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Animal, Environmental and Food Ethics

Ethical concerns about animals, the environment, and food are fundamental to policy formation in areas such as climate change, agriculture, genomics, poverty, and conservation. Such ethical concerns also open up difficult and interesting philosophical questions about justice, moral status, future generations, and the scope of rights. Research in these areas requires both philosophical rigor and a working knowledge of other relevant disciplines, from ecology and animal science to political science and English literature.

The Philosophy Department at Texas A&M provides the opportunity for graduate students to study central philosophical questions in environmental, animal, and food ethics, drawing not only on social and political theory and ethical theory, but also on work in metaphysics and philosophy of science. The department also encourages the development of cross-disciplinary links with colleagues in a variety of disciplinary fields across the university. Ph.D. students specializing in animal, environmental, and food ethics could benefit greatly from our Ph.D. program‘s opportunity to complete a master’s degree in another field. For instance, a student specializing in environmental ethics might take a master’s in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences with an emphasis in ecology, or a master’s in Political Science emphasizing environmental politics and regulation. A student specializing in animal ethics might take a master’s in Animal Science emphasizing animal welfare, or in Psychology emphasizing cognition and learning.


  • Robert Garcia is interested in the interrelations between and the metaphysics and moral significance of three related pairs of concepts: object/property, part/whole, and individual/environment. He is also interested in food ethics, and especially the ethical dimension(s) of eating. Alongside his current work on the metaphysics of properties, Robert is working on two book projects. The first brings environmental ethics and contemporary analytic metaphysics into critical and fruitful engagement. The second focuses on the role of eating in the good life.
  • Clare Palmer is the author of Environmental Ethics (ABC-Clio, 1997) Environmental Ethics and Process Thinking(Oxford University Press, 1998) and Animal Ethics in Context (Columbia University Press, 2010). She edited Animal Rights in the Ashgate International Library of Essays on Rights (Ashgate, 2008) and Teaching Environmental Ethics (Brill, 2007), and co-edited the 5-volume collection Environmental Philosophy with J. Baird Callicott (Routledge, 2005). She was a founding member of the UK Animal Studies Group, which published the collection Killing Animals (Illinois University Press, 2006). She edited the journal Worldviews: Environment, Culture, Religion, published by Brill, from 1996-2007, and was President of the International Society for Environmental Ethics from 2007-2010. She is particularly interested in ethical questions raised by climate change.
  • Gary Varner wrote one of the first dissertations in environmental ethics (University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1988) and has since published a book, In Nature’s Interests? Interests, Animal Rights, and Environmental Ethics(Oxford University Press, 1998), and over 30 articles on topics including hunting, animal agriculture and human nutrition, medical research, cloning, and pet ownership as well as philosophical issues associated with the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the property takings debate. His current work focuses on applying the two-level (or “Kantian”) utilitarianism of R.M. Hare to questions about the moral and legal status of animals and the concept of “humane sustainability.” This research stream is resulting in two new books, titled Personhood and Animals in the Two-Level Utilitarianism of R.M. Hare and Sustaining Animals: Envisioning Humane, Sustainable Communities (both forthcoming from Oxford University Press). He is also co-authoring, with an ecologist and a philosopher of biology, Environmental Ethics for Environmentalists (under contract with Cambridge University Press).


  • Jonathan M. Smith is a cultural-historical geographer who has published articles on geographers’ rhetoric, the geographical imagination, landscape symbolism, technology and geographical change, and the geographical conditions of contemporary identity. He long edited Environment, Place, and Ethics: A Journal of Philosophy and Geography, and is currently studying the spread of secularism in the United States.

Texas A&M also has a vibrant interdisciplinary graduate program in Applied Biodiversity Science (ABS), funded by the National Science Foundation’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program. The ABS Journal Club consists of graduate students and faculty from diverse fields who meet weekly to discuss readings in biodiversity-related science and policy.

The following faculty in other Texas A&M departments also have research interests related to animal ethics:

  • Jim Grau is a professor in the Psychology Department and chair of TAMU’s Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience. He has published important work on the role of the nervous system in various types of learning, and on recovery of function from spinal cord injury. He teaches graduate courses on the mechanisms that underlie learning and neural plasticity.

Professor Grau is an active participant in the BLAB (Brains, Learning and Animal Behavior) working group, supported by the Glasscock Center for Humanities Research. Active for over 20 years, the BLAB is an interdisciplinary group of faculty and graduate students from a variety of departments who meet to discuss classic and contemporary readings on animal cognition and consciousness. Participants have come from Philosophy, Psychology, Animal Science, Computer Science, the College of Medicine, Biology, Anthropology, and Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences.