Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Second Conference on Bioethics Issues in Minority Health and Health Disparities Research

Second Conference on Bioethics Issues in Minority Health and Health Disparities Research
January 23-25, 2019

Call for Abstracts and Manuscripts

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Reply to Christopher Tollefsen on Abortion

Reply to Christopher Tollefsen on Abortion

Abstract: Are you the same thing as your body? Did you begin at conception? Do you have a rational and free “nature” or “essence”? Some answer ‘yes’ to all and argue that this means that abortion is wrong: 
your "essence" is that of a free and rational being; that essence *makes* it wrong to kill you; you have always existed whenever your body existed; your body began at conception; and so you existed at conception and were wrong to kill; and the same is true for all other human fetuses. 
This argument is discussed here. 

For Ethics: Left and Right, edited by Bob Fischer (Oxford University Press, 2019). By Nathan Nobis. Below is a response to Christopher Tollefsen’s essay on abortion, which is a perspective from “the Right.” Please see my contribution from a perspective from “the Left,” “Early and Later Abortions: Ethics and Law.”

Word count: 999

"Cultural Relativism" or "Moral Relativism" or "Ethical Relativism" or "Relativism"

Here is a short writing to better understand a moral theory called "Cultural Relativism" or "Moral Relativism" or "Ethical Relativism." See below the fold for the details:

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Decatur FM

A version of this will be out in the October Decatur Focus. Need something written? Contact me!

“Good morning, DE-CA-TUR!!!”

Where do you get your Decatur news? Blogs? City publications? Facebook? Talking to people?

There’s a new option in town: radio!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Organization and Clarity in Writing: Seeing the Forest Through the Trees

Philosophy papers, or philosophical presentations (talks or lectures, audio or video presentations, which are usually based on something written in preparation for the talk), typically attempt to do a number of things, such as:
  1. State a view or claim.
  2. State and explain a view or claim. 
  3. State and explain a view or claim, and explain an argument(s) or reason(s) given in its favor, e.g., that the view is true or reasonable to believe, or state and explain a view or claim, and explain an argument(s) or reason(s) given against it, e.g., that the view is false or unreasonable to believe.  
  4. State and explain a view or claim, and explain an argument(s) or reason(s) given in its favor or against it, and state and explain some objection(s) to that (or those) argument(s) - that is, a reason to think that the initial argument is somehow faulty - and explain whether that objection(s) is strong or not.  
And there are other tasks that one might do in a philosophy paper or presentation. It's important that whatever you decide you are going to do, you do it. See below the fold for more:

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Moral Experts, Deference & Disagreement

Moral Expertise: New Essays from Theoretical and Clinical Bioethics

Editors: Watson, Jamie Carlin, Guidry-Grimes, Laura K. (Eds.)
  • Contains all new essays that engage with a growing body of scholarly literature on moral expertise
  • The first anthology on moral expertise since Lisa Rasmussen’s excellent 2005 collection, Ethics Expertise
  • Brings together both academics and clinical ethicists on the contentious question of moral expertise

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Fall Classes

Intro to Philosophical Ethics - 44370 - HPHI 302G - 01

Associated Term: Fall 2018
Registration Dates: Apr 09, 2018 to Aug 24, 2018
Levels: Undergraduate

3.000 Credits
Scheduled Meeting Times
TypeTimeDaysWhereDate RangeSchedule TypeInstructors
Class10:00 am - 10:50 amMWFSale Hall 105Aug 15, 2018 - Dec 07, 2018LectureNathan M. Nobis (P)E-mail

Intro to Philosophical Ethics - 44371 - HPHI 302G - 02

Associated Term: Fall 2018
Registration Dates: Apr 09, 2018 to Aug 24, 2018
Levels: Undergraduate

3.000 Credits

Scheduled Meeting Times
TypeTimeDaysWhereDate RangeSchedule TypeInstructors
Class11:00 am - 11:50 amMWFSale Hall 105Aug 15, 2018 - Dec 07, 2018LectureNathan M. Nobis (P)E-mail
Topic:Metaphysics - 45789 - HPHI 475 - 07

Associated Term: Fall 2018
Registration Dates: Apr 09, 2018 to Aug 24, 2018
Levels: Undergraduate

3.000 Credits

Scheduled Meeting Times
TypeTimeDaysWhereDate RangeSchedule TypeInstructors
Class1:00 pm - 1:50 pmMWFSale Hall 109Aug 15, 2018 - Dec 07, 2018LectureNathan M. Nobis (P)E-mail

Laptops and Phones in classrooms

What this suggests is that students need some special reason for any phone and laptop use to be justified.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Early and Later Abortions: Ethics and Law

Early and Later Abortions: Ethics and Law

Early Abortions Are Not Wrong, Late Abortions Could Be Wrong,
but probably All Abortions Should Be Legal

For Ethics, Left and Right, edited by Bob Fischer (Oxford University Press, 2019)

For a reply to the "opposing side" essay, see my (9/26/18) "Reply to Christopher Tollefsen on Abortion"

Nathan Nobis; Philosophy, Morehouse College;

Draft 7/31/18 ; Google docAlso available at and Dropbox


Most abortions occur early in pregnancy. I argue that these abortions, and so most abortions, are not morally wrong and that the best arguments given to think that these abortions are wrong are weak. I also argue that these abortions, and probably all abortions, should be legal.

I begin by observing that people sometimes respond to the issue by describing the circumstances of abortion, not offering reasons for their views about those circumstances; I then dismiss “question-begging” arguments about abortion that merely assume the conclusions they are given to support; most importantly, I evaluate many arguments: both common, often-heard arguments and arguments developed by philosophers.

My defense of abortion is based on facts about early fetuses’ not yet possessing consciousness or any mental life, awareness or feeling, as well as concerns about rights to one’s own body.

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 ; 

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: 

Also here with better formatting.