Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Ethical relativism

An in-class reading comprehension quiz on cultural relativism: 

1.     Cultural relativism is the view that different cultures have some different moral viewsTrue or false? Explain your answer. 


2.     Cultural relativism is an ethical theory: it’s an explanation for what makes wrong actions wrong and what makes not-wrong actions not wrong. What’s cultural relativism’s explanation here of what makes wrong actions wrong and permissible actions permissible? 

3.     What argument pattern are the arguments against cultural relativism? 

4.     Are the arguments given for cultural relativism – that is, to think that it’s a true theory – sound or unsoundWhy? 

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Following All The Facts About Abortion—Scientific, Ethical, And Logical—Wherever They Lead

 New at the American Journal of Bioethics blog!

Following All The Facts About Abortion—Scientific, Ethical, And Logical—Wherever They Lead,” a response to @CCamosy in @RNS (“Faith, science and the abortion debate”) and @americamag (“it’s the pro-lifers who have science on their side”) #abortion #prochoice #prolife #ethics

And here's a (funny?) video inspired by what's often said about these matters:

@nathan.nobis A conversation with a certain type of "pro-life" or anti-abortion advocate: does that sound familiar to you? If not, it should?! #abortion #prochoice #prolife #criticalthinking #logic #bioethics #philosophy #arguments #counterexamples ♬ original sound - Philosophy 101 - Prof. Nobis

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Talk for a Leadership class on ethics and animals

I gave a talk / led a class today at a class on Moral Leadership. The notes talk are here.

Here were the questions I addressed:

  • Would it be morally permissible for a “moral leader” to start and maintain a factory farm or a slaughterhouse? Or would that be morally wrong? WHY?

  • Would it be morally permissible for a “moral leader” to start and maintain a so-called “humane farm” or slaughterhouse? Or would that be morally wrong? WHY?

  • Would it be morally permissible for a “moral leader” to start and maintain a competitor to Elwood’s Dog Meat’s farm? Or would that be morally wrong? (If so, would it also be wrong to raise and kill cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals?). WHY?

  • Would a “moral leader” buy and eat meat, and other animal-based food products in most circumstances they are actually in? Would a moral leader be a vegetarian or a vegan? WHY?

In general, what would a moral leader do (actions; behaviors), and what kind of person would a moral leader be (character traits, virtues; “personal style” of engagement–how they interact with others and view them)?

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Penser l’avortement

Penser l’avortement

Thinking Critically About Abortion, in French!

Available from the publisher ÉLIOTT ÉDITIONS and from Amazon France!

This is not yet available in an open-access format, but this should happen eventually. Check back!

Tuesday, April 04, 2023


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Dear Friends and Supporters of 1000-Word Philosophy: An Introductory Anthology,
This week the Board of Directors of “1000-Word Philosophy: An Introductory Anthology” met at a five-star resort in Costa Rica to discuss the future of 1000-Word Philosophy.
During the day, it was all play: snorkeling, yoga, and a private “Create Your Own Mocktail” class were some of the Board’s favorite activities.
The evenings, after dinner and before the late-night sailing, however, were ALL BUSINESS.
The board participated in a series of intense meetings, the focus of which was the financial future of "1000-Word Philosophy."
The issue is this: inflation has hit us all, and perhaps no sector of the economy has been hit harder than the freely available online philosophy and ethics educational materials sector, of which "1000-Word Philosophy" is a—perhaps the—industry leader.
Simply put, we can no longer afford to publish essays with 1000 words.
While talk is cheap, the price of printing words online has gone up exponentially: those little dots on our screens aren’t uncaused events: they cost money.
The board attempted to negotiate with our internet providers to get a lower per-word posting cost: those negotiations broke down in tears. And Internet hackers have disabled our computer systems so we can no longer save files in PDF, unless we pay a sizeable ransom, which we cannot afford, given the cost of our board retreat. There are more problems that we won't tell you about, but we will share that we feel great shame and embarrassment that each board member’s email password was the easily guessable “1000WordPhilosophyPassword,” given the problems that have resulted from those internet breaches.
All is not lost, however. The Board has secured funding to enable us to continue publishing essays, but with 732 words, no more and no less. We had hoped we would have been able to continue at 812 words, but our analysis proves that is unsustainable.
Fortunately, we will be able to retain our current essays, with modifications: the board applied for and received a special grant to hire editing consultants to swiftly cut all the currently available essays down to 732 words; unfortunately, though, no endnotes will be allowed to remain since we those are a luxury.
We feel great sadness in this turn of events and the end of this era, but we are proud that we will be able to continue as "732-WordPhilosophy: Short Thinkin' Stuff." Please check this space for the launch of our new webpage, which will soon be available at 732WordPhilosophy.geocities.com
We appreciate your understanding and support throughout these trying times, but we look forward to emerging even stronger. Please stick with us throughout this transition. You won’t regret it, and the best short philosophy and ethics readings are yet to come: this we promise you and know for sure.
The Board of Directors for the philosophical-educational project formerly known as "1000-Word Philosophy," soon to be known as "732-WordPhilosophy: Short Thinkin' Stuff."

Sunday, March 12, 2023

24 Philosophy Professors React to ChatGPT’s Arrival, Part II, Ahmed Bouzid

24 Philosophy Professors React to ChatGPT’s Arrival, Part II, Ahmed Bouzid

Someone asked me for a paragraph on some of my concerns about ChatGPT. Here it is:

Yes, I am concerned about ChatGPT, for many reasons. We know that some students cheat in classes, or try to cheat in classes, by plagiarism: by submitting work that's cut and pasted from the internet, or from files that they sometimes say they "borrowed" from other students, or even hiring someone to do custom work for them. This already happens (how much and how often? I don't know the details on that; and I don't know if anyone has reliable data; do they?), and ChatGPT is just another, perhaps better way to do that, since can create "custom" work for a student to submit that's harder to detect as illegitimate. 

So ChatGPT is basically just a better tool to meet current demands for not doing the work and not making a responsible attempt at effectively engaging in the learning activities a course presents. 

My long-term concern is that we are going to have more and more people who are credentialed as being knowledgeable and skilled in various areas, yet much of their credentials have been gained by this type of cheating and dishonesty, and so we are going to have even more credentaled, but incompetent or less-competent, people in the workforce and, worse, as leaders. Ignorance isn't bliss for the rest of us, and ChatGPT makes concealing ignorance harder, which is bad for us all.

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

"How to Write a Philosophical Essay"

1000-Word Philosophy: An Introductory Anthology has a new essay on how to write philosophical essays for philosophy courses, by the editors of 1000-Word Philosophy:

Thursday, December 08, 2022

2022 Public Philosophy Op-Ed Contest

2022 Public Philosophy Op-Ed Contest

The APA [American Philosophical Assocation] committee on public philosophy sponsors the Public Philosophy Op-Ed Contest for the best opinion-editorials published by philosophers. The goal is to honor up to five standout pieces that successfully blend philosophical argumentation with an op-ed writing style. Winning submissions will call public attention, either directly or indirectly, to the value of philosophical thinking. The pieces will be judged in terms of their success as examples of public philosophy, and should be accessible to the general public, focused on important topics of public concern, and characterized by sound reasoning.



Max Khan Hayward (The University of Sheffield), Eat, Drink, and Be Merry! No, Really.” (The Atlantic, 2021)

Milena Ivanova (The University of Cambridge), The Beautiful Experiment” (Aeon, 2021)

A. Minh Nguyen (Florida Gulf Coast University), When Your Daughter Is Told ‘Your Face Is Not American’” (The News-Press, 2021)

Nathan Nobis (Morehouse College) and Jonathan Dudley (Johns Hopkins), Why the case against abortion is weak, ethically speaking” (Salon, 2021)

Lisa Forsberg (Oxford University) and Anthony Skelton (University of Western Ontario)3 reasons for making COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for children” (The Conversation, 2021)

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Extremism and Losing the Ability to Listen

There are many problems associated with extremism. 

One is that extremists generally lose the ability to listen to people who disagree with them: they become simply unable to know what other people think. 

This is really obvious to people with a philosophical background since philosophy is all about definitions: it's all about how people use words in different ways, how they mean different things using the same words since they have different definitions in mind. That's why one of the most important philosophical questions is, "What do you mean?"

This is especially relevant to ethical topics about abortion, and other topics in bioethics, where many of the key words are used in different ways by different people, resulting in different arguments: e.g, "life" and "alive" have multiple meanings, as do "human," "human being," and related words. 

Here are some thoughts about why extremists are unwilling and unable to listen. 

Listening to understand requires patience. Extremists have no patience for anyone who disagrees with them. 

Listening to understand involves thinking that other people are somewhat rational and that other people's views make some sense, even they are mistaken. But extremists think everyone who disagrees with them is an irrational idiot. 

Listening to understand seems to require thinking that you might learn something from other people. But extremists think they know it all, even though they rarely study the issues in fair and balanced ways. They deny the value of expertise and/or mistakenly assume they are experts, when they are not. 

Extremists have no motive for listening: you might listen to seek a compromise, or a solution that will acknowledge all important concerns. But extremists have no interest in compromise. 

Listening to understand involves recognizing that issues can be complicated, which is why there are different perspectives on them. Extremists deny this: they think the issues are simple and that they are obviously correct. 

Extremism typically involves "grandstanding" or showing off in front of your "tribe", to show that you are a true believer to the righteous cause. But listening to people you disagree with is contrary to that: to be in a position to listen to someone -- and for that person to speak in an authentic way -- there has to be some kind of respectful, friendly relationship, even for the moment

Extremism is bad. 

What is extremist anyway? 

Spencer Case argues that "a person is an extremist just in case an intense moral conviction blinds her to competing moral considerations, or else makes her unwilling to qualify her beliefs when she should." Since there are moral considerations to understanding views contrary to your own (like what?), the label "extremism" fits here, and extremism can be characterized by the above considerations (and many, many more!).

What are other ways extremism is bad?

What can be done about it?

A related post: 

@nathan.nobis extremism, abortion extremism and losing the ability to listen. #extremism #extremist #abortion #prochoice #prolife #polarization #polarizationisproblematic #ethics #philosophy #criticalthinking #listening #listeningskills ♬ original sound - Philosophy 101 - Prof. Nobis
extremism, abortion extremism and losing the ability to listen. #extremism #extremist #abortion #prochoice #prolife #polarization #polarizationisproblematic #ethics #philosophy #criticalthinking #listening #listeningskills

Saturday, August 20, 2022

What is Philosophy?

What is Philosophy?

From 1000-Word Philosophy: An Introductory Anthology. 

Author: Thomas Metcalf
Category: Metaphilosophy
Word count: 1000

Listen here

If you’ve ever wondered whether God exists, whether life has purpose, whether beauty is in the eye of the beholder, what makes actions right or wrong, or whether a law is fair or just, then you’ve thought about philosophy. And these are just a few philosophical topics.

But what is philosophy? The question is itself a philosophical question. This essay surveys some answers.

'Philosophy' in a dictionary.
‘Philosophy’ in a dictionary.