Some of Nathan Nobis's Teaching Handouts

Here are some of the materials I use in my intro to ethics class.

NOTE: all these handouts are fairly outdated; I plan to update them all this summer (2012) and create new ones, for a textbook I am working on. The general strategy is always this:

  • Identify an issue as a controversial one: "Do people disagree about this topic?" "Yes.."

  • Identify some common, contrary conclusions on the topic.

  • Ask students to make lists of common reasons, or premises, given in favor of these conclusions. This can be done on their own, in groups, doing surveys (outside of class), internet research, etc.

  • Get these reasons written up on the board/screen.

  • Add some premises/reasons given by philosophers.

  • Identify question begging arguments, ones with premises that assume the conclusion.

  • Formulate remaining argument in logically valid form.

  • Assess arguments as sound or unsound, i.e., whether all the premises are true or not.

    • For general moral premises, identify possible counterexamples.

  • Any overall conclusions on the topic drawn from these activities will depend on the number and strength of the arguments evaluated.

  • LOGIC: "Teaching Basic Argument Analysis Skills Through Historical Moral Issues"

  • LOGIC: "How to be an expert thinker": a handout on argument identification and analysis in ethics"

  • CLONING: a worksheet on some arguments from a Gregory Pence article.

  • HOMOSEXUALITY: Arguments against homosexuality worksheet.

  • ABORTION: Abortion argument worksheet.See also my Powerpoint on abortion.

  • POVERTY: argument worksheet, a Powerpointand "I took Contemporary Moral Issues and all I did was help save a starving child!" poster (in PDF, in WORD). And a Peter Singer video clip.

  • EATING ANIMALS: argument worksheet.

  • A book idea I have had for a while that I'd like to finish: A short book designed to augment introductory ethics courses called Why Think That? A Guide to Making Moral Progress (WhyThinkThat.com). For many moral issues, people reason quite well about them; some moral progress has occurred. This book identifies the critical thinking skills that people already exhibit when thinking about these no-longer-hot-button issues, e.g., being precise [re. quantification], being attentive to ambiguity, supplying unstated 'missing link' premises connecting given reasons to conclusions (usually universal generalizations). It helps people apply these same logical skills to contemporary moral issues, to help identify and evaluate arguments. Common emotional and non-intellectual barriers [e.g., “argument stopper” responses and other false conceptions about moral reasoning and debate] that prevent people from using logical methods are identified, as are strategies to avoid these, think in terms of arguments and thus, perhaps, better contribute to moral progress. Also a chapter on improving argumentative writing. The book is based on my teaching style: I try to find out how people actually respond to moral / philosophical issues and make sure I address them where they are at: their current conceptions of (moral) reasoning must first be identified and engaged with before they are improved.