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, where many of the key words are used in different ways by different people, resulting in different arguments. This is especially relevant to abortion and other bioethical topics: 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.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

What Should Philosophers Do in Response to Dobbs? A Conversation With Ethicists

I was part of this interview/discussion, posted yesterday, organized and written up by Rachel Robison-Greene, with Jill Delston, Amanda Roth, and Jennifer Scuro, at the APA Blog:

What Should Philosophers Do in Response to Dobbs? A Conversation With Ethicists

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Abortion & Ethics Quiz

An Abortion & Ethics Quiz
People often think that they are very knowledgeable about ethical debates about abortion: they believe they deeply understand the arguments and why their arguments are sound and why people who disagree with them are mistaken. This quiz helps test that knowledge.

 Also available here.

A “Fair and Balanced” Guide to Productive Deliberation

A post on this on another blog.


A “Fair and Balanced” Guide to Productive Deliberation

Background: people often discuss ethical, social, and political issues with little awareness or understanding of what people who disagree with them think about the issues. This often results in misunderstanding and “straw-personing” other people’s views – seeing them as simplistic and obviously mistaken – when they really might not be. This prevents people from more productively engaging with different points of view. Since we often need to work together to find responses to problems that can work for more than just our own group, the process presented in this handout can help gain us all gain a better understanding of different views, so we might make progress in responding to controversial issues. Here’s the questions and process:

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Yes, all bioethicists should engage abortion ethics, but who would be interested in what they have to say?

Yes, all bioethicists should engage abortion ethics, but who would be interested in what they have to say?

Open peer commentary, now here: Nathan Nobis (2022) Yes, All Bioethicists Should Engage Abortion Ethics, but Who Would Be Interested in What They Have to Say?, The American Journal of Bioethics, 22:8, 33-36, DOI: 10.1080/15265161.2022.2089274 [some number of free eprints here]

1500 words.

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

John Corvino on building a better community of inquiry: how to seek understanding, how to better discuss polarizing issues.

This is set to go straight to the part of the discussion where he suggests the idea of one's "tribe" being people who seek the facts, people who try to reason well, people who genuinely try to be fair and balanced. Great idea!