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Why Teach Environmental Ethics? Because We Already Do

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In this paper we argue for the importance of the formal teaching of environmental ethics. This is, we argue, both because environmental ethics is needed to respond to the environmental issues generated by the neoliberal movement in politics and economics, and because a form of environmental ethics is implicit, but unexamined, in that which is currently taught. We maintain that students need to become aware of the latent ethical dimension in what they are taught. To help them, we think that they need to understand how models and metaphors structure and impact their worldviews. We describe how a simple in-class exercise encourages students to experience the way metaphors organize feelings, courses of action, and cognitive understandings. This is then intellectualized by way of Clifford Geertz's concept of culture and his model for the analysis of sacred symbols. From there we present a brief interpretation of modern economics as the embodiment of the dominant modern ethos. This leads into a consideration of ecology as a science, and to the environmental ethic embodied in Aldo Leopold's "Land Ethic." We close with a personal experience that highlights how environmental teaching can make students aware of the presence of an implicit, but unexamined, environmental ethic.


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