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Mohan Matthen
Philosophy professor
Interests: Philosophy of perception, philosophy of biology
Recent Activity
My very first job was a one-year gig at Claremont Graduate School, replacing Chuck Young, who went on what must have been his first leave. My colleagues then were Jack Vickers and Al Louch. What a great first year of my professional life! I heard over the years that things were changing for the worse, but look where it has all ended up. I am very sorry to hear about this, and about Professor Yamada and Chuck being unceremoniously fired without advance warning. When this post appeared, they did not know; three weeks later, they were dumped. What a shameless way to treat people. I am so very sorry. Mohan
The piece is very shallow. The only idea it contains is that Jordan Peterson is a deferential and restrained critic, unlike many Americans. Well, he's sly and subversive, not strident and in your face. I guess that makes him different from Ann Coulter and Steve Bannon. But does it it make him typically Canadian? I don't really find this worth having an opinion about.
I don't think that the dispute between Chirimuuta and colour-realists is relevant to the issue about eliminativism.
Sorry for the late response; I hadn't been monitoring this thread over the weekend. I think Dennett would agree that you have visual experience as of a coloured after-image, but he doesn't want to reify the thing you see. You agree that after-images aren't mental particulars, and that's half way there, but you reify the visual field, and he wouldn't (I think). Still, you get the idea.
Thanks. We seem to be on the same page, more or less. But do you really want to say that afterimages are things that you see, or that these things—the afterimages themselves—are in fact coloured? Anyway, that's what Dennett rejects, and I'm with him on that. I'd be surprised if Galen Strawson wanted to say anything else.
You can acknowledge what is clearly a fact, but deny that anybody knows what it is, precisely—deny that it is clear in this sense. That's not silly; it can actually be profound. Dennett is somewhere in this territory; not in denial territory. (See comments 9 and 10.) It's probably a bit silly to go overboard and deny the fact, but hardly Greatly Silly.
Are there really any consciousness-deniers? Perhaps there are, but it's not clear to me that Wittgenstein, Ryle, and Dennett count as such. (Strawson mentions W only obliquely and R not at all. Dennett is his stalking horse, it would appear, and clearly Dennett does not deny consciousness, even in his heterophenomenological tracts.) It's true that they all deny the central psychological importance and explanatory priority of raw feels, first person perspectives, what-it-is-likes, etc. They might even deny that these things are stable enough to be scientifically investigated. (Doesn't Nagel play into that sentiment with his view from nowhere?) But this does not merit the award of The Great Silliness, does it? Strawson writes: 'to seem to feel pain is to be in pain.' Why is it SILLY to deny this—or at least to say that it is at best analytic, and hence superficial?
Well said, Paul. I am still in favour of the "amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged groups," but (assuming that I have read you correctly) I agree that refusing to hire somebody on the sole ground that they are not "racially visible" and not aboriginal is objectionable. Whether it's racist to act this way is up for debate, though; for what it is worth, I'm more inclined to call it racist if it's intended to suppress a group than if it's intended to ameliorate the suppression of a group.
The definition of visible minority is subordinate in the Act to the category "designated groups," so the issue is not whether a person is white or non-white, but the group. And as Sergio says, Latin Americans are, as a group, included. But all bets are off when the term 'racially visible person' is used.
Sergio is right to point out that Canadian law permits "special measures" to correct employment disadvantages suffered by visible minorities, and you are right, Brian, to infer that 'visible minority' is a legal term of art here. It is, as Sergio says, clearly legal to accommodate members of the groups mentioned by Statistics Canada. That said, it can't be that just any measure with this intent is permissible, and it could be contested that a blanket restriction against hiring European-descended persons is permissible. I assume that Dalhousie has taken legal advice on this matter, but I am sure that there is a case to be made against their "special measure." Also, though 'visible minority' is a familiar term in Canada, I have never heard the term 'racially visible' before, and if I am right that it is a novel usage, it could be argued that it doesn't mean the same thing as "member of a visible minority.' So what does it mean?
The Department of Philosophy at the University of Virginia is called the Corcoran Department of Philosophy. Don't know if it is named after a donor.
Contrary to Mazviita, I find it extremely implausible that outrage with the conduct of Hypatia's Associate Editors and with two of Tuvel's teachers is simply displaced despair re Trump, Le Pen, and Farage. I also disagree with her about the open letter. Generally, I think petitions and open letters are faintly ridiculous and quite ineffective. But what I find distressing about a number of cases that have been discussed recently is that so many professional philosophers are afraid of saying what they believe—afraid not because they will be targeted by their employers, but because they think they might be stigmatized by their peers in social media. An open letter would put pressure on these people to come out into the open, and, as Molly Gardner says, serve as evidence of where the profession stands. And to the associate editors of Hypatia who signed the letter: if you are willing to go public with your disagreement of the editors who accepted the article, then surely you should either publicly call on them by name to resign or resign yourselves.
These stories of bad behaviour make me wonder. Can't you treat a contract as non-binding if it is against the rules? What if you simply accepted a tainted offer of this sort, with every display of enthusiasm and delight, but didn't think of it as binding? If another offer comes along before April 15th from a school you prefer, tell the first school you've changed your mind. If they get upset, just say: "Oh, I thought these offers and responses were open until April 15th. I didn't mean my acceptance to be final. Did you take it that way?"
Many of my reactions have to do with my personal history and I neither expect you to share them nor to give them any credence. I've lived most of my life in North America. A lot of people (though very few nowadays) exoticize me by attributing to me the ancient wisdom of my forebears or, more generally, making assumptions about my views or my background. Recently, I was in a University committee meeting when somebody greeted me with a Namaste. No doubt well meant, but what was he thinking? That's the kind of attitude I read into Weiss and Roth. (C. A. Moore is a different kind of case; the East-West Centre at Hawaii was very important, wasn't it?) Anyway, I certainly knew and encountered a lot of white people with a colonial history when I was young. Some were patronizing, but the vast majority simply wanted to reach out and share a human moment with somebody that they identified as sharing something in their past. That's how I interpreted W. D. Ross. He had a simple human emotion that he shared. He was a tremendous scholar and influential philosopher, but he didn't speak about that. The fact that the emotion came out of a colonial past doesn't bother me at all. (Trivandrum is my family's home city, by the way, and I was particularly interested that Ross's father had served there.) As for Nehru, again I could be wrong, but I think I know a little bit about him in a personal way. I read suppressed irritation in his message, and was intrigued by why. I think he respected Radhakrishnan, but was not on warm terms with him. Radhakrishnan's son wrote biographies of both and it should be easy enough to find out. Anyway, I was intrigued by what might have lain behind the message. Not that we'll ever know, I imagine.
Thank you for the interesting post, and for the link to the Silver Jubilee volume, which was most interesting to peruse. I had a rather different reaction than yours to two of the messages you quote. Personally, I find it embarrassing, and even annoying, when people address comments to me about Indians that they find complimentary, but I find stereotyping. I think I would have responded rather brusquely to Leon Roth's "India has always implied for the world at large the inward light of the spirit," or to Paul Weiss's "Indian philosophers have such a magnificent sense of what is important." I'm still seething over their patronizing blather. I found far more moving simple, yet clearly deeply felt, messages such as this one from W. D. Ross: "I have a very close link with India, in that my father was Principal of the Maharajah's College in Trivandrum, now the University of Trivandrum. Hence it is with interest and real emotion that I send my greetings." What a gent! Finally, I was very amused in "Oh Dad!" kind of way by Nehru's message. Nehru was a man of great intellect and humanity. He was also, more than occasionally, an extremely imperious sort of guy. And this was what he expressed here: "Really, I have nothing to say to you. What have you ever done for the world?"
It's very difficult to rationalize, but my sense is that often books by recent PhDs are regarded with some suspicion. Maybe I am reporting a biased sample, but people are more likely to go 'wow' if there are one or two papers published in top journals. Go figure.
This is sad and it must be very difficult and identity threatening for you, but I hope that with some creative interdisciplinary thinking you can turn it into a positive. All good wishes going forward.
I wonder whether it would be feasible to ask every candidate for a job to declare whether they have ever been found guilty of sexual harassment, or possibly something broader—whether they have ever been found guilty of any violation of university codes of conduct. (I don't know what the correct wording would be.) This would be a simple matter if applications were made online. There could be a box to check. ("I have been found in violation of university codes of conduct" Yes or No. If yes, please give details.") In some senior appointments, no application is ever made. In this case, appointees could be asked the question in writing when their appointment is being processed. This would put the onus on the candidate to reveal their past history, and would give the university the right to discipline or even fire them if they were later found to have falsified their application.
Referees have a responsibility to ensure to the best of their ability that what gets published is accurate, well reasoned, and worth saying. I find it frustrating to read papers in my areas of expertise that are not all of the above, and I find it particularly frustrating that my graduate students waste a lot of time on some of these papers. Fulfilling this responsibility takes me three to four hours for a paper that is around 8,000 words long. As for reports, I am closer to Out to Pasture (comment 3) than to those who oppose her/him. One can certainly explain one's recommendation in a couple of paragraphs, provided that explaining is not equated with arguing the point. In any case, I don't find myself or my friends agreeing more with the more argumentative reports. On the contrary, it seems that the longer a negative comment is, the more an author will find to disagree with. There is a faint suggestion in one of the anti-OTP comments that one has a duty to help the authors write a good paper. (Networking is hard to find.) I would find this presumptuous: who am I to give advice to someone I don't know? In any case, I referee perhaps twenty five papers a year—though recently I have been trying to do no more than one a month—and I certainly wouldn't take on that number if I thought that this was expected of me.
Just got a letter from an outfit called International Innovation, offering to write a three-page article showcasing my work. (Actually, I suspect I would have written the article, and they would have published it.) The cost to me would have been US$5000 or so, I think, going on some information I got by Googling. (I can't be certain; the discussion didn't go that far.) International Innovation does exist; it's an open access magazine ( The profile would have been "genuine," or at least accurate. And It follows the funding model that Richard Price talks about. I didn't go for it, but it isn't unethical or even a clear shill. At least, I don't think it is. I'd certainly be interested in feedback on this.
Personally, Charles, I feel quite hard line on this. You have to read ALL the writing samples. There are ways to make the work manageable. For example, you can divide the labour within your Department or committee. But you must, as a selection committee, rely on direct evidence. You say that this risks bias on the basis of background. This is a legitimate concern, though I have found that if you insist that the readers summarize and address the content (rather than simply giving an assessment or letter grade), this concern is somewhat mitigated. However that might be, you can't just pass the job of assessment to somebody who is less invested in their judgement than you are. (They are assessing the publishability of one paper; you are choosing a lifetime colleague.) Unfortunately the good folks in HR departments don't understand this, and this is a problem in places where they have undue oversight. Maybe we shouldn't threadjack. So though I am interested in your response, I won't respond back (except off-air).
This is not the first time a problem has arisen from a Synthese special issue. To me it seems as if the journal should either stop publishing them or exert the usual oversight. The rationale for a special issue is that it is edited with special expertise on a particular topic, which serves as the focus for the issue. But it is not a license for the editor of a special issue (Gergely Szekely, in this case) to publish conference proceedings without adequate vetting. Nor do EiCs have less of a responsibility to ensure that proper standards are met. As for hiring people on the basis of their publication records, surely hiring committees have a responsibility to read and evaluate a candidate's publications before they hire him or her? It is sheer irresponsibility to delegate the evaluation of your candidates to referees and editors whose identity you don't know.
You can call Dennett and the Churchlands crazy if you like, UG. That's different from questioning their competence. In the first place, both Dennett and the Churchlands have contributed oodles more than the denial of consciousness. And secondly, what they say is a good bit more nuanced than you give them credit for. I don't think the Churchlands deny consciousness; they just think that neuroscience doesn't treat it as the unitary phenomenon that "folk psychology" makes of it. Dennett's heterophenomenology comes closer, I guess—he's never quite shaken free of his teacher, Ryle—but doesn't actually get there. Both the Churchlands and Dennett allow propositional attitudes, though they take a deflationary, pragmatist view of them. Let me just say this. If you knew and had spent time with these people, and if you are an open and generous person, you wouldn't dismiss them so lightly. They are polymaths, who have had huge influence not just in philosophy but in the sciences and in popular culture. Just take Dennett's contribution to Cheney and Seyfarth's project on monkey communication, or Paul's work on connectionism, or Pat's collaboration with people like Francis Crick and V. S. Ramachandran. Or take Dennett's magnificent argument with Lewontin. Or Pat's shrewdly undermining work on free will and morals. They are not the kind of shill who privately prints books and mails them around the world in the hope that they'll become famous. They are no nine-day wonders. Come on: show some respect for a level of achievement most of us can only aspire to.
Dear UG, Very good point about Kripke, less good about Swinburne whose dualism is more under the influence than influential. I'm not questioning his brilliance, merely his originality in this area. I have to say I am a little (OK, more than a little) shocked to hear you question the "competence" of Dennett and the Churchlands. Really??—it makes me think that UG might actually stand for what we usually think it stands for. It's appalling to dismiss these truly important and influential figures in this cavalier way. It's hard to know where to stop when I start counting up what they have contributed to contemporary discussions of the mind . . . and even if you think that each of these contributions is off the wall, they have enormously enriched the discussion and subsequent understanding of the mind.
Thanks "little helper" for Lynne Baker! Good call. Brian, you didn't say anglophone. Is that the default assumption here?! BL COMMENT: The poll was explicitly limited to Anglophone philosophers of mind--see the original post and the poll itself.