Philosophy of Nature

Professor: Dr. Molly Sturdevant
Institution: Saint Xavier University
Course Number: PHIL 240-01


Office: N407

Phone: 773-298-3458

Office Hours:  Tuesdays, 10:00am – 3:00pm; Fridays, 12:30 – 1:30.

Course Description:

1. True or False:

A) “Humans gain nothing but torment from the souls that differentiate them from beasts, and from the sense of time that makes them all too aware of the brevity of their mundane span.”[1] Circle one:   T      F

B) “Nothing about us sets us apart from other organisms. Our bodies are ‘nothing more than bio-molecules interacting.’”[2] Circle one:   T   F

2. In the box, (and without looking up the terms elsewhere) compose a definition for the given term (include an explanation of the bracketed terms):

Nature n.  [natural, unnatural; adj.] =

3. Discuss: Were these questions challenging or simple? Why?

Course Description, continued:

In our course, we are going to explore these same kinds of questions. We will be reading diverse, sometimes seemingly unrelated, sometimes obviously relevant essays on inquiries about what nature is, and whether ‘what it is’ makes any difference. Makes a difference for what? To whom? Have you ever heard people appeal to something (an event, act, relationship, object, organism, law, or policy) as being good or right because it is natural? Is what is natural necessarily good or better, or necessarily legal, worthy of rights, or preferable to the unnatural? Is a gene natural? Copper? Electricity? Silver? Is a genetically modified, drought-resistant tomato (containing the genes of a deep-sea fish) natural? Is a hard-drive natural? A lightening bolt? A photograph? Is it natural to design your future children? To select a healthy reproductive partner? To teach them values? To ensure that they will be brown-eyed? Female? Musical? Is a tumor natural? Is disease natural? A zygote? An atom? A quark or boson?

And finally, are these questions new? A prominent feature of our selection of texts is that they challenge the notion that these kinds of questions only arose with technological developments. Many of these general questions about what is ‘nature’ and ‘natural’ have persisted long before a hard-drive was invented or the prospect of genetic engineering was known. Simply put: the best way to describe this course is to say that we will philosophize about nature, in the broadest, most adventurous and timeless sense of the term.

Learning Objectives:

In addition to completing the required work for the course, each student should strive- with the guidance of the instructor- to achieve the following three learning objectives by the semester’s end:

1. Demonstrate an understanding of the ways in which definitions of nature have and ought to be critiqued; demonstrate an understanding of the various roles that the idea of nature plays in the discourse and methods of diverse disciplines.

2. Develop general speaking skills, including vocal participation and vocal presentation skills which showcase an integrated adaptation of new vocabulary and new ideas.

3.  Develop analytic reading and writing skills which show the ability to defend arguments using the concepts in course materials, analyze and cite from our various types of course materials, and show an integrated adaptation of new vocabulary and new ideas.

Technology Integration Statement:

1. Instructional Uses of Technology

The content, delivery and assessment of this course is augmented by the use of the following academic technologies: the use of podcasts, Panopto lecture-capturing, PowerPoint presentations, film and documentary excerpts, and the use of Blackboard Assignment Tools and Blackboard Gradebook.

2. Student Uses of Technology

21st Century Literacy skills, communication skills, and research skills will be enhanced through the students’ use of the following academic technologies: on-line news and editorial searches, Oxford English Dictionary on-line entry analysis, the use of Blackboard Communication Tools, the use of new Stump Library research methods and databases, and students’ choice of presentation technologies.

Students with Disabilities:

If you believe that you need accommodations for a disability, please contact the Learning Center and Disability Services (LCDS) in L-108 or call (773) 298-3308for an appointment to discuss your needs and process for requesting accommodations.  LCDS is responsible for coordinating disability-related accommodations and will issue students with documented disabilities ”Confidential Accommodation Plan” letters, as appropriate.  Since accommodations may require early planning and generally are not provided retroactively, please contact LCDS as soon as possible. Please also inform me if there is anything I can do to accommodate your ability to successfully meet our Learning Objectives (see above) and complete all course work.

Academic Integrity:

For the full Academic Misconduct Policy, please consult the Academic Catalog,” I have the strictest possible policy for plagiarism. Any amount of plagiarism found in a paper or assignment for this course results in a failed final course grade.. If you have any difficulty meeting deadlines, or if you have questions about how to use material, please contact me. I’m happy to assist.



1. Dale Allen Pfeiffer. Eating Fossil Fuels: Oil food and the Coming Crisis in Agriculture. Canada: New Society Publishers, 2006.

2. Barbara Hanawalt. Engaging with Nature: Essays on the Natural World in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008.

3. Lorraine Datson & Fernando Vidal. The Moral Authority of Nature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

4. Vandana Shiva. Biopiracy. The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge. Boston: South End Press, 1997.


Readings from G.W. Leibniz, Bill McKibben, Hannah Arendt, Baruch de Spinoza, Terry Tempest Williams, Rachel Carson, Timothy Morton, and others may appear on Blackboard as supplementary material.



2 Presented Reading Reflections

On two assigned dates (see schedule) you must compose and bring to class a 2-3 paged, double-spaced reflection on the section of text we are currently reading. Presenters may remain seated, but must read a selected portion of their reflection out loud and then lead a brief class-discussion by posing a few questions about the text. The presentation/discussion should be about 5 – 10 minutes long.  The goal is to write clearly and insightfully about particular words, phrases, or arguments in a focused section of text, and to be able to engage and sustain a discussion about that section of text. A more detailed format & grading rubric for this assignment will be posted on Blackboard.

30 points each (15 for the written portion, 15 for the oral presentation).

60 points for the total category. 20% of the final grade.


1 Final Paper

8-12 pages. Due on the last day of class, Friday April 27th, by digital dropbox, Blackboard. Topics TBA.

100 points possible.  25% of the final grade.


1 Presented Project with your assigned partner. Choose one from the following list (details TBA on Blackboard)

a) Hull House Kitchen

b) Soul Veg

c) Wood Street Garden

d) options from the resources list in EFF

e) Edible Alchemy

f) Yah’s Cuisine

g) Downtown Farmstand

h) Bridgeport Coffee Company

i) The Butcher and Larder


Projects will be presented to the class on an assigned schedule. Format and grading rubric TBA on Blackboard.

100 points. 30% of the final course grade.

10 Friday Quizzes

There are 12 Fridays on which we will have an in-class quiz on the assigned reading for that week. These will vary in form and content, though all will have a section asking for definitions of vocabulary terms from the readings. Monday and Wednesday’s classes will be key to preparing for these quizzes.  Friday January 13this the first Quiz. The last quiz will be on April 20th. Your lowest two scores will be dropped.

10 points possible each

100 points possible for the total category.  20% of the final grade.



This numerical grade out of 10 points appears on Blackboard in your Gradebook throughout the semester. I will change it periodically to reflect improvement or to reflect that you are not meeting the expectations. You are expected to come to class, speak often and enthusiastically, bring the book to class, and refer to the readings often. You are expected to turn in work on time. I do not take late assignments..

5% of the final grade.


[1] Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Inventing with Animals in the Middle Ages. In: Barbara A. Hanawlat and Lisa J. Kiser, ed., Essays on the Natural World in Medieval Europe. University of Notre Dame Press: Indiana, 2008; pp. 39-62.

[2] Bill McKibben, Enough. Henry Holt & Company: New York, 2003,  p. 203. McKibben cites: Gregory Stock, Redesigning Humans, (Boston: 2003).