Monday, June 04, 2018

Summer class

Syllabus and Notes

Intro to Philosophical Ethics - 42527 - HPHI 302G - 01
Associated Term: Summer 2018
Registration Dates: Apr 09, 2018 to Jul 13, 2018
Levels: Undergraduate

Morehouse College Campus
Lecture Schedule Type
3.000 Credits
View Catalog Entry

Scheduled Meeting Times
TypeTimeDaysWhereDate RangeSchedule TypeInstructors
Class10:30 am - 11:50 amMTWRFBrawley Hall 206Jun 05, 2018 - Jul 13, 2018LectureNathan M. Nobis (P)E-mail

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A Rulebook for Students

I would like to complete this A Rulebook for Students: Success in College & Beyond book and I'm seeking co-authors to help me complete it. 

Information on the book and its current status is here:

As I see it, completing the project would involve (a) elaborating on the "rules" and (b) adding any additional material and discussion that's needed. It would then be posted as an open-access e-book, as well as a low cost paperback on Amazon. 

If you are interested in helping with this, please let me know. Here are some contributor guidelines I just developed, since some of my students expressed interest in helping with the project:

. . .I'm trying to assemble a list of guidelines to help students be more successful students. My motivation here is that sometimes students don't do as well as they should and that sometimes seems for reasons that are pretty easy to address, at least in theory. So what to do about that? One response is a (free) book like this, although this surely is not a complete response: other interventions and guidance are needed. 

I've put the file here and I've set it to allow 'comments.' That will result in any changes you make being 'tracked' and then I can accept the changes after reviewing them. If your name doesn't show up automatically, please add your name in a note by what you add, using Google Doc's feature to do that, so you can be credited as a contributor or co-author. 


You can also add additional 'rules' using the headings feature: heading 1 is big sections, heading 2 is for particular rules. These can then be integrated into the table of contents. (If you don't know how to use the headings and table of contents features in Word or Google docs, you should learn, since it's really helpful). The table of contents is important, since my hope is that someone could even just read the table of contents and get a lot of good advice and reminders. 

So eventually when this is "done enough" I will format it and make it available on Amazon, in addition to a free e-book in a variety of formats.  

OK, again, thank you for your offers to help with this project! And if you have ideas for how to change the project to make it better, in any way, please share those thoughts. 
Thank you,
NN
nathan.nobis@morehouse.edu ; nathan.nobis@gmail.com 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Introduction to Ethics

Here I briefly sum up my basic goals and strategy in my Introduction to Philosophical Ethics course. 

My approach is: 
  • interactive and discussion-based,
  • skills-of-reasoning-focused, with the hope that students retain these basic skills and attitudes and apply them to future ethical questions, 
  • built on a foundation of "data" -- concerning the reasons given about various issues -- gathered from everyday observations, asking people questions (informal surveys) and, potentially, internet research, and so
  • not readings-based: most readings augment the process; they aren't essential. 
My overall goal is: 
  • to show students that we can systematically reason about moral issues, and teach them how to do that, to develop their skills at doing that. Here's the summary:


See below for the details!



Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Response to "No monkey business: Chimps don’t have human rights, philosophers say"

In "No monkey business: Chimps don’t have human rights, philosophers say" (Friday, May 11, 2018; "Before It's News" website) the recent case for believing that chimpanzees are persons and so should have legal rights is engaged (see also NhRP). Two philosophy professors are quoted, arguing that chimpanzees are not persons and cannot have rights. Let's think about what they have to say.

Dr. John Crosby, a philosophy professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, is quoted:


“Undeniably, there is something there mysterious [about {chimpanzees}]. There is something of worth, but there is not a person. And therefore, because they are not a person, there are no real rights the chimp has.” 

So why are they not persons? What's the reason or reasons?

Crosby offers this definition of a person:
“A person is a being that possesses himself and is capable of originating action, where he freely determines himself. It’s very difficult to claim that any chimp, however amazingly skilled, is a free agent.”
But many human beings -- e.g., babies, severely mentally challenged persons, and others -- are not free agents, "freely determining themselves," whatever this might mean. (We might wonder if the meaning implies that many animals are free agents, however: doesn't an uncooperative house cat freely determine herself? If so, so do many other animals, including chimps, and so would be persons on this definition). But these human beings are persons, so this definition surely is mistaken: free will, or free agency, is not needed for personhood.  

The page reports (although does not quote) Crosby responding this way to this objection: 
"Babies grow into morally responsible adults and comatose patients may potentially get better. Even if the patient does not get better . . people 'are the kind of being that in the normal instance has moral agency and something is blocking exercise of it.'"
He also argues -- according to the site - that because chimpanzees permanently lack moral culpability, they are not persons.

While Crosby's arguments are quick, a few replies should be given. 
  • First, some human beings permanently lack moral culpability, but they are still persons. Some babies don't grow into responsible adults, yet they are persons. (And doctors might even say of some comatose patients that they lack the relevant potential to get better.) So even if it's true that chimpanzees permanently lack moral culpability (which, they might not, given the evidence of their abilities to understand and reason), this isn't a good reason to think that they are not persons. 
  • Second, in general, we aren't, and shouldn't, be treated in terms of our potentials: potential doctors, lawyers, judges, parents, spouses, criminals, saints, and on and on are all quite different from actual individuals of these kinds. So, at least, appeals to potential, say, free agency are a doubtful way of grounding personhood. Perhaps it can be done, but the pattern -- that potential things of a kind rarely, if ever, have the rights of actual things of that kind -- suggests that this is not likely to be a fruitful way to ground the personhood of human beings who lack free agency, rationality and other sophisticated mental capacities. So, this doesn't help undercut the case for chimpanzee personhood. 
  • Third, recall that Crosby states that people "are the kind of being that in the normal instance has moral agency and something is blocking exercise of it." But rarely, if ever, should individuals be treated as "normal" instances of their "kind," if they are not normal instances of their kind. For example, human beings are bipedal and can see with their eyes -- that is normal for their kind -- but people without legs or who are blind -- because of something "blocking" exercise of the normal capacities -- should be treated in light of their special conditions, not in ways that are "normal" for their "kind." The same is true for "normal" mental and emotional capacities of the kind of beings who are human beings. The points here is that we should be treated as individuals, which might be different from how normal members of our kind should be treated, and so this too is not likely to be a fruitful way to ground the personhood of human beings without "normal" capacities and abilities. So, this response also doesn't help undercut the case for chimpanzee personhood. 
  • Finally, it's worthwhile to notice that Crosby's case against chimpanzee personhood seems to imply that human embryos and fetuses are persons, given their potential and what "kind" they are. While some will happily accept this result, others will be surprised and wonder if they must think this in order to argue against chimpanzee rights: to oppose chimpanzee rights, must we also think that abortion is likely wrong? This connection would be, at least for many people, a surprising and unexpected consequence, and so might lead them to at least doubt, if not reject, Crosby's reasoning. 
Again, Crosby's case is quick, but any developed case along his lines would need to engage these concerns.

Finally, the web page concludes with this:
Father Brian Chrzastek, a philosophy professor at the Dominican House of Studies, also reflected on the difference between chimps and people. He said that humans have a higher potential for abstract thought and originality. While animals act by instinct, he said people engage rationally with the world. 
“Humans are different in kind. It’s not like we are just smart chimpanzees or something. We’re an entirely different level of thought, an entirely different kind of species,” he told CNA.

In reply:
  • First, while perhaps humans in general have a higher potential for abstract thought and originality -- or perhaps not, since some animals might be capable of even more abstract thought about matters that concern them, and perhaps might be original in ways that don't compare to any human originality -- not all human beings have that potential. 
  • Second, again, we shouldn't be treated in terms of our potentials: if I'm not a very abstract thinker and am rather unoriginal in everything I think and do, I shouldn't be treated as someone who excels in original, abstract thought. 
  • Third, animals do not merely act "by instinct": this is naive to the best scientific and common-sense understanding of many animals. 
  • Fourth, sadly many human people often do not engage rationally with the world: read the daily news. 

And, fifth and finally, while it's true that humans are "different in kind" from animals, we are also the same in kind to many animals, especially chimpanzees: we are conscious, aware, with thoughts, feelings and perceptions, and personalities: we are persons. And persons should have legal rights that protect us against certain types of harms and wrongdoing, whatever species the person is.





Note: This paper is based on arguments I developed in greater detail in Tom Regan on ‘Kind’ Arguments against Animal Rights and for Human Rights” in The Moral Rights of Animals, edited by Mylan Engel and Gary Comstock (Lexington Books, 2016).

Posted by the Nonhuman Rights Project: https://www.facebook.com/NonhumanRights/?hc_ref=ARRsuPnUm5zB-Bj6Fsm8n8dkEmXLebb2vC9ZgLzHRlsMTav1zIprx8h3yHbSKsszz8E&fref=nf 


Also here with better formatting. 


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Review of Nathan Nobis's Animals & Ethics 101

Xenotransplantation, Subsistence Hunting and the Pursuit of Health: Lessons for Animal Rights-Based Vegan Advocacy

Abstract

I argue that, contrary to what Tom Regan suggests, his rights view implies that subsistence hunting is wrong, that is, killing animals for food is wrong even when they are the only available food source, since doing so violates animal rights. We can see that subsistence hunting is wrong on the rights view by seeing why animal experimentation, specifically xenotransplanation, is wrong on the rights view: if it’s wrong to kill an animal to take organs to save a human life, it’s wrong to kill an animal to eat that animal to save a human life or improve human health. I discuss these arguments’ implications for animal rights-based vegan advocacy, insofar as some people claim that they don’t feel their best on vegan diets and so their eating meat is morally justified. I argue that such an attempt to justify consuming animal products fails on Regan’s rights view, but discuss some attempts to morally excuse such violations of animals’ rights. These attempts are inspired by Regan’s attempts at potentially excusing animal rights advocates’ using medications developed using animals.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018