The “Ethics of Climate Change” brings a moral philosopher’s toolkit to a set of monumental problems: What is the nature of the threat posed by climate change, and given the uncertainties, what should be done about it? Should individuals take action, or governments? Is the current generation responsible for acting on behalf of future citizens?
Kieran Setiya, professor of philosophy, sparked the creation of this course. “I had been interested in and disturbed by climate change for as long as I can remember,” he says. Then, after arriving at MIT in 2014, and engaging with the Fossil Free MIT group, Setiya decided to teach a class. “I thought this would be a useful way to generate sustained attention on the topic,” he says.
With department colleague Caspar Hare, Setiya set out to structure a class that would offer a rigorous foundation for deliberating on climate change questions. “Climate change is a paradigmatically moral issue, because what we’re doing potentially harms others we don’t know,” says Hare. “But the causal path to harm is complicated, and much of the public debate around climate change and potential remedies is coarse grained.”
“We want students to go from feeling distressed by climate change to a clearer understanding of the risks, probable outcomes, and different ways our decisions will affect them,” says Setiya.