphold. The Churchland book will give us an overview of some of the issues, the Leiber book will challenge some common uses of the term "person", the Parfit book will pose for us some interesting thought experiments, and the Midgley book will help us better understand the historical roots of the complex issue.

Matter and Consciousness
, Paul M. Churchland,
Can Animals and Machines be Persons? Justin Leiber,
Reasons and Persons, Derek Parfit,
Beast and Man, Mary Midgley

Descartes, Ryle, Nagel, La Mettrie, Hobbes, Mackie, Wollstonecraft

Dualism, Functionalism, Behaviorism, Materialism, Artificial Intelligence, Personhood.


LRN 132.01,
Thinking About Biology

Stony Brook University
Spring 2004 (28 Students)

This class has been designed as a follow up to the LRN 131 course that most of you took with me last semester. It has been structured around three suppositions. First of all, many LRN students have expressed interest in medicine and biology. To address these interests, and to address the focus of the course title, we will take up questions at the intersection of biology, ethics, and politics. Where in the first semester we were concerned with epistemological questions, this semester we work on issues related to evolution and its application, or mis-application, in politics and ethics. Secondly, many LRN students need to work seriously on their writing. Therefore, instead of engaging in group projects, we will be working on papers. There are three papers required for this class, each of which will focus on some aspect of writing and critical thinking. Finally, we will be focussing on our critical skills. We will read five books and watch three films, each of which treats critically some aspect of biology, evolution, and social theory.

Darwin's Dangerous Idea
, Daniel Dennett,
The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen J. Gould,
The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins,
A Brave New World, Aldous Huxley,
One-Dimensional Man, Herbert Marcuse

Evolution, Teleology, Biological Determinism, Genetics, Mimetics, Politics.


PHI 014,
Environmental Ethics

Hofstra University
First Year Program
Fall 2003 (35 Students)

This course was created as an introductory survey in environmental ethics, a relatively new niche in ethical philosophy. In order to introduce students to the questions of environmental ethics, the first half of the course is devoted to the study of ethics generally. The second half of the course is devoted to questions specifically relevant to the environment. The Elements of Moral Philosophy volume is meant to provide an overview of the basic theories in ethics. The Environmental Ethics anthology is meant to provide supplementary readings that incorporate the issues discussed in the FYP's geography class and treat them as normative questions.

Andrew Light and Holmes Rolston III, Eds. Environmental Ethics,
James Rachels' The Elements of Moral Philosophy

Introduction to Ethics, Animal Rights, Tragedies of the Commons, Intrinsic Value, Moral Worth, Anthropocentrism, Speciesism, Ecocentrism, Deep Ecology, EcoFeminism, Civil Disobedience.


PHI 108,
Critical Reasoning

Stony Brook University
Spring 2003 (110 Students)

This course is intended to introduce students to the art and science of argument. It employs a somewhat cartooney book that is used often in introductory critical reasoning courses here, but a cartooney book that nevertheless introduces the reader to the various forms of argument through relatively simple explanations. Some may find the book to be too simplistic, others may find it to be lacking and extremely difficult to understand. Whatever the case, logic and critical reasoning are vital to clear thinking. Students are encouraged, should they find themselves not understanding the text, to look on the internet or to go to the library, to find another explanation that may help them more.

Richard L. Epstein, Critical Thinking

The fundamentals of reasoning, the structure of arguments, informal fallacies, reasoning about experience


PHI 91,
Technology and Human Values

Hofstra University
Spring 2003 (35 Students)

This course was created around two main ideas: that there are general philosophical and social criticisms apropos to human values and technology, and that there are specific practical issues in technology with significant ethical ramifications. The Philosophy of Technology anthology is meant to serve as the backbone of this course, whereas group projects on applied issues serve as the substantive fodder for discussion further in the semester.

Sharff and Dusek, Philosophy of Technology: The Technological Condition,
Selected readings

Historical definitions of "technology"
Technology and Social Criticism
Applied Ethical Issues
Technology and Social Practice


PHI 112,
Introduction to Philosophy

New York Institute of Technology
Spring 2003 (12 Students)

This course was created around two texts -- The Adventure of Philosophy and The Fundamental Questions -- the first of which is a broad-reaching overview of various trends in philosophy, and the second of which is a compendium of varied writings in the history of philosophy. The topic matter of this course is geared to be relevant to the interests as non-philosophy majors, though the primary focus of the course is on providing a broad background in the various schools of thought that have been influential throughout the academy. The course therefore devotes a very short time to some of the many disciplines that make up philosophy as a study generally.

Selected readings, including excerpts from:
The Apology
The Crito

Aristotle's Metaphysics,
Thoreau's Civil Disobedience,
Locke's Essay,
The Communist Manifesto,
The Theory of Justice,
Fear and Trembling,
The Will to Believe,
The Brothers Karamazov,
Why I am not a Christian


PHI 100,
Concepts of the Person:
Modern Philosophical Perspectives

Stony Brook University
Fall 1999, (40 Students)

This course was designed to give students a sense of the origin of the concept of the person in modern philosophy. The bulk of this course focuses on five philosophical positions firmly situated within the “modern” period. We will proceed through the course by reading one rationalist and four empiricists, each with a nuanced take on the position of humans in the world. Importantly, these epistemological positions have political implications. We will spend the final month of the semester investigating some of the ways in which the philosophers that we read early in the semester give rise to some rather startling conclusions about men and women, human and non-human animals, and even animals and the inert world.

Descartes' Meditations,
Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding,
Berkeley's Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous,
Hume's Treatise of Human Nature
La Mettrie, Man a Machine and Man as Plant
Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication

Dualism, Empiricism, Idealism, Materialism, Skepticism, and "Women, Computers and Animals"


PHI 105,
Social and Political Philosophy

Stony Brook University
Spring 1999, (40 Students)

This course surveys many of the central texts in social and political philosophy. Because social and political questions persist through the ages, it devotes considerable time to investigating contemporary problems in light of past thought. In investigating these problems it probes the general and the specific, the universal and the particular, and the social and the individual. Consequently, the thread it traces is of first the general (relating to the specific structures that ought to support social and political systems), then of the singular (relating to the individuals who comprise those systems) and finally of the relation between the two. More succinctly, it focuses on three primary questions in the history of social and political philosophy: (1) How ought a state or government be structured? (2) When we talk about individual equality and freedom, what do we mean? (3) What is property and what role should the individual or the state play in allocation of property? Because almost all political philosophers treat each of these questions at some point, it considers these questions throughout the course but also maintains focus on each question in each of three sections of the semester.

Classics of Moral and Political Theory
Readings from Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau, Mill, and Marx
Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man,
Huxleys' Brave New World

The Structure of Government, Freedom and Equality, Property and Work

Philosopher, Advice Peddler, Tree Hugger