My philosopher friend Dan Lowe (at U Michigan) gives his students an assignment to write a thank you note to some author they read in his Intro to Ethics class who they appreciated in some way.
THIS IS A GREAT ASSIGNMENT and more instructors who run classes where they read and discuss living and email-accessible folks (like me and the philosophy friends here) should do it.
Here are 20 notes to me, in response to my "Early and Later Abortions: Ethics and Law" from Bob Fischer's Ethics: Left and Right anthology. (This paper led to the book Thinking Critically About Abortion and other writings with Kristina Grob, the Salon article with Jonathan Dudley, and a bunch of new e-friends and some reputation as being someone who can help people engage controversial issues in productive and "polite" ways.)
1. Dear Nathan Nobis,
I very much enjoyed reading EARLY AND LATER ABORTIONS: ETHICS AND LAW, and I want to let you know why. First, I found the writing style and logical progression throughout the paper to be extremely natural and well-done. I really appreciated your explicit focus on arguments, and the way it progressed into a discussion of question-begging arguments — something that I run into time & time again when discussing this topic. Not only do I appreciate how you reconstructed your various arguments into easy to digest premises/conclusions, but I also very much enjoyed the content of those arguments. Particularly, I was intrigued by the discussions around personhood and harm. I had a difficult time putting the argument from lack of personhood into words until reading this, but I thought I had a better grasp on what it means to harm someone. I hadn’t really considered that a conscious perspective was a necessary condition for being harmed. My initial reaction was that I could certainly harm a table, or any other inanimate object, until I realized that I was only considering harming man-made objects and the ‘harm’ came from hindering its ability to fulfill the function that we have assigned it. Can you really harm a rock by breaking it into two different rocks? You helped me realize that I think not — we can only harm things that can be worse off from their perspective, not ours. Anyways, thank you for your wonderful contribution to contemporary moral philosophy.
2. Dear Nathan Nobis,
I was assigned to read your paper about abortion in Ethics: Left and Right. I would like to express my gratitude towards you for this paper. In my life, I’ve been exposed to many arguments for and against abortion, and I could never articulate clearly my disagreements with some approaches to the argument. Specifically, your section on question-begging arguments explained why I had a problem with arguments for abortion along the lines of “It’s a personal choice”. Since this was one of the first papers my class read in this book, it served as an introduction to philosophical argumentation for me. Your article really helped me learn how to examine and reconstruct an argument, as well as respond to an argument I disagree with, and attack it correctly. For that, thank you!
3. Dear Nathan Nobis,
I am writing this letter to show my appreciation to you, as a philosopher. I cannot begin to express how your writing style influenced and bettered mine, especially when it comes to constructing arguments. In your argument on the acceptability of abortion specifically, I really liked how the argument wasn’t based on a personal opinion like most, but widely accepted facts. It taught me to begin all of my arguments with information most people can agree on, then develop my argument from there. I’ve seen in recent papers that my arguments have been more persuasive and effective this way. You taught me a skill that I will utilize in my writing in the future, and for that I am thankful!
4. Dear Mr. Nobis,
I am writing to you as a student at the University of Michigan who read your “Early and Later Abortions: Ethics and Law” piece in one of my classes. I must say, your work was eye-opening to me. Previously, I was on the fence about where I stood when it came to abortion. On one hand, the mother seemed to have her rights, but on the other hand the fetus seemed to have some rights as well. However, your argument for using consciousness as a standard to base the morality of abortions made something click in my mind. I would like to say thank you for that, as you helped me resolve a personal dilemma in a clear and sensual way.
5. Dear Mr. Nobis,
I wanted to thank you for the article you wrote, “Early and Later Abortions: Ethics and Law”. I read this article for my Philosophy class and found your argument very convincing and well-organized.
Specifically, I was interested by your definition of abortion since I had always heard pro-choice advocates refrain from using the word “killing,” let alone “intentional killing”. The notion of killing a fetus always seemed to be something those advocating against abortions claimed. Your example of how we kill mold, vegetables, etc. with no problem was very convincing since it’s true we never give a second thought to those killings. Thus, using the word “kill” in describing abortion shouldn’t be problematic especially since a fetus isn’t a “baby” or a “child” but rather just a mixture of cells and tissues.
Therefore, your discussion about “killing” as well as your mention that fetuses should not be defined as anything but a blob of cells and tissues made me think differently about the arguments I generally use in support of the right to an abortion. I have always been an advocate of pro-choice, but I hadn’t quite thought about abortion in this way before; I appreciate your analysis.
I also appreciated how you laid out and refuted some common arguments in Part 4; I found this section very easy to follow and very convincing. I know some authors describe common counter-arguments without naming them as explicitly as you did, and I thought this format was very effective.
I’m glad I got the chance to read your article – thanks!
6. Dear Nathan Nobis,
Thank you for your thoughtful work in the book Ethics: Left and Right. In the class it was one of the first units we tackled, and it served as a good foundation for ethical thinking on future issues. I particularly enjoyed your going over arguments both for and against the permissibility of abortion that begged the question. I think I can recall a nearly endless number of question-begging arguments at every family dinner, social event, or conversation with friends in which the topic is brought up. Having them be identified clearly and then shown to be fallacious was helpful in avoiding the kind of morally loaded terminology we often use when discussing any moral issue. I also enjoyed your breakdown of what it means to be a person. I used to value the idea of human life in a non-specific way, but reading your account of the psychological characteristics required to be a person made me realize that what I actually care about is the well-being of conscious creatures. It allowed me to ground my moral beliefs with respect to that fundamental goal. Your back-and-forth with Chris Tollefsen was intriguing and was the topic of my essay for the class. I found your section challenging the idea of appealing to natures very helpful in the way I thought about where we derive rights from, and how that could translate to other issues. Once again, thank you for your thoughtful work, and I look forward to reading more of that work in the future.
7. Dear Mr. Nobis,
I would like to thank you for your insight on why abortions are not wrong. I was raised catholic and was always taught that abortions are wrong no matter the circumstance. After reading your chapter in Ethics Left and Right, I can now confidently say that I agree with your perspective. I believe abortions are not wrong and that they should not be made illegal. Your writing style truly articulated the importance of defining what an abortion is, as well as understanding the significance of consciousness when determining what makes us human. You opened my eyes to a new perspective on how to think about abortion as well as how to think about major moral dilemmas in this day and age. Thank you for writing such a well-structured chapter that adequately informs the reader about why abortions are not wrong.
8. Dear Nathan Nobis,
First, a big thank you!
Hi, My name is ______. I’m a Cognitive Science and Philosophy Major at U of M; as taking the course Phil 355: Contemporary and Moral Issues, we were able to analyze and discuss some of your work.
Thank you for your contributions to the book “Ethics, Left & Right: The Moral Issues That Divides Us.” In this piece of writing, I think you captured some of the fundamental issues society has around abortion, and in the end, pointing out why and when we should consider it to be right or wrong. Not by way of emotions or how we feel in any specific circumstance, but if it is right or wrong to kill an unconscious being. Before taking a few courses and experiencing college here at U of M, I had a few viewpoints about abortion based on emotion (I considered it wholly wrong/couldn’t see how people could do it). However, being able to remove that, I believe deep down (possibly) why people are even able to cope in any way with abortion because of the point you highlighted in the argument. That it is morally acceptable to kill an unconscious being because they are not and never have been conscious. This ties in with the concept of someone being brain dead and how they were conscious but never will be again. Considering it in light of this helped me still think about the human agency behind getting an abortion or killing something that don’t/never has or with braindead individuals that no longer will have consciousness. You helped me consider an abortion purely under the lens of the action itself and not why or how it is done.
9. Dear Professor Nobis,
I really enjoyed reading your thoughts about abortion in the textbook Ethics, Left and Right. Your writing helped me realize how to think about the issue of abortion in a rational way. Sometimes it can be hard to argue this issue in a rational manner because I feel so passionately about it, so reading your concrete and rational arguments helped me better grasp why I hold the views that I do and how to have productive conversations about abortion going forward. I found your discussion of consciousness and ethics particularly interesting; I hadn’t thought about early term abortions in this way before reading your work. This is such an important issue to discuss and I feel that emotion often clouds rational argument, and your writing was a reminder that there are ways to rationally argue issues that we feel so strongly about. Once again, I wanted to say thank you for sharing your writing, and it was an influential piece to read.
10. Dear Nathan Nobis,
Hello! By way of introduction, I am a sophomore at the University of Michigan studying Environmental Studies and Information Science. I am currently enrolled in PHIL 355 (Philosophy of Contemporary Moral Problems) with Professor Dan Lowe. In class, we read your excerpt on abortion in “Ethics, Left and Right: The Moral Issues That Divide Us.” I found your excerpt on abortion to be extremely informative and well-written. I enjoyed your passage so much that I even wrote a philosophy paper reconstructing your argument!
Within your argument, I appreciated your use of facts and rationality when dissecting the morality of abortion. Moreover, the fact that only 1.3% of abortions occur after 21 weeks (right before fetuses can first feel pain and develop consciousness) was very eye-opening to me. I also found your perspective on the legality of late abortions to be very interesting. While the morality of late-term abortions can be questionable, I also support the idea that these late abortions should still be legal to provide women the fastest care possible.
As more restrictive abortion measures are being passed in state legislations, I wish that more people would read your well-written argument supporting the morality of most abortions.
11. Dear Professor Nobis,
I read your essay in Ethics, Left and Right about abortion, and I really enjoyed it. It
challenged my thinking and forced me to examine the underlying moral reasoning for
whether abortion is morally wrong. In particular, I liked your criticism of question begging arguments from both sides such as the personal choice argument and the abortion is murder argument. Before reading your essay, I had never truly considered the fallacies present in most political arguments. Since giving it more thought, I have realized just how many political arguments for a variety of issues are questions begging or are guilty of committing other common fallacies. While I do not entirely agree with using consciousness as a standard for when killing is morally permissible, it offered me a unique perspective that I had not considered in depth before. Overall, I really enjoyed your essay, and I think that I learned a lot from it. Thank you for writing it and contributing your ideas!
12. Dear Nathan Nobis,
I would like to thank you for working on your piece on abortion for the book, “Ethics, Left and Right.” I have considered myself to be liberal, for all my life, and have always felt adamant about abortion being morally permissible. As a woman, I believe that the right to decide should be placed in the hands of the woman--rather than Congressional leaders--but, I was never able to articulate my viewpoints past women’s rights. The concept of continuity of consciousness and personhood being a key factor in identifying when it is morally permissible to have an abortion has opened my eyes to how I may be able to make that argument and refer to your work in future conservations with the many of my conservative friends (I’ve grown up being a person of color in a very white, conservative town). I fully agree that past when a fetus gains consciousness, it would be morally impermissible as well, which is why I have also been against late-term abortions whenever this debate is brought up. I plan to credit you for your examples of why we must accept late-term abortions, ex. Courts would have no way of sifting through cases. I look forward to reading more of your philosophical work, and thank you again!
13. Dear Mr. Nobis,
Thank you so much for sharing your argument in defense of the ethicality of non-late term abortions and in support of the legalization of all abortions. I have always considered myself
pro-choice, but I haven’t always known exactly how to argue my position. I knew that I did not believe aborting a fetus was murder, but I wasn’t sure exactly why. Your essay put into words exactly how I feel about the personhood of a fetus and why terminating its growth is not murder, so I feel better prepared to discuss my views with people going forward. Furthermore, the majority of arguments I’ve heard both in favor of and against abortion are based in religion, so I appreciated that your argument did not appeal to religious teachings, rather purely on ethics. Thank you again for the time you put into crafting such a compelling argument; it’s academics like you that give us students something to discuss and provide us with inspiration for our futures.
14. Dear Mr. Nobis,
I enjoyed reading your argument about the morality of early abortions. I appreciated that you took the argument head on and argued from the standpoint of whether it was ethical to kill a
fetus. Many abortion arguments seem to be about women’s right to bodily autonomy and while I tend to agree with those arguments, I feel as if they do not address the concerns that many
conservatives have about abortion. That is why I enjoyed your argument so much, it directly engages and challenges the conservative perspective.
I also learned a lot about making an argument in the framework of personhood. My previous understanding of abortion was entirely intuitive so I learned a lot about how to articulate some of the points I felt were right in a more logical and cohesive manner. I anticipate that I will use the framework of personhood in many of my future arguments.
Thank you for taking the time to write this essay and present your views.
15. Dr. Nobis,
I am writing to say thank you. Thank you for opening my eyes up to an argumet on abortion that truly makes sense to me. Thank you for outlining your view clearly and concisely. I had never truly had a position on abortion, but after reading your chapter in Ethics Left and Right I have found myself agreeing with nearly everything you say. It is extremely difficult to change one's opinion in 10 pages or less, although I would make the argument that is exactly what you did. I even felt so strongly about what you wrote, that I used your argument in a paper for my philosophy class defending your position against objections, and showing how and why it
was so strong. I am very happy that I had the opportunity to read some of your finest work, and I truly took so much away from the words that you have exclaimed in your work. I look forward to
pursuing a minor in philosophy at the University of Michigan, and I thank you for helping me along the way with your wisdom and brilliance!
16. Nathan Nobis,
I found reading your essay arguing that abortion is ethical to be quite interesting. For the most part, I have always believed that abortion should be legal mainly because it seems wrong to restrict women in such away. However, as I matured I started to question if the killing of a fetus was ethical. It was hard for me to determine what should decide if killing another being is alright. Having read your essay, I think that your argument creates a good distinction that applies to many situations outside of abortion. I would like to thank you for your contribution to this discussion as doing so has helped me (and I assume many others) become more informed on this subject.
17. Dear Dr. Nobis,
Thank you for providing your thoughts on abortion for our class to discuss. As someone interested in a career in medicine, I have formed my own opinions on the matter, but it is always difficult to pinpoint an exact line of reasoning that leads me to my views. Your piece helped to crystalize the argument and even show that some arguments being used to support abortion do not do so strongly. I think the most important part to a good argument that I have learned through the reading is that everything is clearly defined so that there is no confusion what is being discussed between parties. Defining what it means to be a person is pivotal to your argument but at a glace it may seem pointless and unnecessary. I hope you are doing well in these hard times and thank you again for helping me better understand the arguments of abortion.
18. Dear Nathan Nobis,
I read your paper in Ethics, Left and Right, and I would like to thank you for your clear writing and argumentation. Many of the facts you wrote in your paper, especially about the consciousness of a fetus, are crucial for the debate on abortion, yet it is rare to come across them in regular conversations about the topic. I also appreciated that you criticised some of the arguments from the pro-choice side, since they have no effect on the pro-life position. I really enjoyed reading your paper, and I think the abortion debate would be much more informed if everyone read it as well.
19. Dear Mr. Nobis,
I'm writing to you to thank you for your insight on "Early and Later Abortion: Ethics and Law". I thought it was quite interesting how you labeled common arguments for abortion as question-begging arguments. This changed my perspective as to how I would argue for abortion. I also found it interesting how several of the arguments for and against abortions were question begging-arguments. I think it was important how you mentioned certain statistics that support your points as well. I hardly ever see that when it comes to philosophical arguments, but I think it further proved your argument. Most importantly, you made me question what defines personhood and consciousness and other aspects of what makes a living being "living.
20. Dear Professor Nobis,
I wanted to write to you to acknowledge your literature on “Early and Later Abortions: Ethics and Law” (found in Bob Fischer’s, “Ethics Left and Right”). Compared to many of the articles that we read on various topics this year in our contemporary morals philosophy course, your work was one of the most concisely and well-constructed writings. Your inclusion of multiple reconstructions was extremely helpful for the reader, and much preferred over the more common format of including the arguments directly in paragraphs.
Specifically, regarding the content of your work, while I agreed with most of your claims beforehand, I had not thought of many of the objections to your premises that you included. So, after reading this article, I feel as though the thoroughness of my argument for pro-choice has greatly improved. Thank you again for this excellent piece.