Monday, July 20, 2015

Philosophy Comes to Dinner: Arguments About the Ethics of Eating

Now available for pre-order on Amazon: 

Philosophy Comes to Dinner: Arguments About the Ethics of Eating Paperback – December 2, 2015

ISBN-13: 978-0415806831  ISBN-10: 0415806836 

My and Dan Hooley's paper "An Argument for Veganism" is in this book. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Help Wanted

Intro Philosophy Books and Race

Nathan Nobis (Morehouse) writes in with a request:
I am seeking help with a small research project regarding race and philosophy. This project would be to (a) make a list of introductory philosophy and ethics textbooks and anthologies and (b) review those books to see what content they have regarding race. This is to find out what readings various anthologies contain that address issues about race. If you would be interested in helping with this project, please email me at

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Animals & Ethics 101

A book in process, based primarily on the "lectures" I developed for an online animals and ethics course. This will be an open access text, freely available electronically. Here's a draft of the back cover text:
Ethics & Animals 101 helps readers identify and evaluate the arguments for and against various uses of animals, such as:
Is it morally wrong to experiment on animals? Why or why not? 
Is it morally permissible to eat meat? Why or why not? 
Are we morally obligated to provide pets with veterinary care (and, if so, how much?)? Why or why not?
And other challenging issues and questions. 
Developed as a companion volume to an online Animals & Ethics course,  it is ideal for classroom use, discussion groups or self study.  The book presupposes no conclusions on these controversial moral questions about the treatment of animals, and argues for none either. Its goal is help the reader better engage the issues and arguments on all sides with greater clarity, understanding and argumentative rigor. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

More Experimental Bioethics

"Expectations for methodology and translation of animal research: a survey of health care workers,"

Ari R Joffe, Meredith Bara, Natalie Anton and Nathan Nobis, BMC Medical Ethics 2015, 16:29

"Health care workers (HCW) often perform, promote, and advocate use of public funds for animal research (AR); therefore, an awareness of the empirical costs and benefits of animal research is an important issue for HCW. We aim to determine what health-care-workers consider should be acceptable standards of AR methodology and translation rate to humans. . . . HCW have high expectations for the methodological quality of, and the translation rate to humans of findings from AR. These expectations are higher than the empirical data show having been achieved. Unless these areas of AR significantly improve, HCW support of AR may be tenuous."

Thursday, April 02, 2015

HSUS Animal Studies Repository

The Humane Society of the United States has created an "Animal Studies Repository" of academic writings concerning animal issues:  My profile is here:   If you are a scholar who writes on animal issues and would like your own profile, you can contact the archive manager here to set that up:

Thursday, March 19, 2015


My acting debut!

Toward Revitalization at Human Scale in Atlanta

This summary is a part of Atlanta’s application to a City Accelerator cohort on engagement. Your feedback on the videos will inform final selection of the cities. Give the videos a star rating and leave comments below!
What is Atlanta proposing?
The city of Atlanta, a finalist in the second round of the City Accelerator, is focused on finding better, more sustainable solutions through more effective public engagement.
Atlanta’s Westside Future Fund, created in partnership with Mayor Kasim Reed, will help revitalize the area around a new football stadium. The city wants the Fund’s work to be shaped in consultation with city residents. Through the Fund, Atlanta will work to address two issues -- code enforcement and flooding -- already identified as priorities through past engagement efforts. City leaders are looking to the City Accelerator to help them think through how to structure their approach, and to make effective use of data and technology. Atlanta’s video, developed by Morehouse College, tells the story of looking to the community for better solutions.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Facts versus Beliefs

Here's a very good short essay from the NY Times by philosopher Justin McBrayer entitled "Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts".  It discusses some common mistaken uses of the words 'facts' and 'beliefs' or 'opinions.' I have had some lines on a logic handout that I've used many years that addresses this same issue:

The final lines from McBrayer's article sum it up nicely:
Our children deserve a consistent intellectual foundation. Facts are things that are true. Opinions are things we believe. Some of our beliefs are true. Others are not. Some of our beliefs are backed by evidence. Others are not. Value claims are like any other claims: either true or false, evidenced or not. The hard work lies not in recognizing that at least some moral claims are true but in carefully thinking through our evidence for which of the many competing moral claims is correct. That’s a hard thing to do. But we can’t sidestep the responsibilities that come with being human just because it’s hard.
That would be wrong.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Experimental Bioethics

The ethics of animal research: a survey of pediatric health care workers

Ari R Joffe126*Meredith Bara3Natalie Anton1 and Nathan Nobis45
Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine 2014, 9:20  doi:10.1186/s13010-014-0020-7



Pediatric health care workers (HCW) often perform, promote, and advocate use of public funds for animal research (AR). We aim to determine whether HCW consider common arguments (and counterarguments) in support (or not) of AR convincing.


After development and validation, an e-mail survey was sent to all pediatricians and pediatric intensive care unit nurses and respiratory therapists (RTs) affiliated with a Canadian University. We presented questions about demographics, support for AR, and common arguments (with their counterarguments) to justify the moral permissibility (or not) of AR. Responses are reported using standard tabulations. Responses of pediatricians and nurses/RTs were compared using Chi-square, with P < .05 considered significant.


Response rate was 53/115(46%) (pediatricians), and 73/120(61%) (nurses/RTs). Pediatricians and nurses/RTs are supportive of AR. Most considered ‘benefits arguments’ sufficient to justify AR; however, most acknowledged that counterarguments suggesting alternative research methods may be available, or that it is unclear why the same ‘benefits arguments’ do not apply to using humans in research, significantly weakened ‘benefits arguments’. Almost all were not convinced of the moral permissibility of AR by ‘characteristics of non-human-animals arguments’, including that non-human-animals may not be sentient, or are simply property. Most were not convinced of the moral permissibility of AR by ‘human exceptionalism’ arguments, including that humans have more advanced mental abilities, are of a special ‘kind’, can enter into social contracts, or face a ‘lifeboat situation’. Counterarguments explained much of this, including that not all humans have these more advanced abilities [the argument from species overlap], and that the notion of ‘kind’ is arbitrary [e.g., why are we not of the kind ‘sentient animal’ or ‘subject-of-a-life’]. Pediatrician and nurse/RT responses were similar.


Most respondents were not convinced of the moral permissibility of AR when given common arguments and counterarguments from the literature. HCW should seriously consider arguments on both sides of the AR debate.


Survey; Animals; Animal research; Ethics

Sunday, January 11, 2015

What's Philosophy?

What is philosophy? What makes a topic, issue, problem or question philosophical

Here are some quick thoughts.

Philosophy and Science

If the question can be answered, or the problem entirely solved, by contemporary science, then it’s not philosophy. So, if the question is one of purely empirical fact, then it’s not a philosophical question.

Some philosophical questions, however, cannot reasonably be answered without scientific input. This is most obvious with topics in applied ethics. For examples: questions about the morality of abortion cannot be answered without knowing important scientific information about fetuses: e.g., when do they become conscious and when can they feel pain? Moral questions about the treatment of animals: what are their minds like? What kinds of positive and negative emotions can they have? This scientific (and/or common sense-empirical information is surely relevant to how they should be treated. And environmental questions: whether we should or should not do X depends, in part, on how will doing X affect the environment, and science is required to determine that.

While science is essential to reasonably answering moral questions like these, the science itself doesn’t settle the issue. Moral principles and other explicitly philosophical methods of reasoning must be applied to the information.

Philosophy and Arguments

Philosophy requires arguments: philosophy requires giving reasons. Philosophy isn’t about merely stating “opinions” (whatever that might mean) or giving views. Someone might state a view on a philosophical issue, but if that view isn’t supported by reasons, then it’s not (yet) philosophy.

Philosophy, Understanding and Objections

Although a claim usually isn't philosophy unless reasons are given, better philosophy, however, requires an conscious understanding that there often are objections and questions that need to be addressed. For example, suppose someone claims that, "It's wrong to eat meat because animals suffer when turned into meat." While a reason is given, the reason is a bit simplistic, if this is all that's said: e.g., the argument doesn't consider whether and when suffering is justified, whether animals always suffer, whether it's the actual eating that causes suffering, and more. So, better philosophy displays an understanding of and engagement with the relevant complexity of an issue, that there are often alternative theories and explanations, and an engagement with all that. 

Philosophy and Observations

Some philosophy isn't explicitly argumentative: it's descriptive. For example, a "phenomenology" of experience X is an attempt to offer insightful observations of what it's like to be X, or have the experience of X. This description, however, is argumentative in that the description, typically of an often overlooked, controversial and/or murky experience is either (partially) correct or not, and people can argue about that.

Philosophy and Conceptual Analysis

A lot of philosophy involves the attempt to analyze controversial and hard to define concepts, that is, to say what something is. For example, what is knowledge? What is it to have free will? What is it to be a person? What is it to be masculine (as opposed to 'male')? What is it for a decision or policy to be fair or just? What is it for an an action to be morally wrong? Many philosophical issues that don't explicitly involve analyzing concepts depend on analyses of controversial concepts.

Philosophy and “Importance”

Some philosophical issues are important: how we should live, how society should be organized, what we should believe about challenging, controversial, philosophical issues (apologies for the perhaps unavoidable circularity here!) such as whether there is a God or not, and more.

Some philosophical issues, however, perhaps are not important. E.g., how much hair must a person lose to be definitely bald? The problem of vagueness is a classical philosophical problem, but is it really all that important? Some would say, “Not really.” It might be fun to think about for a while, an interesting puzzle, but it’s not really all that important, especially compared to other, more important issues.

Many genuinely important issues and problems, however, are not philosophical, really. About almost any important issue, someone says, “That’s really philosophical,” when maybe it’s really not. People say, about many important topics, “My philosophy is this…” when they don’t really have a philosophy to offer. In these cases, maybe what people are doing, typically, is offering their views on some important issues, but without much in the way of giving reasons for these views. But the point is this: just because someone is engaging an important issue, that doesn’t mean that they are doing philosophy or engaging the issue in a philosophical way. And that’s OK: something not being philosophy or philosophical doesn’t mean it is not important or not valuable: philosophy isn’t everything, of course.

But what is to be “important” anyway? Surely some questions are important to particular people, such as the problem of vagueness is important to those who find it interesting. But are some issues just plain important, perhaps irrespective of what people think of them? It seems so, but how this could be so is surely a philosophical question, and one that at least I find important!

Philosophy and Assumptions

Some areas in philosophy examine the assumptions that other fields, and common experience, take for granted. For example, almost all of us assume that there's an external physical world that causes our ordinary sensory experience, and that we are the same people that we were yesterday. Philosophers, however, try to find the best reasons we can give in favor of these common assumptions and try to determine if these reasons are very good or not. And some philosophers have given reasons to think that many common assumptions like these are actually false.

Philosophy and Controversy 

Most philosophical issues are controversial: there is widespread disagreement about what to think about the topic. Even when there is not disagreement with the exact issue (e.g., that torturing people for fun is wrong), there are controversies nearby (e.g., Why, exactly, is torturing people for fun wrong? What explanation, among the many, is the best explanation here?).

Philosophical Attitudes and Virtues

A philosophical person, or a person who is a genuine philosopher, is someone who seeks to have these attitudes and virtues:

  • open-minded: I don't know everything, I have been mistaken before, and I may have a lot to learn about a topic!
  • open to the possibility of error: I have been mistaken in the past, entire cultures have been mistaken, so perhaps I am mistaken, we are mistaken, in our beliefs, attitudes and actions about an issue now. Why not?
  • curious
  • patient: learning about important issues and thinking carefully about them takes time.
  • seeks evidence
  • seeks to understand contrary views: maybe others are right and I am mistaken!
  • informed
  • not dogmatic
  • seeks to have reasons
  • courageous: philosophical topics can be challenging, and some views are unpopular, so it takes courage to consider the merits of these views and whether they are worthy of belief or not.
  • willing to act on the basis of his or her reasoned convictions

To be continued!

Sunday, January 04, 2015

A Philosophy and Problem-Based Learning Grant Opportunity

Available in PDF here.

RE: Doing Philosophy in Teams.
Invitation to participate in an NEH Digital Humanities Implementation

Dr. Michael Hoffmann
Associate Professor
Director of the Philosophy Program
School of Public Policy

December 31, 2014

Grant proposal

Dear colleague,

I would like to invite you to participate in the writing of a grant proposal whose goal is to get funding for a three-year, $325,000 project that focuses on using web-based argument mapping software to support problem-based learning (PBL) in philosophy. PBL is learning in teams. Traditionally, PBL has one goal and two basic strategies. The goal is to stimulate and guide self-directed student learning. The first strategy is to let small groups of students collaborate autonomously, but guided by a “facilitator” or “tutor,” and the second is to confront student teams with a problem that poses a real challenge. As Allyn Walsh (2005) highlights in her tutorial, the goal “is NOT to solve the problem which has been presented. Rather, the problem is used to help students identify their own learning needs as they attempt to understand the problem, to pull together, synthesize and apply information to the problem, and to begin to work effectively to learn from group members as well as tutors.” In PBL students are supposed to acquire on their own the knowledge they need to approach the problem. Students should learn to learn.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Safety and the Ponce and Scott Intersection

This was originally posted on a blog for issues local to the City of Decatur, GA. Since then, that blog has been deleted so I am re-posting this post here since, as far as I know, no changes have been made to address these problems:


On Monday, January 20, 2014 my wife and are were in a serious car accident near the intersection of Ponce and Scott, in Decatur. This area is DeKalb County, but not the City of Decatur. I have learned that at least one other person had the same accident there and others in my Lenox Place neighborhood report many near-misses. Since the foot traffic at that intersection is expected to increase due to the school rezoning and the re-opening of Westchester Elementary, it is especially important that this intersection be made safer. This page describes some of the problems and offers some suggestions to make the intersection safer. 

This page was created to readily present this information to those who can directly make changes.


On Monday, January 20, 2014, we were driving north on East Parkwood, crossing Ponce. We had a green light. A driver coming down Ponce, heading west, ran the red light and smashed into our car, and then hit another car going south on East Parkwood that was, presumably, turning left on Ponce to head up the hill. 

Since this accident, a friend told me that the exact same accident happened to her, and many friends and neighbors have reported near-misses at that intersection.


Some factors that contribute to the unsafe conditions at this intersection include:
  1. Too many people run the red light at Ponce and East Parkwood, either intentionally or accidentally. Many neighbors report seeing this.
  2. The view of Ponce when heading north on East Parkwood is obstructed: there is a hill on the southeast corner there and many plants in the way. So, drivers on East Parkwood cannot really see who is coming down Ponce and react accordingly. In my accident, I assumed that "green means go" and that it was safe for us to continue driving through the intersection, and did not see the car speeding down Ponce that hit us. This video helps show this:
  3. Presumably, too many people speed down Ponce. City of Decatur police often sit and catch people speeding up the hill, so there surely must be people speeding down the hill. 
  4. Coming from the other direction on Ponce, heading east, the view of the light at Ponce and East Parkwood is obstructed by this magnolia tree:


Here are a few recommendations for how to make this intersection safer:
  1. The lights at East Parkwood should display red and flashing yellow, not green, so that drivers enter the intersection with caution and do not assume that drivers on Ponce will stop for them.
  2. If anything obstructing the view coming north on East Parkwood to Ponce can be removed, that would help.
  3. The speed limit down Ponce should be reduced. Perhaps a flashing red or yellow light could be put in around half way down the hill, or at the bend near Upland, to deter speeding and to help drivers expect to perhaps be stopping at the stoplight. 
  4. Most importantly, something needs to be done to make drivers on Ponce more aware of the light at East Parkwood, so they do not run it and run over anyone in that intersection, pedestrian or other drivers. Perhaps small speed bumps, or texture in the road would help, or something else. 
  5. The driver who hit us reported seeing a green light at Ponce and Scott and that this contributed to her ignoring the red light at Ponce and East Parkwood. I have investigated this (see the video below), however, and have found that - at least when I observed these lights - they are never in this combination. So, a driver would not look farther down the road, see a green, and ignore the red, since that doesn't happen. If it does, however, the light timing should be changed so that the lights never display in this potentially confusing combination. 

These are a few recommendations for improving safety at this intersection. I am sure that experts on these issues would have more and better recommendations. If you have any recommendations, please add them as comments below or contact me, Nathan. 


Nathan Nobis
Decatur, GA 30030

Monday, September 29, 2014

Animals and Ethics Course

For the past few years, I have periodically taught an ethics and animals course, online. Here are some of the files: the "lectures" files (the most interesting and important file), the "readings" file and the "syllabus" files. I'd appreciate any reactions to the course organization and content. Thanks!